The Atlanta Hawks began Wednesday night in a near-empty arena and would join the opposition in nearly putting the eventual crowd of 11,733 to sleep midway through a sluggish third quarter. Behind an energetic effort from DeMarre Carroll and the sharpshooting of Kyle Korver, the Hawks slowly sang the young Sixers to sleep to earn a 95-79 win victory in a game that was hard on the eyes for several stretches. The clanging of basketballs off the rim and squeak of sneakers on too many scramble plays made for some unpleasant percussion on an otherwise joyful night as the Hawks stretched their win streak to 8 games.
DeMarre Carroll did a little of everything from the very start of the game through his 26 minutes of action. He finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 assists, and committed no turnovers and made several crucial plays that capped any hopes of a Sixers run. Kyle Korver touched the ball nearly as much on the defensive end as on offense with 3 steals and a block while also deflecting a couple of balls out-of-bounds. Korver finished with 17 points on 5/7 shooting from the three-point line raising his season percentage to 56.1%. Carroll and Korver were a combined 7/12 from deep while all other players on the floor combined for a dreadful 9 out of 43. Missed shots by both teams contributed to Atlanta pulling down a season-high 52 rebounds--including 16 on the offensive end.
While the Sixers are 2-19 with only one player with more than a full season of NBA experience (Luc Mbah a Moute), their athleticism gave Atlanta difficulty for several stretches although never enough for the game to feel out of Atlanta's control. If Atlanta could have converted on several wide open three-point opportunities early in the game, the Hawks may have blown the game open early. However, the Sixers were able to tie the game at 18-18 as the Hawks found repeated empty trips on missed shots from long range while Philly rallied to an 8-0 run mostly behind the athleticism of second-round rookies K.J. McDaniels and Jerami Grant. Grant had his best NBA game as he finished with 10 points on 5/7 shooting.
The Hawks took 13 three-point shots in the first quarter, yet converted on only 3 attempts despite nearly all being wide open looks. Coach Budenholzer addressed the team taking so many jumpshots early on in his postgame comments:
In one of the timeouts, we talked about shooting too many jump shots. I'm a big believer in shooting when you're open and spreading the court. The three-ball is part of our game. At times, you have to drive more and you have to attack more. There was a point early tonight when we weren't driving enough.-Coach Mike Budenholzer
On the Hawks opening possession, Jeff Teague made a well-executed baseline pass to Paul Millsap where he received the ball right under the rim. The play resulted in a missed layup where it looked like the shot was altered by the Sixers' defense. Despite the early 7-0 run by Atlanta, the initial play set a tone inside that the Sixers would maintain throughout the game as they accumulated 10 blocks and altered numerous shots inside the paint. Millsap seemed particularly bothered by the length and athleticism early on as he committed some uncharacteristic turnovers and relied on taking fadeaways. With the Sixers missing assignments out on the perimeter, it became easy for Atlanta to accept taking wide-open shots from outside the arc. Thankfully, Atlanta began to find more balance in the second half and particularly the fourth quarter.
It was announced earlier on Wednesday that Mike Scott would not be available for the game due to flu symptoms and that opened up playing time for Mike Muscala who just returned from a stretch in the D-League. Muscala came through in a big way as he scored 12 points and secured 7 rebounds while being part of lineups that stretched the lead in the second quarter and put the game out of reach with just over 6 minutes to play. Mike commented after the game that his time in the D-League helped him get some "confidence back." In the midst of a sloppy game, Muscala's performance might be the best thing fans and coaches will be able to take away.
The Sixers are not a very good basketball team primarily due to problems handling the basketball and a whole lot of broken shots, but they are not an easy matchup because of the previous mentioned athleticism and length. When Michael Carter-Williams, K.J. McDaniels, Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel, and Henry Sims share the floor together, they are able to put 5 players on the floor who are already plus shot blockers and good at applying pressure on-the-ball. However, they are not difficult to defend and that makes for some uneven play, especially with the energy younger players bring to the floor. Coach Budenholzer addressed giving the 76ers credit for some of Atlanta's sloppy play:
They do some things that make it difficult. We talked about their pressure before the game. They get up into you. They can be active. They do some things defensively that at times can create some problems if you don't move the ball and attack them the right way.
-Coach Mike Budenholzer
While Atlanta has generally had great point guard play throughout this season, the length of the Sixers clearly caused problems for the Hawks beyond the struggles inside. Jeff Teague, Dennis Schroder, and Shelvin Mack combined to go 5/21 from the field and committed 5 turnovers while permitting Michael Carter-Williams to pull down 8 rebounds. On many nights that type of line would result in the Hawks being on the wrong end of the scoreboard, but Carter-Williams also committed 9 turnovers which more than balanced out Atlanta's difficulties at the point of attack.
Overall, Atlanta showed up and played with energy for the most part in a game that the Sixers successfully muddied up. Credit should go to a young team that has grown more competitive in the last 5-6 games, but some credit is also due for an Atlanta team that held a 16-point lead for the seventh time in eight games. As of tonight the Teague-Korver-Carroll-Millsap-Horford lineup has started half a season together (41 games) and are now the core of the longest Atlanta win streak in 17 years. On a night where Atlanta faced a team that chose to build around tanking for high picks, it is satisfying to see a team who chose a different route moving within a 1/2 game of the #1 seed. The HaWWWWWWWWks are still streaking.