The focus was on the defensive side of the ball in advance of Friday night's game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Detroit Pistons, and with good reason. On cue, the Hawks responded in a big way at home, holding Detroit in check for most of the night on the way to a 99-89 victory to, once again, climb above the .500 mark on the young season.
Early on, it was a back and forth contest, as the Pistons held a slim lead for the first few minutes. That was short-lived, however, as the Hawks zoomed to a 10-2 run to take a 21-13 midway through the first quarter before cruising to a four-point advantage after one.
Defensively, the effort was mixed (as has been the case lately), but offensively, the ball was flying around, and shots were falling at a 60% clip. Paul Millsap scored 10 points on only five shot attempts in the first quarter, but aside from that mini-breakout, it was a balanced effort, and Atlanta managed to hold their own defensively (45% shooting for Detroit) and on the glass (10-9 advantage) for the most part, with a few noticeable lapses.
The second quarter was markedly better on the defensive end, and that was the story. Detroit certainly aided in their own demise with some untimely and undesirable shot attempts, but the Hawks held the Pistons to just 6-for-22 from the floor (27%) and 1-for-7 (14%) from beyond the arc in the period. Offensively, it wasn't exactly an explosive effort with only 21 points on 36% in their own right, but with the issues plaguing Mike Budenholzer on the defensive end, he had to be happy with that trade-off, especially with a 10-point lead at the halftime break.
Post-halftime, the positives kept coming. Atlanta was able to build the lead immediately, creating an 8-2 run that was capped by a Kyle Korver lead to bring the advantage to 15 points, and by the five-minute mark, the Hawks led by 19 points.
Jeff Teague was playing at peak levels, scoring 8 points and dishing out 3 assists in just 7 minutes of game time, and the defense was largely keeping pace with a hat-tip to Detroit's shot-makers. There was a brief blip on the radar at the end of the period, when Detroit rattled off a 6-0 run accompanied by questionable shot selection, but Atlanta still took a somewhat comfortable 10-point lead into the fourth.
Sadly, the sunshine and rainbows would not continue for all 48 minutes. The Pistons continued their onslaught to begin the fourth, running up a 14-0 run across the two quarters (23-4 run overall), and when that run came to a (merciful) close, the result was a tie game at 74 apiece.
All was not lost, however, as Atlanta responded in a timely manner. The Hawks produced a 15-6 run, taking the lead to 89-80, and from that point forward, the margin was never less than seven points on the way to victory. The proverbial "dagger" was, somewhat ironically, accompanied by Josh Smith, as the former Hawk committed a clear-path foul against Paul Millsap. Millsap made only one of two free throws, but with the ensuing possession, Al Horford converted a hook shot to take a 10-point lead, and that was that.
Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap were the two stand-outs for Atlanta on this night. Teague played at an extremely high level for the large majority of his 33 minutes, finishing with 28 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals, while Millsap posted his fourth double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds. As a team, the Hawks shot just 21% from three to go along with 48% from the field, but defensively, there was large-scale improvement in holding Detroit to just 37% from the floor and 19% from beyond the arc.