The Atlanta Hawks may not be seen as one of the most physically intimidating teams in the league, but their mental toughness makes up for that and then some.
In December, Atlanta battled back to win 121-115 against the Houston Rockets after overcoming a 17-point deficit at halftime. Today, the Hawks fought through a dismal second quarter of nine turnover and Mike Beasley’s best game off the bench since returning to the league (30 points); but once again, that showed the true make up of this team.
“I feel like we are a much better team right now than we were before, said Al Horford, who finished with 22 points and nine rebounds. “We are much more focused, our defense is really good and we are starting to put it together on the offensive end.”
Toughness in today’s game cannot be defined by just how many points you score in the paint or out-rebounding your opponent. The Hawks did neither of those tonight instead they remained steadfast and confident in playing their style of basketball, which is not easy for most teams, especially when there are moments your entire offense or defense looks out of sync.
This team has plenty moxie, so when Houston made their run, the message was clear: take care of the ball, play the type of defense they are capable of, and everything else will take care of itself. That is toughness.
“When your turning the ball over — I think it was nine times in the second quarter — that’s not good, especially when they’re getting run-out layups and dunks,” said Horford. “As soon as we cut that out, we were able to get back into the game.”
Despite trailing at the half and the start of the fourth quarter, Hawks buckled down defensively with more aggression guarding the 3-point line and getting out in transition (8 points off turnovers in the fourth quarter), which opened up easier looks from beyond the arc, an equation that works best for this team all season long.
“Mike Budenholzer has done a very good job with this team,” said Houston Rockets Coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “They are taught to protect layups, protect the paint and they arrive on the catch on the 3-point line. They flush you off the line and force you into tough shots”
In midst of a five-game winning streak and just 12 games left in the season, the Hawks know the fortitude they showed tonight will be required at some point in time in the postseaason.
“I think our group is just focused on winning basketball games and we are doing that right now,” said point guard Dennis Schröder. “We just have to keep playing Hawks basketball on both ends of the court and if we do that when playoffs come we should be ready.”