It is often said that the NBA is a “game of runs”, and that point was never more accurate than it was during the Hawks’ 104-94 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday night.
Leading by just 1 at the half, the Atlanta Hawks began the 3rd quarter on an 18-2 run to grab what looked like an insurmountable, 17-point lead at 64-47 just before the midway point of the period. However, that lead was short-lived, as the Magic responded immediately with a 15-2 run of their own to cut the lead to 66-62, and they completed their comeback by actually playing the full quarter to a standstill at 26-26.
Fortunately, the Hawks had one final run left in them and they timed it perfectly. Arron Afflalo gave Orlando their first lead of the 2nd half with a 3-pointer at the 3:49 mark, but Al Horford followed that up with back-to-back 18-foot jump shots to jumpstart the Hawks. Following a timeout, Paul Millsap made 1 of 2 free throws, Kyle Korver knocked down an enormous 3-pointer, and Jeff Teague concluded a 10-0 spurt with a fast break lay-up that would, for all intensive purposes, push the Hawks over the top with a 97-88 lead.
From there, the Hawks played virtually even with the Magic, trading baskets to the finish, but it was that final push that pulsed the ability to put things away.
Jeff Teague finished the game with the most impressive statistical line of the night, putting up 19 points (on 6 for 15 shooting) and 13 assists. Obviously, the shooting numbers left a little bit to be desired, but Teague consistently attacked the paint to create distributing opportunities, and he was able to make the most of them throughout the night. With his 13 assists on Saturday night, Teague is now averaging 9.2 per game on the year, and if he can continue that pace, his position among NBA point guards will continue to rise.
Up front, it was an extremely productive night for both Paul Millsap and Al Horford. Millsap led the way statistically with another double-double, scoring 18 points (on 8 for 16 shooting) and snaring 11 rebounds. His tenacity was evident throughout the game, and he was able to put up those kind of numbers in just over 34 minutes of court time.
For Horford, it was yet another solid performance, and the Hawks leader finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 blocks on the night. Horford’s across-the-board showing is evident in the numbers, but his defensive on Magic big man Nikola Vucevic also separated him from his peers. Entering the night, Vucevic was averaging over 17 points and 13 rebounds per contest on the year, but Horford locked him down from start to finish, only allowing the young big man to generate 7 points and 6 rebounds in 33+ minutes.
Head coach Mike Budenholzer was quick to praise Al in the post-game press conference, citing his ability to “make (his) catches difficult” as a primary reason for Horford’s lock-down defense on Vucevic. It’s easy to praise Horford on a nightly basis for his defense, but his positioning was (as usual) outstanding here, and Budenholzer’s assessment that Horford is “setting a tone” on the defensive end seems to be spot-on.
Backup power forward Mike Scott was absolutely outstanding on the offensive end on Saturday night, scoring 17 points (on 7 of 11) in under 14 minutes of court time. Scott was consistently good in the mid-range, making the most of opportunities afforded to him by the Orlando defense, and his presence was huge during several stretches when the Hawks were in desperate need of offensive production.
On the wing, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll each enjoyed solid nights. Korver got off to a bit of a slow start, but finished with 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists in the game, giving the team a balanced effort. In addition, Kyle extended his streak of consecutive games with a 3-pointer to an outstanding 79 straight (at the 3:19 mark of the 2nd quarter), placing him 2nd on the all-time list in this category. He is still 10 games away from Dana Barros for the record, but there are no signs of slowing down.
Carroll was Carroll, playing outstanding defense on a variety of wing players for Orlando, but he also performed well as a valuable contributor to the offense. On the night, DeMarre shot 5 for 5 from the field and 2 for 2 from 3-point distance to finish with 12 points, and he grabbed 7 rebounds to help start the fast-break.
In case it was evident by now, the Hawks were absolutely fabulous offensively during this game. For reference, the team generated an astonishing 36 assists on 43 field goals, and while the 104 points isn’t a “wow” number in today’s NBA, the pace of the game probably lent itself to approximately a 90-point performance. It was the 6th consecutive game (i.e. the entire 2013-14 season) where the Hawks cracked the 100-point barrier, and the offense has been tremendous in the early part of the schedule.
Finally, it must be noted that there were 3 interesting “DNP – Coach’s Decision” results in this game. Elton Brand failed to see the court for the 2nd straight game, raising a few eyebrows (including mine), and he was joined on the bench by Gustavo Ayon, who was active for the first time this season as a result of a shoulder injury. John Jenkins also didn’t appear, as he sat for the 5th time (in 6 games) this season, and the 2012 1st-round pick appears to be firmly out of the rotation.
Overall, this was a very nice team win for the Hawks. There are certainly points of emphasis moving forward (read: defensive stability), but for the most part, the offense was fantastic, and the defense performed better. Winning games (at home) against Orlando in November won’t move the needle much in Atlanta, but victories are hard to come by in this league, and the Hawks have evened their record at 3-3 on the young season.