The Atlanta Hawks have won 12 of their last 13 games and the last three have come in impressive fashion over legitimate playoff teams in the Bulls, Cavaliers and Rockets. Two of those three wins came on the road and were also without point guard Jeff Teague who happens to be the team's leading scorer. How has Atlanta been successful?
How did this team suddenly become so good defensively?
Not an easy question to answer but like on the offensive end of the floor, they do a good job of playing together and executing their game plan. Atlanta held Houston to 29 percent in the first half on Saturday and limited the league's leading scorer James Harden to just four points. DeMarre Carroll drew the initial assignment against Harden but the Hawks also threw Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore at him as well. The game plan was to not let him get comfortable from three-point range and force him into their help defense.
Harden made his presence felt in the second half and finished with 18 points and 14 assists but was just 5-16 from the floor and only got to the free throw line six times.
So back to Atlanta's defensive improvement and where it came from? The continuity from last season helps as does getting Al Horford back to near 100 percent. You can't sleep on the additions of Sefolosha and lately Bazemore have meant as well. The Hawks were very undersized on the wing last season and Sefolosha and Bazemore both bring size and athleticism to the mix. It hasn't always been pretty offensively for either but this team isn't short on options for putting the ball in the basket.
Atlanta is 15-1 on the season when they hold their opponents to less than 100 points and are seventh in the league in defensive efficiency allowing 100.2 points per 100 possessions. The offense has been outstanding as well and the Hawks shot 51 percent from the field on Saturday, but they don't win 12 of their last 13 without the defensive improvement.
The bench continues to deliver
Atlanta's bench answered the call once again on Saturday producing 33 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. That is big considering one of the bench's key players Dennis Schröder has been thrust into the starting lineup in each of the last two games due to Jeff Teague's injury.
Some mocked our suggestion that this could be the deepest Hawks team we have seen in some time. Yet on Saturday all 10 players who played had scored by halftime. Different players have stepped up at different times but more often than not they have been consistent and that has also been key to the team's recent success.
Kyle Korver continues to impress
Kyle Korver led the way for the Hawks on Saturday with 22 points and knocked down a back breaking three pointer with 1:29 remaining.
He also set the franchise record for consecutive free throws made at 49 with four straight makes in the games closing moments. He continues to put up a truly historical shooting season. After going 7-12 from the field on Saturday, Korver is shooting 52 percent from the field, a ridiculous 54 percent from three-point range and 96 percent from the free throw line.
His shot chart illustrates just how ridiculous Korver is and why we are surprised when he does actually miss.