The Atlanta Hawks were due a good shooting night and that is exactly what they got Monday night against the Sacramento Kings. Atlanta scored 76 points in the first half and finished with 130 for the night in a blowout win. They set an NBA high for the season with 42 assists and looked like a well oiled machine in the process.
"I think it's a night where we were fortunate and we made a lot of shots," head coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters following the game. "The ball movement was good. We were able to get a rhythm going offensively. We caught them in the middle of a tough schedule, a lot of road games. It was just a good offensive performance.
Coming into the game, the focus was on how Atlanta might slow down Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins. Perhaps more attention should have been paid too how the Kings would deal with Atlanta's talented point guard combination of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder.
Teague finished with 18 points, hit seven of 11 shots and handed out a game-high 13 assists. Schröder added 12 points and eight assists off the bench. They combined for 21 of Atlanta's season-high 42 assists which was the most by an NBA team this season.
"That's something, obviously, that we emphasize," Budenholzer said. "We talk a lot about our ball movement, people movement. Guys have to make shots for there to be assists. I thought the pace going into our screens and coming out of screens ... there was a good energy. There was a sharpness to our offense that allowed us to get into a good place."
Of course the offense is only half of the story. Atlanta did a good job of setting the defensive tone early against Cousins and held him to just 12 points on 3-9 shooting. That was well under his 23 point average coming into the game. Cousins did finish with 14 rebounds and six assists but was visibly frustrated for much of the night.
"That would probably be one of the things that was a big emphasis coming into the game," Budenholzer said. DeMarcus Cousins is such a good player, such a good low-post player. If you limit his catches, especially deep, where he is so effective ... I thought our guys worked really hard to make his catches tough. Al and Elton mostly, but other guys got switched onto him. The activity in our post defense was something we can build on."
When Cousins did make a catch near the basket, he was met by a swarming Hawks defense. That led to blocked shots by Al Horford on each of his first two shot attempts and it didn't get any easier from there.
"Showing him different looks," Horford said. "Our team did a great job guarding him. Our guys kept coming and helping. He's the type of player who's very capable to get going offensively."
The Hawks responded in a big way after a disappointing loss in Philadelphia on Saturday. Atlanta did rest three starters against the Sixers but built up a big first half lead and seemed to run out of gas in the second half. They delivered another statement on Monday and became the first team this season to reach 50 wins.
"We're just unselfish," DeMarre Carroll said. "We don't care who scores. This is a high-character team. I think that's why we're so unselfish, because we'll pass up a good shot for a great shot. If you have guys like that on your team, who don't care who gets the glory, you set the record in assists."
The win improved Atlanta's home record to 30-4 on the season. Atlanta's magic number to clinch the No. 1 seed in the East is seven. Next up for the Hawks is a six-game west coast run beginning Wednesday night in Denver.