The Atlanta Hawks got back on track Wednesday night with a big 105-96 win over the Washington Wizards. The Hawks registered an uneven defensive performance in Monday's loss at New Orleans which snapped their 19-game winning streak. They set the tone early defensively against the Wizards and clamped down again late to seal the victory.
"Our defense in the first and the fourth quarter is where we want it to be," said head coach Mike Budenholzer after the game. "We want to build from that. Defensively, I think an 18-point first quarter and then a 22-point fourth quarter allowed us to beat a team that I thought had a lot of different guys play well for them tonight."
Atlanta led 29-18 at the end of the first quarter which was a big confidence booster coming off of Monday's loss. The Hawks fell behind early against the Pelicans and never recovered. Atlanta knocked down 6-9 three-point attempts in the first quarter to help open up the lead. Jeff Teague helped set the tone early as he scored nine of his game-high 26 points in the opening quarter.
"It's just big to get a win and get back on the winning track," Teague said. "We had a tough loss in New Orleans. To come home and get a big win like this, I'm just happy."
The game wasn't without some tense moments for Atlanta. Washington trailed by 13 points at halftime but made a charge in the third quarter outscoring Atlanta 28-18 to cut the deficit to 77-74 heading into the fourth. The Wizards flexed their defensive muscles in the third holding the Hawks to just 37 percent shooting.
"They had us, kind of on our heels in the third quarter," Budenholzer said. "Wall was excellent tonight distributing and scoring. It was a heck of a matchup at the point guard. I thought he and Jeff Teague were both outstanding. We just have to build off that first and fourth quarter defense."
"That's part of the NBA," said Teague. "You make runs. That's a good team. They have talented players. We knew they were going to come back and make it a game. They executed. They pound the ball in the paint. We fouled and got them in the bonus early. We just made some defensive mistakes in the third quarter."
Wall finished with 24 points, nine assists and seven rebounds to go along with just two turnovers. It was easily his best performance against Atlanta this season after turning the ball over a combined 17 times in the first two meetings.
One of the defining characteristics of this Hawks team this season has been their resiliency down the stretch. When Washington stormed back to take the lead in the third, Atlanta didn't blink and quickly regained control.
Atlanta pushed the lead back to as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter and held the Wizards to just 38 percent shooting which was their lowest mark of the game.
"They made a good run," Al Horford said when asked about the Wizards' third quarter. " I felt like we were able to hang on to it even though they took the lead. We stayed poised and kept playing our style of play. Coach talked to us going into the fourth. He challenged our team. We came out and responded. We were much better defensively in the fourth."
The win was another quality one for the Hawks who now lead the Wizards by 10 full games in the standings. Washington shot 44 percent for the game but were just 4-16 from three-point range. Atlanta out rebounded the Wizards big front line 46-41. The Hawks would have been able to put the game away earlier if not for an off night at the free throw line where they were just 18-27.
Al Horford leads Atlanta's charge on the boards
Al Horford had an uncharacteristic tough shooting night but instrumental in the win finishing with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Horford was active from the outset and finished 10-24 from the field. His 13 rebounds were one more than Washington's Marcin Gortat and Nene had combined for the game.
"He looked like he was going to attack the basket and attack the paint," said Budenholzer about Horford's performance. "It's always good when him or anybody has that mindset, and we're getting into the paint and to the basket. He had a big offensive rebound and a putback. He can be such a threat there. I think that's really added to his game. We're not just shooting jumpshots. All of us are getting to the paint and attacking off the dribble and through the post in different ways. He's a big part of that."
Horford attempted 12 of his 24 shot attempts in the restricted area against the Wizards.
Hawks respond to starting five being named Player of the Month for January
Right before tipoff on Wednesday, the NBA announced that the entire Atlanta Hawks starting five had been named as Player(s) of the Month for the Eastern Conference. It was just the second time that multiple players had shared the award and was the first time that five teammates had received the honor. Atlanta went a perfect 17-0 in January.
"I'd just like to take one second and congratulate our starting five on the recognition that the NBA has given them for their work this past month," said Budenholzer. "I'm very happy for them, but very happy for the entire team and the entire organization. I think it's reflective of all the work that everybody is putting in each day."
Winning the reward is more proof that the league is taking notice of what has transpired in Atlanta in the last two seasons under Mike Budenholzer. What the entire organization has been able to accomplish in light of this summer's controversy has been nothing short of amazing.
"It's crazy," said Jeff Teague. "It's a cool thing. That just shows how we're a team. We're always like that. That's cool of the NBA to do that."