The Atlanta Hawks captured a statement win Monday night at Philips Arena as they were able to grind out a 93-86 victory over the Chicago Bulls. Atlanta came into Monday's game having won nine of their last 10 but the Bulls presented a different sort of challenge. Atlanta's recent nine-game winning streak came mostly over less than stellar teams but the Bulls are clearly a playoff team and one of the preseason favorites in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta set the tone early and never lost control of the game. They started fast by getting out in transition and building a 28-22 lead at the end of one. As the game predictably slowed down, they were able to grind their way to the win and never blinked when Chicago made a late run in the fourth quarter.
"Contributions up and down the roster on both ends of the court really allowed us to be a very good team," said Head Coach Mike Budehnolzer after the game. "There was a play when they were in transition, I think we had four guys try to block the shot. Kent, Elton, guys off the bench... I don't know who all four were. But that kind of activity, that kind of effort, that kind of commitment from the group is what's going to give us a chance. Offensively, sharing the ball....there were a couple of possessions late... Al hits Jeff on the cut for the layup. The way we shared the ball, playing unselfishly, that got us some big baskets."
You watch this Hawks team day in and day and pay attention to what they say and its not hard to see what the coaching staff is selling. Individually they may not be as talented as some groups but together as a unit they can be successful.
That sort of thing is best illustrated by the amount of moving parts that the team has used. Atlanta has been fortunate to avoid major injury to this point but still a number of different players have made contributions. Early on it was Dennis Schröder, but lately we have seen guys like Elton Brand, Kent Bazemore and Mike Muscala respond with strong performances when called upon.
Budenholzer turned to Brand again on Monday with Pero Antic sidelined with flu-like symptoms. Brand responded with eight points, two rebounds and a blocked shot off the bench and seemed to give the team an emotional lift with his presence.
"To have Elton there, he's an incredible professional. He takes care of himself," said Budenholzer. He's just one of the best workers and he sets a great example for our entire group. It's not a surprise to me. The hard part is making decisions like that when you have a lot of guys that can help you."
Atlanta's defense continues to improve
They certainly didn't get off to the best of starts defensively early on the season but one of the biggest reasons for Atlanta's good start has been their play at the defensive end of the court. Everyone usually focuses on the offensive but the Hawks are currently tied for seventh place in defensive efficiency surrendering 100.2 points per 100 possessions. As SB Nation's Mike Prada pointed out on Monday, Atlanta's defensive improvement is due to a smart defensive scheme that they are executing flawlessly.
On Monday, Atlanta held Chicago to just 38 percent shooting and forced 16 turnovers. Those turnovers helped jumpstart their offense early and helped them to set the tone for the remainder of the game.
"We talked about wanting to have great pace coming out tonight," said Budenholzer. "The first quarter, scoring 28 points against a really good defensive team, we got some baskets in transition. It probably ended up being a little bit of cushion that we needed, that allowed us to get the win."
When you think of the Chicago Bulls under Tom Thibodeau the first thing that comes to mind is their defense. However, the Bulls have been one of the better offensive teams in the league this season in terms of offensive efficiency.
"They have been shooting the ball really well," said Hawks guard Kyle Korver. "They have a ton of weapons, a ton of length. They're a load in the paint, but they also have some guys that can really throw it up from outside. Jimmy Butler got hot on us early and showed why he's become such a good player. When you play the Bulls, it's always going to be a slugfest. They're such a physical team. There's so much length. We know that, because we're not as tall and long as them, we have to play physical basketball. We came out and did that early."
One of the key's to the game for the Hawks was limiting the effectiveness of Chicago point guard Derrick Rose. They set the tone early as Rose missed his first five shots and never was really able to find a good rhythm.
"We didn't do anything necessarily different specific to Rose," said Budenholzer. "Our pick-and-roll defense and our bigs' ability to hopefully be in a stance and move their feet and keep some of these dynamic guards out of the paint more often than not is something we talk about, we drill and we work on. He's one of the best in the league. I thought at times we were good and at times he was inside us."
Rose ended up playing just over 31 minutes but was just 6-21 from the field and missed all seven of his three-point attempts. He finished with 14 points and eight assists but was also saddled with a team-high six turnovers.