It wasn't the offensively smooth performance we have grown used to but the Atlanta Hawks were still able to extend their winning streak to 13-straight games by grinding out a 93-82 win over the Detroit Pistons in front of a sold out MLK Day crowd at Philips Arena.
"I would like to start with what a great crowd we had today in honor of Martin Luther King Jr," said Mike Budenholzer after the game. "It's great to see that kind of support and the community come out and be together and support a group that plays together."
Atlanta sputtered a bit offensively in the early going but found just enough late to garner some separation and to pull away for a comfortable victory.
"Our team does a lot of things on both ends of the court to give us a chance to be successful, to continue to move this group forward," said Budenholzer. "We just talked about our defense has to be there every night. That's what put us in a position to win."
Atlanta's offense gets most of the attention but it has been their defensive improvement that has put them at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. The Hawks now have the league's stingiest defense allowing just 96.3 points per game. They are fifth in the league in defensive rating allowing 99.5 points per 100 possessions. They held Detroit to just 82 points and 35 percent shooting on Monday.
"It was a little bit of an ugly game," Budenholzer said. "Maybe some shots that - you want every one to go in - but you know they're not. A lot of shots tonight were good opportunities that didn't go. But the defense put us in a position to pull out a tough win against a team that is very, very well coached and playing at a high level. So that's good for our fans and good for our team."
Atlanta wins despite being out rebounded 61-42 by the Pistons including a 20-5 advantage on the offensive glass. To the Hawks credit, they limited the Pistons to just 15 second chance points off of those 20 offensive rebounds. So things could have been much worse. Still opponents with big and athletic front lines remain a concern for these Hawks.
"I covered my eyes sometimes when the ball went up to the rim," said Budenholzer. "Our guys are fighting. It's not for a lack of effort. It's something that we continue to talk about, the disparity in the boards. For us, we're prioritizing transition defense and getting back. We're probably 30th in offensive rebounding, and they're probably first, so it's one of those things where the opposites collide. They killed us on the boards. It's not something we like."
Atlanta was held without an offensive rebound in the first half and as Budenholzer said, that is often by design as they don't send a lot of players to the glass on shot attempts and instead focus on their transition defense. Still the Hawks were fortunate to keep the second chance points manageable and they didn't cost them a victory.
Mike Scott breaks out with big offensive performance
It has been a bit of an up and down season for Mike Scott but he broke out in a big way on Monday and the Hawks needed every point. Scott tied for the team-lead with 20 points off the bench on 9-15 shooting. It was his offense that seemed to get Atlanta started in the second half and it wasn't just his jump shooting. He scored on a couple of big cuts and was really active on the offensive end of the floor.
"I was just doing my job on this team," said Scott after the game. "To come in and provide energy, play defense, rebound and make shots, and really just spark the team with energy. Every night that's my job."
Spark them he did and eight of Scot's 20 points came in the fourth quarter to help close out the win.
"It was great to see him have a game like that," said Budenholzer when asked about Scott's performance. "He's been working so hard. His defense and activity have maybe gone unnoticed. Every time he shoots it, he's a little bit like Kyle, we think he's going to make it. He can get hot. For him to give it to us on both end and give us that boost off the bench on a night when we're searching for points, it was great for us."
Hawks pile up assists, even in a slow offensive game
Atlanta continues to pile up the assists and finished with 31 on 37 made baskets in what was a slow offensive game against the Pistons. The Hawks lead the league in Assist percentage at 68.5 which measures the amount of made baskets that are assisted on. Atlanta is currently second in assists per game but are closing the gap quickly.
One of the staples of Atlanta's success is their unselfishness and how they will pass up a good opportunity for an even better one. This play from Monday's game is an example of that.
Here Jeff Teague passes ahead to Al Horford who has the angle and an opportunity to take an inside shot against Detroit's Jonas Jerebko. However, Horford passes it up to dish to Paul Millsap for the lay in. Its not much and it might seem trivial to some but this cements the team first attitude that the Hawks have.
Horford ended up tying Teague for the team lead with seven assists on Monday. Nine of the 10 Atlanta players that saw playing time against the Pistons recorded at least one assist. Sharing is caring and in this case sharing means winning.