The Atlanta Hawks have been called many things in the midst of a historic run to 18 consecutive victories, but perhaps no word better personified their effort on Friday night at Philips Arena than resilient.
"We're a resilient group. We just kept fighting, got stops when we needed to and really got into a good rhythm offensively."
Those are the words of Al Horford in the aftermath of a 105-99 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers to continue the much-heralded winning streak, and as usual with this particular edition of the Hawks, it was a collective effort. Paul Millsap led the way from a statistical standpoint with 21 points and 8 rebounds, but he was solidly flanked by six players in double-figures, even on a night where there multiple obstacles stacked against the team.
DeMarre Carroll was a late scratch as a result of an Achilles strain, and after just two minutes and 21 seconds of game time, replacement starter Thabo Sefolosha exited the game with a calf strain that sidelined him for the remainder of the evening. Enter Kent Bazemore, who put together a heroic effort off the bench, playing 40 minutes and producing 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in easily his most extended action as a member of the Hawks.
Mike Budenholzer had this to say about Bazemore when asked about the team's performance in the wake of the absences on the wing:
"Kent was everywhere tonight. He was on lots of different people and doing lots of different things. I thought he hit some timely baskets and just did a lot of things. He’s just been growing and kind of coming in the right direction, along with the whole group, and I’m just happy for him. He’s such a hard worker."
On a night where he made five of his six shot attempts, Bazemore stood out for a variety of reasons, but his energy has become the calling card of his game, and Friday night was no different.
"The crowd was great. I’m a player that feeds off that energy. Whenever I was, like, a step slow or felt like I was winded, the crowd got behind me. I just kept pushing and my teammates were in my ear all night telling me to keep going."
Defensively, it was a virtual imperative that Budenholzer deployed Bazemore, but he was proven vindicated time and time again, as the former Old Dominion standout helped to hold Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews to a combined 7 for 22 shooting in the game. Bazemore said that has only "one gear" after playing a career-high in minutes, and even tipped his cap to Budenholzer's judgment saying that "coach will pull me out before (I) turn blue."
In addition to Bazemore, the Hawks also got explosive bench contributions from Mike Scott (11 points on 4 for 5 shooting in 14 minutes) and Dennis Schröder (6 points, 7 assists in 24 minutes). Atlanta has been accustomed to the "next man up" mantra throughout the season, but this particular evening may have highlighted their depth in a way that hasn't been featured to this point in the campaign.
For a team that deploys three All-Stars (and a potential fourth in Kyle Korver), resiliency isn't necessarily a word that you would expect, but depth has become a calling card for this group, and Horford, the best player on the roster, made a point to highlight that strength.
We’re confident in one-to-15 here. Guys really put in the time. Guys work every day. They just don’t get the opportunity because we’re so deep. We have guys who can play.
Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schröder, Mike Scott and even John Jenkins (who appeared for four minutes) make Horford's case an easy one. This is the epitome of a deep team, and with a back-to-back situation looming on Saturday, that bench will likely be tested once again against Philadelphia, especially if both Carroll and Sefolosha are unable to go.
Normally, that type of absence would be a glaring hole that would send panic down the spine of any Hawks fan, but not this time. The Atlanta Hawks are deep, they are talented and they are.... resilient.