Jan 10, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver (26) and point guard Shelvin Mack (8) and point guard Jeff Teague (0) (left to right) react after defeating the Houston Rockets at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Rockets 83-80. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Defense rules the day for Atlanta Hawks in 83-80 win over Houston Rockets


After what seemed to be a disastrous start to Friday night’s game against the Houston Rockets, the Atlanta Hawks managed to recover and grab a 83-80 victory, but on this night, it wasn’t necessarily the “usual suspects” that brought the team back from an early hole.

Houston spurted out to a 11-0 lead to start the game (with some help from an 0-for-9 start from the field) and it wasn’t until the 6:07 mark of the 1st quarter that the Hawks even scratched on the scoreboard. However, that bucket on a 10-footer by Mike Scott set the tone for arguably the best singular stretch of the night by any member of the team.

Scott scored 8 points (on 4-for-5 shooting) in the 1st quarter and 12 points overall in the 1st half to give the team a much needed offensive injection, and it was his energy (copyright, Larry Drew) that set the tone. The 2nd-year forward filled lanes with authority and amassed at least 4 dunks in the half, bringing the crowd involved while helping Atlanta get back into the game on the scoreboard. While Scott finished with “only” 14 points (on 7-for-10 shooting) in 18+ minutes, his early was absolutely key in keeping the Hawks afloat.

Elton Brand and Lou Williams followed in the footsteps of Scott with huge nights, but they weren’t driven by the scoring column. It was a “typical” impact from Brand, as he was flying around defensively to frustrate Dwight Howard, and in the end, Elton finished with 11 rebounds and 3 blocks in 24 minutes of court time. His influence on the game can never fully be measured by stats, but Elton’s final on-court rating of +14 was the 2nd-best on the team, and he was the biggest reason that Atlanta was able to hold the aforementioned Howard to just 15 points.

Williams was the only Hawk that managed to surpass Brand in the on-court rating (+18), and it was a distribution game from Lou in this one. Coach Budenholzer was quick to highlight that Williams amassed 8 assists without the detriment of a single turnover, and it was his steadying hand that brought the team through some lulls later in the game. Lou (and to a lesser extent, Shelvin Mack) was also critical in overcoming what was a subpar game for Jeff Teague, as the stud point guard shot just 2-for-12 from the field and finished with 7 points and 4 assists.

Fortunately, it wasn’t only the bench that contributed in the win, even if it took until the 9:02 of the second (!!) quarter for a member of the starting five to scratch on the scoreboard. That first bucket also doubled as the first triple by swingman Kyle Korver, though, and that shot marked the 106th consecutive game with a three to extend his NBA record string. On the night, Korver finished with a team-high 20 points (tied with Paul Millsap) on 6-for-11 from the field and 4-for-7 from beyond the arc, and it was an all-court game from Kyle. In addition to the shooting, Korver added 5 rebounds and 3 steals while playing extremely active (and effective) defense on the Houston wings.

The aforementioned Paul Millsap had a “bounceback” game in this one, and it was also much-needed. Paul entered the game with a 13-for-54 (24%) shooting slump from the field over a 4 game stretch, but he was able to break out of that with 20 points on 8-for-18 shooting and 7 rebounds in 32 minutes. Millsap’s 3rd quarter output of 12 points and 4 rebounds was instrumental in Atlanta’s ability to take (and sustain) the lead for the first time in the game, and it was encouraging to see him show flashes of his top-end play from previous days.

With all of the positivity surrounding some of the individual performances by the Hawks, it was the team defense that really stole the show in Philips Arena on Friday night. Coach Budenholzer stated that “the group is really starting to trust each other defensively”, and that showed throughout the game. Elton Brand (mentioned above) was one of the ring leaders, but unsung hero DeMarre Carroll played quality defense on James Harden for the great majority of his 34 minutes, and there were far fewer breakdowns on that end of the floor than most would have expected against an explosive offensive team.

I would say with confidence that Budenholzer, the rest of the staff, and the players want no part of an 11-0 deficit to start a game, but the fight that the entire team displayed in digging themselves out of that hole was incredibly impressive and entertaining. Things don’t let up on the schedule for the Hawks as they travel to Memphis on Sunday, but there are real signs of cohesion that should be encouraging to the fans, and better days could be ahead, even in the absence of the team’s floor leader and best player.

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