So far this Atlanta Hawks team has passed every test. They made another statement on Friday handing the Golden State Warriors their ninth loss of the season in a 124-116 masterpiece in front of a sold out crowd at Philips Arena.
Atlanta may be lacking the star power of a Stephen Curry or a Klay Thompson but they again showed that their way is the best way with seven players finishing in double figures and a huge contribution coming from their bench. When you look at the stat sheet, plenty of guys standout but for the Hawks the most important detail was that they got the win. Not how they got there.
The eyes of the NBA were on Atlanta Friday with throngs of media in attendance to see the best match up of the regular season. It was a playoff atmosphere in what could very well have been a preview of this year's Finals.
After struggling a bit offensively in the first half against the Warriors defense, the Hawks executed near flawlessly in the second shooting 68 percent from the field while scoring 72 points. Still, it was Atlanta's defensive effort that drew praise from head coach Mike Budenholzer following the game.
"A game like tonight is where you learn more about yourself," said Budenholzer. "We learned how good Golden State is, and how hard they are to guard. Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, coming off screens and pick-and-rolls....there's some things we can build off of that we did well. There are some times when they got away from us that we need to improve and work on. Our bigs, they do so much for us defensively. What they did out on the perimeter to help our guards make life more difficult for opposing wings and point guards is to be commended. It was a great atmosphere. We'll learn from tonight and we'll be better after tonight."
Budenholzer categorizes each game as a learning experience for his club. There are pieces of every game that the coaching staff takes away as an area to focus on and improve.
"The attention to detail and how important it is, and how much focus it takes to beat a team like this.....whether it's getting back in transition...we made a lot of mistakes," said Budenholzer. "Every night both teams make a lot of mistakes. You want to be the team that makes the least. We got hurt in transition a couple of times. We got hurt in a couple of pick-and-roll situations. Those are the ones we need to improve and get better. Obviously, attacking and getting to the paint and to the free throw line, and being the aggressive team on that end of the court is something we can learn from and be better and take the positive from that."
Golden State finished the game with a 58-36 advantage in points in the paint. That is a bit deceiving because it was the Hawks that were on the attack for much of the game. That attacking nature led to 37 free throw attempts for Atlanta and helped open up space for them to knock down 15-27 three-point attempts.
The Hawks have saw an increase in fan support thanks to their good start to the season. Friday's game was one of the most anticipated match ups of the year and the home crowd delivered and contributed to the playoff atmosphere.
"It was amazing," said Jeff Teague who led the Hawks with 23 points and seven assists. "The crowd was into it. Kyle was yelling out. That was a first. It was a good game."
The players seemed to feed off the energy of the crowd, especially in the second half when they were able to build a lead.
"The crowd and the atmosphere was very good for us tonight," Budenholzer said. "I think it helps you when you go on a run. It gives you a little bit of extra juice. If the other team makes a couple of plays, you know that you have the crowd and the energy to fall back on a little bit. We appreciate the support. It's great."
Bench unit comes up big in victory
When breaking down the match ups from this game, many pointed to the bench as a reason to give the Warriors an edge. Atlanta finished the night with a 39-32 edge in bench points and the performances of Dennis Schröder, Mike Scott and Kent Bazemore played a big part in the win.
Schröder finished with nine points and seven assists to go along with just one turnover. He hit a pair of big jump shots including a three-pointer early in the fourth quarter.
Kent Bazemore came back to haunt his old team as he scored nine of his 11 points in the first half. Bazemore went 4-6 from the field and was 3-3 from three-point range. He also grabbed five rebounds and played valuable defensive minutes against Thompson and Curry.
"I played there so it was extra sweet for me," said Bazemore who was traded to the Lakers by the Warriors at last season's trade deadline for Steve Blake. "I'm definitely saving these boxscores. It was good to see my old friends. Steph who I still stay in touch with, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, a bunch of those guys. A bunch of familiar faces in the organization. I have nothing but the utmost respect for them because they started this career for me. It was a big win for us."
The biggest explosion from Atlanta's bench came from Mike Scott who busted out to score 17 points in 17 minutes. Scott knocked down 5-7 attempts and was a perfect 3-3 from three-point range. He scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half including nine in the fourth quarter.
"We have confidence in ourselves," said Scott. "We're not going to back down from any team. We also want to respect teams. Just like tonight, we respect the heck out of Golden State. Great coaching, great players. We played a hard fought game and came out with the win."