The Atlanta Hawks got back on track Sunday evening by grinding out a 97-86 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. The win snapped Milwaukee's seven-game home winning streak and pushed Atlanta's lead in the Eastern Conference back to 6.5 games over the idle Toronto Raptors.
Atlanta's defensive improvement is the biggest reason they find themselves at the top of the East standings this season and that intensity returned on Sunday. The Hawks had seen some slippage defensively of late but were dialed in early against the Bucks.
"Three of the four quarters we were good defensively," said head coach Mike Budenholzer. "The goal is 48 minutes or to do it for all four. By and large it was a much better effort tonight."
With Atlanta's offense sputtering, the Hawks' defense forced Milwaukee into 25 turnovers. Those extra opportunities led to an early lead. That lead disappeared in the third as turnovers by Atlanta derailed their good defensive effort.
"I think we found a way to do enough offensively but we had that third quarter and it got tight," said Budenholzer. "I thought both ends of the court we weren't playing well. We were turning it over. I think the turnovers were feeding not a great defensive third quarter. It was good for the group to have it get tight and then respond and find a way and get better defensively. Obviously, Kyle makes some shots and it opens things up for a lot of different people. It's a good win against a good team, a well-coached team. We needed it today."
Korver knocked down three three-point attempts in the fourth quarter to help give the Hawks some breathing room. It wasn't a pretty game by any means but its another quality road win over a good opponent.
Turnovers prove costly again
The Hawks finished Sunday's game with 20 turnovers which lead to 23 points for the Bucks. Milwaukee scored 13 points off of nine Atlanta miscues in the third quarter of Sunday's game as the Hawks' lead vanished. Atlanta has turned the ball over 43 times in the last two games leading to 53 points for the opposition.
Its not just that the Hawks are turning the ball over but it how they are occurring that is the problem. Live ball turnovers lead to fast break opportunities and high percentage shots for opponents. Budenholzer was critical of his team's defensive effort in the third but closer examination may reveal that the turnovers on the offensive end but the team in several tough spots defensively.
In two games since the break, we have seen the Raptors and the Bucks get physical with Atlanta. Suspect officiating in Sunday's game made it difficult for either team to find much of a rhythm offensively. Milwaukee's length on the defensive end of the floor made it tough but the Hawks struggled with their spacing at times and that usually leads to turnovers.
Hawks get back to attacking the paint
With Milwaukee aggressively defending the perimeter, Atlanta did a good job of putting their heads down and attacking the paint. The Hawks outscored the Bucks 42-36 in the paint and had a 19-7 edge in second-chance points. Atlanta finished with just 26 points in the paint in Friday's loss to Toronto.
People like to talk about Atlanta's three-point shooting and the way they space the floor but none of that is possible if they do not attack the paint. The Hawks still managed to get off 30 three-point attempts on Sunday but that was only possible due to the many possessions where Jeff Teague, Dennis Schröder or Paul Millsap attacked the paint and then kicked the ball out to open shooters.
Jeff Teague, Dennis Schröder share the backcourt
Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder have become a solid one-two punch for the Hawks this season at the point guard position. They spent a lot of time in Sunday's game in the backcourt together.
"We liked what we saw," Budenholzer said. "Dennis was playing really well tonight and helped us in a lot of different ways. They play some combinations and some groups that are a little bit smaller, not just at the guard but across the whole lineup, so you feel a little more comfortable playing Dennis and Jeff together."
Budenholzer has shown an affinity for smaller lineups in the past and used both point guards together on Sunday to attack Milwaukee's aggressive perimeter defense. For the most part it worked although the duo combined for 10 of Atlanta's 20 turnovers in the game.
Teague finished with 10 points and just two assists but added four steals and helped set the tone early defensively while Schröder added 12 points and nine assists off the bench. Despite the turnovers, having both point guards on the floor put a lot of pressure on the defense in Atlanta's pick and roll schemes.