A strong bench performance was the difference for the Atlanta Hawks in Monday's 106-97 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Atlanta's reserves have often been a liability this season, but they have quietly put together a good stretch and that has resulted in winning basketball for the Hawks. Dennis Schroder scored 18 of Atlanta's 54 bench points and continued a run of mostly solid performances.
"I thought the bench was great. All of them," Mike Budenholzer said after the game. "You could just go up and down the list. I thought their defense was really good. Thabo and Tiago and Dennis, all of them. Lamar. They were all just really giving it to us defensively. I'm very pleased. It seems like the bench is coming on the last few games and we need that.
Schroder finished 7-for-10 from the field and equaled a career-high with three made three-pointers. He added three assists and just one turnover. Thabo Sefolosha is settling in nicely since being removed from the team's starting lineup. He chipped in 13 points, six rebounds, and his usual good defensive energy in 26 minutes off the bench.
"You can't match that," Kent Bazemore said when asked about the bench's contribution. "Mike Scott got hot last game. Dennis obviously. We have a lot of guys. Lamar is out there just wreaking havoc. We have a lot of guys coming off that bench ready. That's the beauty of this team. When they put the team together before the season, our depth was going to be our calling card. It's starting to come to fruition for us. It feels good.
Improved bench play has been a significant difference for the Hawks during this four-game winning streak. Mike Scott in particular, is seizing on an opportunity for increased playing time and Schroder has raised his level of production significantly after struggling for most of November. Scott finished with 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting and is again looking like that offensive boost off the bench that Atlanta was missing for most of the early parts of the season.
Hawks starting to settle in defensively
The improvements have been slight statistically, but the Hawks have raised their defensive intensity during their winning streak. They are still blips on the radar like a 36 point third quarter given up in Orlando and a 39 point fourth quarter on Monday night, but overall this team is starting to defend the way a lot of people thought they might coming into the season.
"Three-quarters of very good defense, very good actually, a lot of good stuff happening," Budenholzer said. The fourth quarter is not what we want it to be and we'd like to be better in the fourth quarter. But I think we're getting closer with the first three-quarters. Portland, no matter who was playing, they play extremely hard and executed. They made some tough shots. They kept fighting. They kept competing. It's a credit to their players and to Terry Stotts and the coaching staff. It's a good win. We appreciate, especially, those first three-quarters. We have to keep getting better and keep building off of that."
Atlanta held Portland to 58 points and 41 percent shooting through the first three-quarters Monday night before taking the foot off the gas in the fourth quarter.
"We're just being more consistent on the defensive end," Al Horford said about the defensive effort of late. "That was our problem earlier in the year. It starts with me. I have to make sure that I'm bringing that energy and doing a good job, being a defensive presence. I feel like we're all getting better each game."