The Atlanta Hawks continued their impressive run Friday night with a 103-93 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in front of an impressive and enthusiastic crowd at Philips Arena. The win extended Atlanta's streak to 15 consecutive games which is a franchise record breaking the old mark of 14 that was set in the 93-94 season.
"It's great to play in front of a crowd like that," said head coach Mike Budenholzer. "The atmosphere helps us in so many ways. Tonight they made a big run in the first quarter. We've had a lot of good starts and tonight probably wasn't one of them. They put us on our heels a little bit and we were able to grind through the next three quarters.
Atlanta trailed 30-23 at the end of the first quarter on Friday. They finished the second quarter on a run to take a 48-47 lead at the half. Both teams shot the ball well in the third but the Hawks were able to extend their lead to 79-75 heading to the fourth.
Atlanta clamped down defensively in the fourth quarter 24-18 down the stretch while holding Oklahoma City to just 30 percent shooting in the period. Dennis Schröder gave the team a spark off the bench but this time it was Paul Millsap's turn to play the role of the closer.
"We talk about playing for 48 minutes on both ends of the court," said Budenholzer. Eventually we found a way to get a couple of stops and a couple of buckets. Guys coming off the bench and playing well. I thought Dennis was great. Obviously Paul in the second half. Again, it's a team effort. Every night, somebody different can step up and play the way we want to play, unselfishly and really guard and defend."
Millsap scored 11 of his team-high 22 points in the fourth quarter going 4-6 from the field in the quarter including a dagger three to cement Atlanta's run. Millsap finished with 10 rebounds. He and Al Horford recorded double-doubles as the Hawks beat up the Thunder on the boards 47-36.
Atlanta was hampered early by turnovers and finished with 19 for the game with 12 coming in the first half. The Hawks were able to take care of the ball much better down the stretch and put on a clinic with sharp execution offensively in the fourth quarter.
"The first half, we didn't take care of the ball very well," Budenholzer said. "It led to buckets, especially that stretch there where we made a couple of defensive mistakes. We shifted too much, turned it over. They scored 12 or 14 points like that. In general, the first half, we didn't take care of the ball. I thought we cleaned that up a little bit in the second half. teams that are this athletic and this long, when they turn you over, it can be quick layups and dunks and threes."
In addition to their 15-game winning streak, Atlanta has won a remarkable 29 of their last 31 games. They lead the Eastern Conference by 6.5 games over second place Washington. Mike Budenholzer and his coaching staff will be headed to New York to coach the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. No one saw this coming and this team's performance is a testament to their hard work and their focus on the ultimate goal which is winning. There isn't any other agenda for this group.
"I'm happy for our guys to have success," Budenholzer said. "It's a carry-over from the work on the court and work in the film room before and after practice. Our guys deserve to have an opportunity to do something. We just have to keep doing it. We have to keep working in practice. We have to keep doing all those things and keep our focus there. That's how we're going to get better. That's how we'll be at our best."