The Atlanta Hawks knocked off the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday evening to extend their record-breaking winning streak to 16 straight games. Although Atlanta won comfortably and never appeared to be in danger, it wasn't the suffocating defensive effort that we have grown accustomed to during the Hawks' remarkable streak.
"Not our prettiest game, but to make big plays down the stretch, a couple of big shots, the way the ball moved, finding open guys...when the game got tight, they trusted their spacing, trusted the pass," Mike Budenholzer said following the game. "A couple of guys made big plays. Obviously Jeff getting to the rim was one. Defensively, the first half was good. We were taking care of the boards, getting to the free throw line. We're continuing to do things that we need to work, talk about and improve. To find a way to win today, when we probably didn't play our best. It's a good sign."
While pointing out that his team didn't play well, Budenholzer was also quick to complement the job Minnesota did and pointed to the return of center Nikola Pekovic to the Timberwolves' starting lineup as a factor.
"They executed," said Budenholzer. "They were good tonight. Adding Pekovic to the lineup gives them a real force on the interior. Thaddeus Young tonight was great. They are cutting off the ball and slashing, getting to the basket, and guys were finding them. I thought their execution and their will to get to the paint, will to get to the free throw line...we could be better, but I think they are to be commended. They were very good. We have to be better."
Minnesota shot 52 percent from the field for the game and out rebounded the Hawks 37-29. Young finished with a big game of 26 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Pekovic finished with 15 points but only three rebounds.
Atlanta led by as many as 18 points but were unable to land the knockout blow against the Timberwolves. The Hawks had their way offensively shooting 56 percent for the game but Minnesota 11 offensive rebounds and 25 free throw attempts allowed the Timberwolves to hang around.
"It was another big game we played against a team with a lot of talent," Thabo Sefolosha told reporters after the game. "It wasn't a pretty game tonight. I think the energy and the defense could've been a little bit higher. But overall we did enough good things to win the game."
Jeff Teague echoed those sentiments citing that it is a long season and gaining the win was what was most important.
"Guys know it's a long season," said Teague. "We just want to continue to rack up wins and do what we can do. We want to be a good team, and good teams win games like this - game that they should win. That's what we have to do."
The win improved Atlanta's record on the season to 37-8 which is one win shy of their total for all of last season.
Al Horford continues torrid stretch
Al Horford continued his stretch of good performances on Sunday finishing with 19 points, six rebounds and four assists on 8-9 shooting from the field. Over the last 15 games, Horford is shooting 57 percent from the field and averaging 16.5 points per game.
Horford made things difficult for Minnesota's front line of Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng who were reluctant to chase him out to the perimeter.
"I think he's really good about getting to the right spot," said Budenholzer. "He's a great screen-setter. It's one of those old coaches' sayings....the guy who sets a great screen often times ends up open. Al sets great screens, he sets great screens in pick-and-rolls. All of the sudden guys are coming off and he attracts people. Maybe we throw it back to him. He sets great screens for Kyle in pin-downs. He's one of those really unselfish players that's reaping the benefit of his unselfishness."
Horford knocked down 4-5 attempts from the perimeter against the Timberwolves and his jump shooting gives Atlanta an added weapon coming down the stretch of games when often they must choose to leave him open or give Jeff Teague an open lane into the paint.
"HIs ability to make that 15-footer," said Teague. "I feel like if I can get all the way in the paint deep enough for him, he's always out there. If I'm able to kick it out to him, he's almost automatic from that spot."