The Atlanta Hawks avoided what would have been a disappointing loss Monday night to the Dallas Mavericks by holding on for a 105-102 win. The score really wasn't indicative of the game considering Atlanta led by as many as 24 points in the third quarter. Credit Dallas for not giving up as they outscored the Hawks 39-23 in the fourth to make things interesting.
Forget about that fourth quarter for now. These Hawks have put together an amazing stretch winning 13 of their last 14 games including sweeping what many thought would be a reality check road trip. Atlanta won nine straight before a buzzer beating loss to the Orlando Magic, yet pundits weren't impressed citing the team's strength of schedule. They pointed to a five game stretch of games that would be provide a stiff test.
Atlanta has won four of those first five games with wins over Chicago, Cleveland, Houston and now Dallas. The last three coming on the road and without Jeff Teague who happens to be the team's leading scorer. All that remains is Tuesday's home matchup against the Clippers.
A lot of pundits were waiting for the "real" Hawks to show up following that initial nine-game winning streak. Perhaps what they are currently seeing is indeed the "real" Hawks. Win or lose on Tuesday night, people around the league are starting to take notice.
Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle told reporters following Monday's game that Atlanta was the league's best kept secret.
"In my mind, this is the most underrated team in basketball, and the most underrated coach in basketball," he said. "Right now, with the way everybody's playing, this is a team that realistically could be the team coming out of the East in the playoffs. They're playing that well."
Dennis Schröder continues to play well in Jeff Teague's absence
There were people who were ready to declare Dennis Schröder a bust after his rookie season. However, he is showing that a year of growth did wonders for himself and his game. Schröder was huge again on Monday scoring a career-high 22 points to go along with six assists.
"I thought Dennis was aggressive on both ends," said Head Coach Mike Budenholzer. "He was good defensively. He made a couple big shots and found ways to get to the basket."
Schröder is still learning and three of his five turnovers came in the fourth quarter at inopportune times but he has a sense for the moment and knocked down a big jump shot and a pair of free throws late to help hold off the Mavericks.
In his last three games as a starter, Schröder is averaging 13.3 points and 7.3 assists while shooting 53 percent from the floor.
Hawks continue to flex their defensive muscles
The fourth quarter aside, the Hawks put up another strong defensive performance against the Mavericks. Atlanta helped limit Dallas to just 37 percent shooting in the first three quarters before the Mavericks exploded in the fourth. Dallas ended up topping 100 points but came in averaging 109 per game and were No. 1 in offensive efficiency averaging over 113 points per 100 possessions.
Lots of people want to talk about Atlanta's offense but it is their defense that has been responsible for this run. The Hawks have surrendered 90.5 points per game over the last 14 games which is tops in the league per NBA.com. Go a step further and they given up just 94.4 points per 100 possessions over that same stretch which is also tops in the league.
Al Horford return from injury has given the Hawks a defensive boost but as is the case in most everything they do its a team effort. Several different times on Monday Dallas players barreled their way into the paint only to be smothered by Atlanta defenders. Their rotations are on point and they are executing their game plan almost to perfection.