Heading into halftime at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, the Hawks were scuffling in a mighty way. Atlanta was trailing by an 8-point margin at 54-46, but more importantly, the offense was sputtering and the defensive breakdowns were consistently apparent. Then, the 3rd quarter happened.
In that 12-minute frame, the Hawks outscored the Bobcats 34-16, and with the benefit of a 14-0 run to push them ahead, Atlanta used that as a spring board to the final margin at 103-94. Al Horford (as usual) led the way for Atlanta (we’ll come back to him), but on this night, the bench was absolutely key in pulsing the Hawks on both ends.
Cartier Martin had one of his best games in his NBA career (and unquestionably his best with the Hawks), scoring 16 points (on 5-7 FG, 3-4 3-PT) in just 20 minutes, and his +12 on-court rating was a game high. Martin, who some (including myself) thought to be a long shot to even make the roster, excelled in a “spark plug” role, and his 3-point marksmanship was vital. Alongside him, Mike Scott had another effective night off the bench (8 points in 19 minutes) and Elton Brand emerged from a string of DNP’s with an 8-point, 7-rebound effort in 19 minutes.
Fitting with that trio, the bench mob of point guards (Dennis Schröder and Shelvin Mack) each performed well in sporadic duty (due to foul trouble), and backup shooting guard John Jenkins dusted off the rust of multiple DNP’s by playing 7 minutes.
As for Horford and the starters, Al was far and away the best player on the court in this game. In just 31 minutes of game action (thanks again to the bench), Horford scored 24 points (on 9 for 15 shooting), grabbed 5 rebounds, and dished out 4 assists, but his defense on Al Jefferson was excellent, and his game stood out on both ends. It was a “down” game statistically for Paul Millsap (9 points, 5 rebounds), but it didn’t seem to phase the Hawks, as DeMarre Carroll picked up the rebounding slack with 10 boards, and the bench rotation of Scott and Brand helped to ease the offensive load.
In the backcourt, Jeff Teague posted yet another double-double, solidifying his hold on 2nd place in the NBA in assists with a 14-point, 12-assist effort. Aesthetically, Teague left a lot to be desired (especially in the 1st half), but not even a 4-for-14 performance from the field could keep him from dishing out assists, and the Mike Budenholzer offense seems to fit his playmaking abilities in ways that Larry Drew never dreamed.
The headline for Kyle Korver’s evening was his 80th (yes, 80th) consecutive game with a 3-pointer. Korver’s triple at the 8:35 mark of the 1st quarter catapulted him past Michael Adams and into 2nd-place alone on the all-time list of consecutive games with a 3-point field goal. He is now just 9 games away from the all-time record (held by Dana Barros), and his assault on that mark continues with every passing day.
One interesting rotation note (in addition to the fact that John Jenkins and Elton Brand both emerged from the depths) was that neither Pero Antic or Gustavoy Ayon appeared in this game. Ayon is likely biding his time since returning from injury, but it was the first time this season that Antic failed to take the court, and this could be something to monitor concerning whether it was a defensive match-up concern against the beef of Al Jefferson.
For the better part of 3 quarters, Charlotte outplayed the Hawks, but as the entire basketball public continually (to the point of annoyance) references, the NBA is a game of runs, and the “good” for Atlanta was simply better than the “good” for Charlotte on Monday night. The Atlanta offense has been absolutely outstanding this season (eclipsing the 100-point mark in each of the 7 games), and with that, the Hawks (at this very moment) hold the 2nd-best mark in the Eastern Conference at 4-3.
Stay tuned as the Hawks return home for an intriguing showdown with the Knicks on Wednesday night.