Tuesday's game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers might not have quite lived up to its advanced billing due to a lack of star power but the game proved to be another big win for the Hawks. LeBron James sat out the game due to a sore knee while Al Horford was a late scratch due to an upset stomach moments before tip off.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer admitted that last minute lineup changes can sometimes even by the other team can sometimes be hard to overcome. "Different guys aren't playing, guys on our team aren't playing, guys for them aren't playing," said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. "It's just human nature, as much as you want to fight it, it can be hard. We don't want to lower our expectations ... but it wasn't a pretty game."
The game might not have been pristine in terms of execution but Atlanta did what it needed to down the stretch to bring home another victory.
"Nights like tonight can be really hard for a lot of reasons," said Budenholzer. "Our group finding a way to win the game is something important. It obviously wasn't our best or our prettiest game, but Cleveland played well. Kyrie Irving was really hard to guard. He put them on his back, and other guys around him were making shots. So give Cleveland a lot of credit for the way they played and the way they fought. Our guys found a way to make enough plays to win."
Paul Millsap scored 10 of his team-high 26 points in the fourth quarter including eight straight at one point to carry the Hawks down the stretch. Jeff Teague added 23 points and 11 assists to help offset the loss of Horford.
"We're just playing together," said Teague following the game. "We believe we can win every game. Tonight we came out and played hard together as a team, we played defense."
Atlanta led 26-25 at the end of the first quarter but outscored Cleveland 26-15 in the second to take a 51-41 lead into the half. Kyrie Irving had a huge game with 35 points and nine assists but Atlanta was for the most part able to minimize the damage from the rest of the Cavaliers' roster. Tristan Thompson logged a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds but Mike Miller went scoreless in 19 minutes and Kevin Love finished with just seven points on 1-8 shooting.
"This is what happens. A lot of games are won and lost in the first quarter when you come out and take a team lightly or you have extra edge coming into the game," said Kyle Korver. The first quarter is really important, in how you approach the game. They had LeBron out, Kevin Love was out. It's easy to be like, 'It's going to be an easier game.' But if you come out and have a bad first quarter, now your're in a hole. It's the same thing. Al's out. We knew we had to pick it up a little bit."
Korver finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. Atlanta also got a solid contribution from its bench as Mike Scott and Dennis Schroder combined for 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists. For Schroder it was refreshing to see after he had struggled for a couple of games.
"Hopefully that has become something where each night, different guys are stepping up and making plays," said Budenholzer. Even if one of them hasn't had a particularly good game or a particularly good couple of games, I think we expect them to play well every night. Dennis bouncing back after a couple of tough games is a great sign from him. He put in good work the past couple of days. It's a credit to the assistant coaches, keeping him confident and keeping him aggressive."
With the win, the Hawks tied an Atlanta record for victories in a month with 14. They improved to 23-8 on the season and drew to within a half game of first place Toronto.
"I think we've just been really consistent with our approach to the game," said Korver. "That's really encouraging. It's a long season and there are going to be ups and downs, but if you can continue to bring the energy and be focused every night, you can do a lot of things in the NBA. We have good players and good coaching too, obviously. Our approach has been good. We keep getting better at what we're trying to be, as far as a system and as a team."
The Hawks will enjoy a couple of days off before heading out on a western road trip that will no doubt prove as another test for the team.