The Atlanta Hawks got off to a fast start and then held off a second-half charge in a 120-105 win over the Chicago Bulls Saturday at Philips Arena. Chicago came in riding a six-game winning streak, but the Hawks took control early and never trailed before coasting home to the victory.
"It's obviously a good win for us against a very good team that's been playing well," Mike Budenholzer said following the game. "The defensive activity creating 22 turnovers, and I thought our verticality, our presence at the rim, making things difficult. Al and Paul were very good. I thought the pace with which we played, going back at them, the way we moved the ball, moved people. It's just all the stuff we kind of talk about every day. So we need to build off this and we need to see if we can do it more."
Budenholzer was asked about how the Hawks would combat a bigger Chicago starting lineup. The Bulls started 6-10 Nikola Mirotic at small forward to go along with 6-7 shooting guard Jimmy Butler and 6-9 power forward Taj Gibson. Atlanta went to their big lineup for a couple of different stretches but wanted to control the game with their pace of play and to force those bigger defenders to move and guard Atlanta's smaller and quicker players.
The Hawks were able to do just that and controlled the pace of the game throughout. They did a great job of turning defense into offense and got a stellar performance from center Al Horford who finished with a season-best 33 points to go along with 10 rebounds and six assists.
"We are always talking about how unique Al and Paul are, and how many different things they do," Budenholzer said about the frontcourt matchup. "Those skills can counter what may be perceived as not a strength or that we're undersized. Some nights it goes against us. Tonight the skills and the athleticism and the versatility were obviously very good for us."
Horford contributed heavily to the team's fast start scoring 11 of his 33 points in the first quarter. He attacked Chicago's pick and roll defense whether it was finding the open space for a jump shot or rolling to the basket for lobs. The Bulls had little to no answer for him for much of the night.
"On an individual basis, Al Horford was very vintage, " Budenholzer said. "Everybody kind of followed his lead tonight. He was verbal and vocal in the timeouts, coming off the court talking. We want to play like this more often. It's not easy, but that's what you want to do."
Chicago cut Atlanta's lead to just two points in the third quarter, but Horford's 12 points in the fourth helped slam the door shut.
"We understood this was a good measuring stick game for us," Horford said. They're a really good team. They just won six straight. We knew we needed to come out and the effort needed to be there. We've been playing hard but we needed to play harder. We put an emphasis on that and from the beginning of the game, we did it. They're a very good team, they kept making runs at us, but we were able to hold them off."
"The biggest thing for us is to understand how we played today, moving the ball, hustling on defense and trying to do it consistently. As a team, I feel like we have some lapses in those areas. When we're able to be more consistent on the defensive end, we're a totally different team."
Jeff Teague, Dennis Schroder control game
Al Horford was the focal point for the Hawks offensively on Saturday, but point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder did a great job of controlling the pace and the game. Teague finished with 12 points and six assists while going 5-for-9 from the floor.
"Guys played great, with a lot of energy and a lot of passion," Teague said after the game. "Al Horford was the man tonight. He did it on both ends, the defensive and offensive end. We just followed his lead. Dennis came in and played great, and played with a lot of energy and played with a lot of pace. When we get up and down and play fast like that, we're a really good team."
Schroder finished with 13 points and eight assists off the bench. He and Teague combined for just six turnovers which was good considering the high pace of the game.
Thabo Sefolosha misses game with a sore right wrist
The Hawks played without Thabo Sefolosha on Saturday who was inactive with a sore right wrist. The combination of Tim Hardaway Jr and Justin Holiday saw an increase in playing time as a result. It didn't sound like Sefolosha's injury was serious and with the Hawks off until Wednesday, he may not need to miss another game.