The Atlanta Hawks bounced back from their disappointing overtime loss to the Orlando Magic with a blowout victory on the road against the Chicago Bulls, 113-90. The Hawks now head into the All-Star break with a 31-24 record, good enough for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Tiago Splitter once again sat out with a hip injury, while All-Star Jimmy Butler also missed out with a knee strain that will keep him from participating in the All-Star Game on Sunday.
Heading into the All-Star break on a positive note
It’s been a tough month and a bit for the Hawks. After heading into the new year with a 21-13 record, (prior to this game) the Hawks have gone 9-11 since. Heading into this game, the Hawks had lost five of their last eight games. It was, therefore, important that the Hawks head into the All-Star break on a positive note (with a win) and that’s exactly what they did — blowing out the Bulls in their own building.
In addition to all of this, you have the trade chatter going on (which has gotten very loud in Atlanta over the last few days), with Al Horford and Jeff Teague in the depths of trade rumours. Trade talk can distract, even derail, a team from playing their best basketball, but this was not the case at all for the Hawks last night. They didn’t look distracted, they looked together. That made this road win even more impressive.
A balanced, team effort
While the bench struggled to make an impact in the two Orlando games, they certainly stepped up to be counted last night — as did the majority of the team. Four bench players scored in double digits (led by Dennis Schröder’s team high 18 points) and combined for a total of 53 points.
Meanwhile, four starters reached double digit scoring in what was a joint effort — no starter scored more than 17 points. Jeff Teague led the scoring for the starters with 17 (adding eight assists), Kyle Korver hit two of his three three-point attempts, Toronto All-Star Game bound Paul Millsap added 15 points, and Al Horford added 16 points while knocking down two of his four three-point attempts.
It’s never been about “hero ball” in Atlanta under Mike Budenholzer and, more often than not, it has pulled through for them in the regular season.
Hawks play it safe with their fourth quarter lead
It was clear to see that the Coach Bud and his coaching staff still had nightmares of the most recent Orlando loss in the back of their minds. After surrendering a double digit lead in the fourth quarter to the Magic, Coach Bud was very intentional in protecting the Hawks’ lead against the Bulls last night, no matter how many points the Hawks were ahead by. Despite their lead never creeping below 14 points in the fourth quarter (and rising as high as 20), the Hawks played it extra safe with their lead and kept four of their five starters out on the floor until there was just 2:22 remaining in the game, when the game was well and truly over.
While the Bulls showed no signs of putting up a fight in the fourth quarter (their second best player Pau Gasol did not see one minute of fourth quarter action), it’s understandable why the Hawks kept their starters out on the court way past than they probably needed to be there after the disaster that was the Magic game. While you do risk an unnecessary injuries, it’s better to be safe than sorry — and the Hawks were a pretty sorry bunch after blowing a 20 point lead at home to the Magic on Monday night. It was the correct decision to take no chances with this lead and secure the victory.
Bazemore’s forgettable night
After his five point showing on Monday night against Orlando, Bazemore followed it up with a two point, zero assists display against the Bulls — a night to really forget. Including this game, he has taken a combined 12 shots in his last two games, making only three of them and only making one of his six three-point attempts. It wasn’t for the lack of trying though. Bazemore played hard but just could not get anything going offensively and turned the ball over when he may have had an easy opportunity to get his confidence rolling.
Still, there has been a lot for Bazemore to be encouraged by as he reaches his first All-Star break as a consistent starter.
Veterans taking the youngsters to school
School was in session for two young forwards last night. Mike Muscala and Cameron Bairstow were the students, and Pau Gasol and Paul Millsap were the teachers — armed with a repertoire of offensive moves.
Muscala had real difficulty guarding Pau Gasol, who made life tough for Muscala when they both shared the floor. When Muscala entered the game mid-way through the first quarter for Al Horford, Pau Gasol didn’t take long to take advantage. Gasol hit a lovely spin move layup on Muscala before being fouled twice in the first quarter by him — including a foul on a made turnaround jump shot by Gasol. Within the next 20 seconds of game clock, Muscala was taken out of the game.
At the 5:56 mark in the second quarter, Pau is sat at the scorers’ table waiting to check back into the game. When the Hawks’ defense come with a steal, Kyle Korver is fouled to prevent the fast break opportunity and a timeout is taken. Coach Bud knows that Pau is checking into the game after the timeout, so he yanks Muscala (who was on the floor prior to the timeout) and inserts Al Horford back into the game. A wise coaching move to kill any rhythm Pau might have looking to get into following a productive first quarter against Muscala.
A rhythm similar to the one Jeff Teague got into vs. Dallas when J.J. Barea was guarding him. Teague felt the matchup that night and, had Muscala been left in against Pau, something similar might have transpired.
When Pau was finished his lesson, Paul Millsap began his.
Since the Bulls are shorter on bigs since Noah went down, Cameron Bairstow has seen some minutes at power forward. Bairstow normally plays garbage time when everyone is healthy. He certainly isn’t as polished a player as Muscala is, and no where near as polished as Millsap. Paul took full advantage of the inexperienced Bairstow in the fourth quarter — all six of Millsap’s fourth quarter points came from possessions where Bairstow guarded Millsap. For three possessions in a row Millsap went right at Bairstow in the post — scoring two and missing the easiest look he created out of the three. Millsap would also later draw a shooting foul on Bairstow. While Muscala didn’t fare great against Gasol, Bairstow looked completely out of his depth against Millsap.
The experience, strength and offensive diversity of Gasol and Millsap earned their teams easy points from young prey.