With 6:10 remaining in the 1st quarter on Saturday night, the Atlanta Hawks were visibly struggling. They were trailing 14-10, shooting just 4-for-13 from the floor, and generally performing like a sluggish team in the early stages of the second game of a back-to-back set. Then, the wheels began to churn in a positive direction. The final 6+ minutes of the quarter saw the Hawks outscore the Bucks by a 21-11 margin, and from there, the energy (copyright, Larry Drew) was lively on the visiting sideline.
As you can see by the final margin of victory, that momentum didn't cease there, and in all honesty, the best basketball played from the Hawks on Saturday night came in the two middle quarters. It was an incredibly balanced effort in the second quarter for the team, as they entered the break with a 15-point lead on the strength of eight different players scoring 4+ points prior to the half. Lou Williams scored 10 of his 18 in the half, providing that offensive spark off the bench that he was basically destined to fulfill, and when the Hawks can force 13 turnovers by an overwhelmed opposition and commit only 2 themselves, it's nearly academic.
By the time the team sprinted to a 13-2 run to start the second half (giving them a 73-47 lead), the game was firmly in hand, and that was a welcomed surprise. There are nights in the NBA when a team simply needs to "take care of business" against an underwhelming opponent, and this was the definition of that. It seemed as if head coach Mike Budenholzer recognized that quite early, speaking candidly following Friday night's loss about "moving forward", and he echoed a similar sentiment after being asked about what impressed him most (via NBA.com).
"Just the way we bounced back. I think this is a tough leage and we didn't play well last night. Our group didn't hang their heads and they moved forward. That's what we talked about. We want to move forward."
Although there is a case to be made that Coach Bud sounds like a broken record, the effectiveness of the message is undeniable, and the team responded in a big way here. Shooting 53% from the field and 50% on 26 attempts from three-point distance isn't always a given, but with the way that the Hawks took apart Milwaukee's defense for the better part of 48 minutes, it almost wouldn't have mattered if they shot the ball well.
There were several unsung heroes (in addition to Paul Millsap, who was fantastic), ranging from Elton Brand, who utilized his semi-automatic jump shot from 12 feet, to DeMarre Carroll, who battled through questionable injury status to have one of his better games of the season, but it's a very good problem to have too many guys to recognize. The offense is always clicking when the ball is moving, and it was certainly doing that to the tune of 26 assists on 40 field goals. That gives life to every member of the team when they step on the floor, and with the entire movement toward a "next man up" principle in the wake of the mounting injury count, that is huge.
Things don't get easier for the Hawks as they travel to Oklahoma City to take on the scorching-hot Kevin Durant, but while some may brush off this 26-point win as simply "beating the Bucks", it resounds as yet another example of the positive culture change in the Atlanta locker room.