After dropping a pair of games to sub .500 teams this week, the Atlanta Hawks came into Saturday's game against the Brooklyn Nets needing a win in the worst way. They jumped out to an early lead and then clamped down in the second half for a 114-86 blowout win.
"Good effort by our group," Mike Budenholzer said after the game. "I think a lot of guys played well. The bench was really good for us. The first half was a little bit back and forth. We got some cushion. They threw a punch to start the third quarter. It was good to see us take that and extend the lead. Tiago and Al there, for a while, got us a little six or eight point lead. Then we finished the third quarter well and were able to finish it in the fourth. A lot of different guys played well. A little different combinations tonight, so it was good to see different guys in a little bit different situations play well."
Atlanta found a rhythm offensively early in the game but had trouble slowing Brooklyn down. The Hawks led 55-48 at the half but the Nets made a charge to start the third quarter. Joe Johnson scored five straight points as Brooklyn began the second half with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 55-55. Budenholzer replaced Paul Millsap with Tiago Splitter to add a little size to the front court. That combination pushed the lead to 70-63. Millsap returned later and the Hawks went small and outscored the Nets 14-5 to end the quarter.
"There were a lot of positives, including.... they've played teams well lately, and they've battled," Budenholzer answered when asked about the third-quarter surge. If you've watched some of the scores, they're there for a long time, maybe including all the way through the game. They came out strong in the third quarter and we took it. That group kind of brought us home to end the third quarter, including when Paul went back in. It was good to see."
The Hawks acknowledged that there was still work to do as the word "consistency" once again found its way into the postgame press session. Still after looking hapless in Charlotte and watching a late lead slip away late in Milwaukee, they were in need of any sort of victory on Saturday.
"It was great," Kent Bazemore said when asked about the win. "It always feels good to win, especially with the tribulations we've had here as of late. We're a very confident group, and what the future holds for us is positive if we continue to go out every night expecting to win. Tonight was a good win for us."
Hawks bench unit turns up the heat
Atlanta got a solid contribution up and down its roster in Saturday's win. The bench unit played particularly well and helped gain separation during the second half. Dennis Schroder, Tiago Splitter and Thabo Sefolosha combined for 32 of the team's 53 bench points.
"We did a great job," Bazemore said when asked about the bench contribution. "The guys off the bench came in and did a tremendous job. And Dennis flirted with a triple-double there. And Thabo bringing the energy. I can go down the list, but I think collectively we did an amazing job of playing Hawks basketball. The pace was great. The ball moved in transition. Even though we had a long game last night, I think it shows where our head is."
Schroder looked sharp throughout firing pinpoint passes for buckets inside and knocking down outside jumpers when left alone. He finished with 15 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. Splitter had struggled a bit since returning from a calf strain earlier this month. He played some big minutes against the Nets and finished with 10 points and five rebounds. Atlanta finished the game with a 40-36 edge in rebounding and limited the Nets to just two second-chance points.
Sefolosha continues to play with his right wrist taped but the injury didn't appear to affect his play in any way. He was active offensively early and helped set the tone defensively in the second half.
"We played really well tonight," Sefolosha said. "We just have to feed off of this and keep it going. It's about the energy to win the game. We did that tonight, most of the 48 minutes. It feels good."
Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to improve
Tim Hardaway Jr continued his string of solid performances finishing with eight points and three assists in 23 minutes off the bench. He is looking to make the extra pass and is finding his way on the defensive end of the court.
"I'm just trying to go out there and just play my game, get everybody involved and be aggressive at the same time and not try to do too much," Hardaway said after the game.
Hardaway was 4-for-5 from the field on Saturday including another highlight dunk in transition.
"Tim, the work he was doing behind the scenes, including going to the D-League....it's an opportunity to develop our players that we believe strongly in," Budenholzer said when asked about Hardaway's improvement. "Since Tim has gotten to play the last three or four or five games, he's been very good. His activity defensively, his effort to get through screens and all those things have been good. He's just letting it come to him on offense. He has an ability to get to the rim, get to the paint and make shots. He's passing the ball well too. Overall, I'm pleased with all the work he put in to get to here. He's reaping the benefits of that now."