The Hawks picked up their fifth straight victory over a playoff team on Tuesday night by defeating the Los Angeles Clippers by a score of 107-104. The Hawks have 14 of 15 games after a 7-6 start to the season.
“In these last couple of weeks, we’ve shown improvement on the defensive end of the floor,” said head coach Mike Budenholzer. “As far as the thing we point to the most, the fact that we have different guys who step up every night and make big plays throughout the game. We’ve got a good team.”
Atlanta took a quick lead in the first quarter behind 18 points in the paint and a balanced scoring effort from the starters. The Hawks then stretched their lead out to as many as 10 in the second quarter before the Clippers came roaring back, responding with a 17-0 run to give L.A. a 47-40 lead with four minutes to go in the half. The Clippers increased their lead to as many as 10 before Paul Millsap hit a couple of free throws to close the half with 57-50 ATL deficit.
Things looked extremely bleak to start the second half, as the Clippers opened with back-to-back 3-pointers from Chris Paul and a put-back dunk from DeAndre Jordan to extend their lead to 13 within a couple of minutes. The Hawks sustained the blows, however, as Al Horford hit a couple of jumpers and DeMarre Carroll exploded for 10 points in the quarter to revitalize the Atlanta crowd and help whittle the Clipper lead down to just two points by the end of the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Hawks were finally able to take advantage of the weak Clippers bench. The Hawks opened with a 13-2 run, which was again triggered by Horford on offense.
“They were giving me open shots,” said Horford. “I was taking them. Anything I can do to help us get going.”
The Clippers were eventually able to get the Hawks’ lead back down to three points with six minutes to go, but then Carroll punched back with five straight points of his own. After some back-and-forth scrappy play, a couple of Kyle Korver involved jump balls, and some intentional fouls, the Clippers found themselves down just three with 6.4 to play. The Hawks’ defense stayed strong, forcing a fadeaway 3-pointer from Blake Griffin that missed badly to the delight of the Atlanta crowd.
Carroll was the biggest reason for the Hawks’ 21st win, as he clearly out-matched L.A.’s Matt Barnes. Carroll scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds. Carroll was a thorn in the side of the Clippers, as over-rotation often left the Hawks’ starting small forward wide open for 3. Carroll seized the opportunity, sinking 5-for-6 from behind the arc.
Dennis Schröder started this game despite Jeff Teague being availale and it’s safe to say that the Hawks like would have been better off with Teague taking the starting spot. While Schröder had a nice road trip against three playoff teams, Chris Paul proved too be too crafty for the young German, forcing Budenholzer to close the show with Teague. However, there was no harm in Schröder getting the start, according to Carroll.
This year, everybody trusts each other. You see a guy like Jeff Teague; he comes off the bench because Dennis was playing wee. It just shows we don’t ahve any egos in this locker room. Everybody wants to win. Everybody trust each other.”
That trust have given the Hawks full control of the 2-seed in the East, where they sit just a half game behind the Toronto Raptors. While catching the Raptors may prove tricky as they currently hold the tiebreaker with Atlanta, the Hawks schedule lightens up just a bit the next two games against the young Milwaukee Bucks. While the Bucks are no pushover and are in playoff position, they are a step below the five previous playoff teams the Hawks have faced.
Next game is Friday at home against the aforementioned Bucks, where the Hawks hope to push a streak of sold out games to two. Come out and support this team, Atlanta; they are really good.