"They made me really sweat it there at the end, " Mike Budenholzer quipped as he met with reporters following the Atlanta Hawks' first victory of the season over the Toronto Raptors Friday night at Philips Arena. Budenholzer could have privately been concerned with his team seeing an 18 point second half lead cut to just five in the fourth quarter, but he certainly wasn't showing it after the game.
Instead, Budenholzer was happy that his team improved in several key areas from the opener and most notably in transition defense. Atlanta held the Toronto Raptors to just eight fast break points on the night and, for the most part, held the Raptors in check despite an offensive outburst from DeMar DeRozan. The result was Budenholzer's first NBA win as a head coach and he is pleased with how his team is starting to come together after an up and down preseason.
"Yeah I think they are coming together well," he said. "I think the chemistry and I think it is a group that enjoys each other both on the court and off the court. I think it's just a kind of a testament to the kind of guys. We've got high character guys and I think they are coming together well."
Two areas of concern coming into the Toronto game were how the team would match up against Rudy Gay and the importance of keeping Jonas Valanciunas off the offensive boards. DeMarre Carroll harassed Gay into a 6-for-23 shooting night while Al Horford clearly won the match-up against Valanciunas with 22 points and 16 rebounds. The Hawks' pace forced the Raptors to go small and sent Valanciunas to the bench for most of the second half.
"Really feel good for our group," Coach Bud said. "Competing and really doing it every night and every practice and every situation is what we have been harping on. I felt that the group really competed tonight and I am happy for them. I just feel good about the competitive nature of the group, the competitive spirit of the group. If we do that then we are just going to keep getting better and we will keep working on it each day. We will keep emphasising transition defense and ball movement and all those other things but I just feel good for our guys."
Jenkins and Williams updates
The Hawks will look to keep improving as they head out on the road for a three-game west coast swing that begins Sunday in Los Angeles.
During pregame, Mike Budenholzer was questioned about John Jenkins' status and his availability against the Raptors. He gave what was a somewhat surprising answer:
"He's available, he was available in Dallas so there is no change."
Jenkins received his second straight DNP-CD against Toronto and has yet to log a single minute this season. A couple of things to point out here. The Hawks have not lost confidence in Jenkins as signaled by their decision to pick up his third-year option on Thursday. Jenkins missed most of the preseason with a back injury and only appeared in the final two games. I observed him on the court before Friday's game going through a very tough workout along with Lou Williams. It certainly appears that he is still trying to get back into game shape after being on the shelf for most of the exhibition season.
Now it's also important to point out that Cartier Martin has played well in the early going and could push Jenkins for minutes as well. Martin spent a lot more time at the shooting guard position in Friday's win over the Raptors and was on the court alongside DeMarre Carroll for a long stretch of the game. We should expect to see more of that when the Hawks have to defend strong shooting guard/small forward combinations.
Over the course of the season the rotations will change. Lou Williams and Gustavo Ayon will eventually return from injury and Williams will play a big part in the backcourt.
Speaking of Williams, Coach Budenholzer was asked about his status prior to the game and not much has changed there. There is still no timetable for Lou's return to the court.
"Lou is doing some things in his rehab process and I don't think there is any real change in his health and him being a hundred percent and confident is what's always going to be our top priority," he said. "He's progressing kind of as we hope and we'll see where that takes us."
Bullet notes from the win over Toronto:
- Jeff Teague wasn't lights out from the floor, going 4-for-13, but was instrumental in Atlanta's success on Friday, recording 12 assists to just one turnover. He spearheaded the offensive attack and it's no coincidence that he had a pair of big buckets late in the game to help the Hawks hold off the Raptors.
- Pero Antic was a big part of the late run in the second quarter that helped the Hawks take control of the game. Antic scored five points in the quarter and did a good job defensively. He wasn't as sharp in the second half but looks like he is starting to get comfortable to the speed of the NBA game.
- DeMarre Carroll went 1-for-7 from the field for eight points and no one noticed because of how hard he made Rudy Gay work on the offensive end.
- Can't say enough about Cartier Martin and the job he has done through two games. He played 24 minutes on Friday and appears to be a big part of this team going forward. That is saying a lot for a guy that was signed late in the preseason.