After eight consecutive losses, the Atlanta Hawks were in desperate need of a victory on Saturday night when they welcomed the New York Knicks to Philips Arena. After a wild, back-and-forth affair that resulted in a 107-98, streak-snapping victory, Mike Budenholzer echoed the sentiment of the entire fan base in acknowledging just how big this particular victory was for the Hawks.
"It was a good win. Our group needed this win. I think it would be naive to say that it's not important for us to get this and continue to move forward and get ready for whoever's next on the schedule."
The Hawks actually began Saturday's game with what looked to be a sense of purpose, and after a personal 9-0 run by Mike Scott (we'll come back to him) to begin the second quarter, Atlanta held a 33-23 lead with just under 10 minutes remaining before the halftime break. From there, though, virtual disaster struck, as the visiting Knicks blitzed Atlanta with a barrage of points (led by Carmelo Anthony) and in a flash, New York rattled off a 25-3 (!) run that turned Atlanta's 10-point lead into a 12-point deficit over a period of just over 7 minutes.
The two teams headed into halftime with New York on top by 13 points, and when they mildly extended that lead to 15 with 5:56 remaining in the 3rd quarter, the game had a "same old, same old" feeling for the Hawks. However, Carmelo Anthony's jump shot that gave the Knicks that 15-point edge was followed by a rare, triple technical foul that was assessed on DeMarre Carroll, Mike Woodson, and the aforementioned Anthony, and from that point forward, it was a complete different game.
In the post-game, Carroll was quick to reference the moment as somewhat of a turning point, . Carroll scored 10 of his 14 third-quarter points after the incident occurred, and he led the Hawks to a 20-2 run to close the third quarter and open the fourth, giving Atlanta a 77-73 lead. That was just the beginning, however, as the Hawks put together one of their best quarters of the season in the fourth, scoring 39 points on 59% shooting and 6-for-9 from three-point range, and when the dust settled, the home team cruised to a 9-point win from the most unforeseen circumstances.
Standout performances weren't rare in this game for the Hawks, and the forward duo of Mike Scott and DeMarre Carroll led the way in historic fashion. Scott scored a career-high 30 points in just 30 minutes of playing time, knocking down 11 of his 14 field goal attempts, including a blistering 6 for 7 showing from 3-point distance and the repeated spurring of runs for the offense. Next to him, Carroll also posted a career-high with 24 points, but it was his defense on Carmelo Anthony (regardless of his 35 points) that set the tone on that end, and when the chips were in the middle of the table, he was at his best.
Of course, it wasn't just a two-man show for the Hawks in this one, and one of the bigger keys to the victory was the reemergence of one Jeff Teague. Teague finished with 28 points (7-12 FG, 13-15 FT) and 6 assists in the game, and his aggressiveness was marked in the second half. Atlanta's point guard, playing his first game since suffering an ankle injury, put up 20 of his 28 points after the break (including 9 of his career-best 13 made free throws) and seemed to be able to probe into the New York defense at will to create for both himself and teammates. There was a minor scare in the first half when Teague quickly fled to the locker room with an apparent recurrence of his ankle issue, but when he came back, all was well and he was able to help in the late charge.
The "old man" duo of Elton Brand and (to a lesser extent, obviously) Lou Williams was also quite key to the victory in different ways. Brand played a staggering 43 minutes on the fourth game in five nights, and while it wasn't a prolific offensive showing for the veteran big man (1 point on 3 field goal attempts), he was exceedingly effective on the defensive end and he was praised by Budenholzer for his rim protection and communication throughout. In the case of Williams, it was a hot/cold night (much like Atlanta in general), but when it was good, it was very good. Williams converted back-to-back threes in the early stages of the fourth quarter in order to put the Hawks in front, and he was able to grab 9 (!) rebounds and generate 7 assists in the game.
In a vacuum, a nine-point win over a sub-.500 Knicks team wouldn't move the needle, but this was anything but a typical victory for Atlanta. The injury issues that have faced this team in recent days have been well-chronicled, but playing this particular game without Paul Millsap (in addition to Gustavo Ayon and Pero Antic before him) narrowed the margin of error quite a bit, and the team responded in kind with an inspired performance down the stretch. The coming days will almost certainly bring passionate debate concerning the direction of the franchise in the wake of the trade deadline and the fringe state of playoff positioning, but in this case, I would recommend a step backward and a simple enjoyment of what was a gutty and entertaining effort.