The Atlanta Hawks continued their improved play Wednesday night defeating the Detroit Pistons 107-100 at Philips Arena to notch their fifth consecutive victory. After an up and down start to the season, Atlanta is slowly starting to resemble the team that many thought they'd be coming off of last season's 60-win campaign and Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
"We're getting closer to playing a complete game," Mike Budenholzer said following the game. "If we could have done something to play better defense in the fourth quarter the last couple of nights. I think the first three-quarters, and what we've done the last couple of games, putting us in positions where you have a cushion is good. Those things are always easy. I was happy with the defense, happy with the offense. Jeff was very aggressive tonight. Tiago and Mike Scott off the bench were very good. The group obviously is getting closer to where we want to be."
A number of different factors have led to Atlanta's winning streak. The two biggest are there increased defensive activity and the improved play of their point guard tandem of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. Teague was outstanding against the Pistons posting a game-high 23 points and nine assists while going 10-for-19 from the field. He set the tone early and his team followed suit.
"Jeff is interesting that way," Budenholzer said when asked about Teague's game. "He loves the challenge of the top guys. Big games in big moments, big shots, big free throws. It's part of why we love him. Now we'd love for the whole group to be more consistent, for Jeff to be more consistent regardless of who he's playing. He steps up and obviously Reggie Jackson is at a high, high level. I think for Jeff to take that on and know how important it was for him to play well, to compete on both ends. It was a good night for Jeff."
Jackson finished with 19 points and seven assists but was just 7-for-16 from the field and committed four turnovers.
Hawks turn in good effort on the boards
In the first meeting this season against the Pistons, the Hawks were destroyed on the boards by Detroit by a 59-40 margin in a 106-94 loss on opening night. The Pistons again finished with a slight 46-42 edge on Wednesday, but the situation was much more workable for the Hawks this time around.
"Our guys know that first game against Detroit was pretty glaring," Budenholzer said about the rebounding effort. "It's a prideful group, but I think they want to just be better. At the end of the day, they know how important it is. If you want to beat this team, you have to be really committed. Every night it should be important, but these guys just make it where it's even more.
Atlanta carried a 36-35 rebounding advantage into the fourth quarter. They finished with 10 offensive rebounds and held their own in second-chance points with the Pistons finishing with a 15-13 edge.
"We changed up our defensive coverages a little bit and tried to stay in front of their bigs," Kyle Korver said. Obviously Andre Drummond is a load to box out. We're trying to box out with two or three guys sometimes, and he still goes and gets the ball. A little bit smarter coverage against them, and then it's just all about effort. Rebounding is about heart and effort and I thought we did a better job tonight."
Drummond had another big game finishing with 25 points and 12 rebounds but wasn't nearly the factor that he was in the opener.
Splitter getting comfortable in role, Hawks system
Tiago Splitter is healthy again and starting to make more of a contribution for the Atlanta Hawks. Splitter missed seven straight games earlier this season with a hip injury, his return to the rotation has solidified the frontcourt rotation and he's starting to get more comfortable and confident with his role in Atlanta's system. Splitter finished 11 points and four rebounds in 19 minutes on Wednesday. He played a major part in Atlanta's big second quarter that included a 24-6 run.
"It was great plays from my teammates," Splitter said when asked about scoring eight of his 11 points in the second quarter. "It was just opportunity to put the ball inside the basket. The most important part was the movement, how we shot the ball, and guarded as a team. That's how we got the lead in the first half."
Splitter's value goes beyond the boxscore on many nights and his defensive rating of 93.4 leads the team by a wide margin.
"He looks more comfortable," Budenholzer said when asked about Splitter's recent play. "It looks like he's getting an understanding of where to be, both offensively and defensively, and finding his spots. Defensively, he did a lot of really good things in pick-and-roll coverage tonight. You hate to say it but sometimes things take time, and hopefully he'll continue on that path. He's been a good player in the league for a long time, so I think there's a lot of faith there."