It is often said that "nothing comes easy" in the NBA, but the Atlanta Hawks put that theory to the test in a significant way during their 125-99 dismantling of the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night. From top to bottom, it was one of the more dominant offensive performances of the entire campaign for the Hawks, and while the Philadelphia defense (or lack thereof) was partly responsible for that, there were some fantastic individual performances on the Atlanta side.
If forced to choose a single bright spot in the midst of a 26-point win, the bench would serve as the easiest selection, and the front-court duo of Mike Scott and Elton Brand exceeded all reasonable expectations on Friday. Scott and Brand each tallied 18 points to tie for the team-lead, but it was an ultra-efficient, pace-setting effort from both players. Scott scored 16 points over a 10-minute stretch in the second quarter to help push the Atlanta lead into the stratosphere, and Brand's 18-point effort doubled as his season-high in a true throwback performance. Throw in the fact that Scott and Brand combined to snatch 17 rebounds in just 23 and 24 minutes, respectively, and it's easy to see why they deserve the spotlight.
The bench as a whole was utterly tremendous against Philly, as a staggering 6 reserves scored 5-or-more points, and as a unit, they combined to score 70 of the 125 points. On a night like this, though, there wasn't exactly a shortage of accolades, and guys like Dennis Schroder (9 points in 17 minutes), Shelvin Mack (8 points, 4 assists), and even James Nunnally (5 points, 3 rebounds on the final night of his second 10-day contract) excelled in their roles.
There were some extremely effective all-court efforts amid the offensive onslaught, and Atlanta's starting forwards picked up where they've left off in recent days with stellar play. It wasn't an overly efficient shooting night from new All-Star selection Paul Millsap (4-11 FG, 4-7 FT), but he set a season-high with 6 steals (5 in the first half) and added 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks in a stat-stuffing effort. Next to him, DeMarre Carroll continued his strong track record recently with 13 points, 9 rebounds, and a season-high 4 assists in 27 minutes.
Perhaps the brightest spot in the overall scheme of things came just moments before the actual tip-off, however, as the emergence of Jeff Teague after a 2-game absence stole the headlines. In welcoming Teague back, head coach Mike Budenholzer said this:
"We were happy with Jeff. I think he set a tone pretty early. He was attacking the basket. A couple of times he didn't get rewarded but anytime we see Jeff get into the paint, collapsing the defense, creating a shot for his teammates or himself, that is always a good sign, especially coming off the injury."
Atlanta's starting point guard played just 24 minutes as a result of the lopsided score, but as Coach Bud referenced, Teague didn't look physically diminished in any way, and his 12-point, 8-assist effort was extremely encouraging. He was quite active at times, getting back to the early-season form where his prodding style really affects the defense. In addition, it can sometimes be a very good thing for a team to play without one of its floor leaders for a small stretch, and with the increased role that Shelvin Mack and even Dennis Schroder took on in Teague's absence, the overall level of play has been raised.
A bit of perspective is always necessary after a blow-out win (especially one on the road), and it has to be stated that Philadelphia's league-worst defense was on full display here. The Sixers basically had one player with a positive performance in the game, as former Georgia Tech standout Thaddeus Young finished with 29 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals while single-handedly keeping Philly in the game with 16 points in the opening frame. Still, it wasn't nearly enough to slow down Mike Budenholzer's gauntlet of offense (Bud movement!) and when the Sixers turned the ball over 15 times before halftime, it left them at a significant disadvantage.
Unfortunately, the Hawks can't play against the bleeding Philadelphia defense on a nightly basis, but with this type of offensive ceiling on display, it reminds the fan base that the future is quite bright.