The Atlanta Hawks continued their run Wednesday night as they extended their franchise-best winning streak to 17 straight games with a 113-102 win over the Brooklyn Nets. Atlanta improved to 38-8 on the season and equaled their win total from last season.
During this brilliant run by the Hawks they have typically jumped out to early leads but that wasn't the case on Wednesday night. Brooklyn came out sharp and looked well rested while it took Atlanta a bit of time to get going. The Hawks recovered to lead 30-27 at the end of the first quarter but the Nets shot 65 percent from the field in the opening period.
"The first half, both teams were scoring at a high clip," Mike Budenholzer said following the game. "Brooklyn tonight competed and really gave us a lot of problems. Give them a lot of credit for putting us in some tough spots defensively, on the boards and a lot of different situations."
Atlanta found its defensive footing in the second quarter and was able to finish the half strong. The Hawks outscored Brooklyn 34-26 in the period and closed the half with a 21-9 run. The Nets shot just 35 percent in the period and the Hawks were able to build some momentum heading into the half.
"Something we talk a lot about and we're emphasizing is finishing quarters," said Budenholzer. "There have been a good number of nights where in the second quarter, we're able to make a push before halftime. It usually starts with our defense. But I thought Paul was great on the offensive boards to finish the first half. He got us multiple possessions. We got into the bonus early in the second quarter. That's something we emphasize, trying to get to the free throw line by attacking. Those are just a couple of things that stand out to me about the second quarter.
Hawks center Al Horford echoed his coach's sentiments. "We just wanted to close out the half making a run." We got stops there when we needed to. You have to give Brooklyn credit. They came out and they had a great plan. They played great and really made us work the whole game."
Atlanta would increase their lead to as many as 15 points in the second half but were unable to land the knockout punch to push the game into blowout territory. Credit the Nets for hanging around but once again the Hawks showed poised and were able to execute and get baskets whenever they needed them.
"We found a way to have a good defensive fourth quarter -- 21 points allowed in the fourth quarter," Budenholzer said. They hit a few shots and got it to six. Our guys trusted the pass. We had 29 assists and played unselfishly. We need to play better defensively than we did tonight, especially in the first half. That's what practice will be for tomorrow."
Paul Millsap delivers another monster night for the Hawks
While the Hawks have several All-Star candidates perhaps their is no better symbol of their hard hat mentality than Paul Millsap who turned in a big performance against the Nets. Millsap finished with 28 points and 15 rebounds on just 5-9 shooting. He did the majority of his damage at the free throw line where he was a career-best 15-16.
"I was just being aggressive," Millsap told reporters after the game. "They're a lot bigger than us. Their four's and five's are seven feet and over. I was just using my quickness to try to get around them and draw a few fouls, and try to make the right play."
Despite Brooklyn's size advantage in the front court, Atlanta won the rebounding battle 45-35 with Millsap and Al Horford doing most of the heavy lifting.
"He was just great," Horford said when asked about Millsap's game. "He kept attacking the basket. It seemed like he was getting every rebound out there. It's good to see Paul play aggressive like that."
Millsap again showed off his all-around game. Three of his five field goal makes were from three-point range where he is shooting 36 percent for the season. After making a career-high 76 three-pointers last season, Millsap is at 47 through 45 games this season.
"The coaches definitely encourage me to shoot it," Millsap said. "They strive off spacing the floor. If you're going to space the floor, you have to be able to step out and knock the shot down. The coaches and the organization encourage me to do it. They have a lot of confidence in me."
Hawks open up seven-game lead in the Eastern Conference
In addition to winning 17-straight games, the Hawks have now posted victories in 31 of their last 33 games dating back to November. They lead the East by seven games over Toronto and 7.5 over Washington. The Cleveland Cavaliers have won eight straight games yet still trail Atlanta by 11.5 games in the standings.
Despite the big lead, don't expect the Hawks to take the foot off the gas pedal. Mike Budenholzer was asked about how his team must avoid complacency after Wednesday's win. He reiterated his team's "one game at a time" approach that has served them well this season.
"We have a mature group that's focused on being better each day," Budenholzer said. "We spend a lot of time each day getting better individually. We're trying to grow and improve on an individual and team basis. We keep our mindset there, and we just play. Each night we go out and compete. That has been good for us so far."