While many were appointing the Boston Celtics as the next great team to emerge in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks showed everyone that they don't intend to go away quietly. Atlanta grabbed control early and then withstood a pair of runs by the Celtics during one of the team's best performances of the season. The result was a 121-97 beatdown of one of the better defensive teams in the league so far this season.
"I think we competed for longer and better, and our focus and attention to detail was closer to where we needed to be," Mike Budenholzer told reporters following the game. "We'll just continue to get more perfect, less mistakes, all those things. I thought a lot of guys like Paul really stood out."
Atlanta has been plagued by slow starts of late but did not waste any time on Tuesday getting off to a good one. The Hawks made 13 of 22 field goal attempts in the first quarter and led 33-28. They held Boston to just 41 percent shooting. That led Budenholzer to say that it might have been the best first quarter his team had played all season.
"I think so. With a little lag there at the end," Budenholzer said. "We turned the ball over down the stretch of the first quarter. We could have had a more significant lead." I thought Thabo came out and set a tone, really was active everywhere, everybody was...so you know if we can play like that in the first quarter, hopefully that will propel us"
While turnovers might have kept the Celtics in the game longer than they deserved to be, the Hawks were able to bear down and flush out any run that Boston made.
"I think that was a little closer to what we want to be, and how we want to play on both ends of the court," Budenholzer said. "I thought guys competed individually and collectively, the competitive spirit was closer to where we need it to be, and how we want to play on both ends of the court. The great thing is we have a challenge and we get to do it again tomorrow night."
Thabo Sefolosha sets tone early for Hawks
Sefolosha made his second straight start at small forward for the Hawks on Tuesday and as Budenholzer alluded to, set the tone early. Seven of his 15 points came in the first quarter and he helped spark the team defensively with a pair of steals to go along with a blocked shot.
While many expected Sefolosha to be a part of the team's starting lineup, the group hadn't spent a lot of time on the court together due to various injuries.
"Well, it's like I said with Thabo's defense and Thabo's activity tonight....Kyle and Jeff play together a lot, so to get Thabo with that starting group tonight, it was good." Budenholzer said. "I think it's a good balance. Thabo knows how to play and slash and cut. Kyle obviously creates great spacing and Jeff was attacking tonight. Jeff was in a very aggressive mindset. That group has been good in the past, and so I'm sure we'll try to find ways to get them out there."
Bench provides significant contribution
Mike Scott and Lamar Patterson combined for 25 points and gave the Hawks a big boost off the bench. Patterson kept up his steady play this season with 10 points, six rebounds, and three assists while going 3 for 5 from the field. Scott scored in double figures for the first time this season knocking down 6 of 8 from the field including a pair of three-pointers.
"I thought really the whole bench, but Lamar, if felt each shot he hit was a big one," Budenholzer said when asked about the bench play. "Mike Scott really had a great stretch there in the fourth quarter. He made several plays that helped us keep the lead and I think he was a big part of us separating in the fourth quarter."
Jeff Teague returns to the starting lineup
It might not have been the biggest game we have seen from Jeff Teague, but his return to the team's starting lineup had a huge impact on the Hawks' performance. Teague returned to the starting lineup for the first time since missing three games with an ankle injury and finished with 16 points and nine assists in 26 minutes of work. He was aggressive getting to the free throw line nine times and helped limit Isaiah Thomas to just 14 points on 3 of 11 shooting.