The Hawks came out of the gate locked in defensively and held the Kings to just 30 percent shooting and 15 first quarter points. Atlanta took a 53-44 advantage into halftime but saw that lead evaporate in a 37 point third quarter for Sacramento.
The Hawks would regain their footing in the fourth an pull away down the stretch. The resiliency that they showed following the Kings’ run was something that stood out for head coach Mike Budenholzer.
“Some good, some bad,” Budenholzer said after the game. “But overall I liked the response to their run. They made a great run. They threw a heck of an effort and took a lead. We were able to withstand that and find a way, especially with our defense. We made some big plays down the stretch. I thought the Thabo chase-down knock-away -- that’s a winning play that we need. Those plays become critical to you.”
Atlanta once again clamped down in the fourth quarter outscoring Sacramento 27-14 while holding them to 33 percent shooting and six turnovers.
“I don’t think any of us felt great about a 37-point third quarter,” Budenholzer said about the message he gave the team entering the fourth. “We talked about what we had just done, and that we had to change that. And if we could change that, that give us a chance. That was a talking point. Thirty-seven in the third quarter and we need to be better.”
The game was probably the most physical that the Hawks have been involved in so far this season. It featured 54 foul calls with 34 coming against Sacramento.
“It was a funky game,” Budenholzer said when asked about keeping a rhythm through all of the foul calls. “The officials every night have a tough job. They have to call what they see. We prioritize attacking the basket, attacking the offensive boards. There were lots of opportunities and fouls where we were crashing the glass and creating opportunities there. We did a pretty good job of keeping them off the free throw line. That was an emphasis going into the game. Particularly Cousins and Gay have been shooting a lot of free throws in their first few games. It was a strange game. It was tough to officiate. They’re a physical team. They play with an edge. You have to expect that coming in with Sacramento.”
Atlanta wasn’t particularly good at the free throw line but they got there enough for it to be the difference in the game. The Hawks were 29 of 47 from the charity stripe. Those 47 attempts were the most since a four-overtime game back in 2012. Dwight Howard was 8 for 20 from the line by himself. The Kings finished the game 13 for 19.
Strong fourth quarter performances have been a trend so far through the first three games of the season. Atlanta has outscored opponents 90-47 in the fourth quarter over the first three games of the season. Their offense in those quarters has been fueled by a stingy and opportunistic defense. That is a trend that they are hoping continues as the season progresses.
“We’re capable of playing defense like that,” Kyle Korver told reporters of Atlanta’s fourth quarter push. “We have a lot of great individual defenders on this team, and we have a great team concept. As long as we stay in that, we have the potential to be a great defensive team. I think Thabo....just to highlight somebody, I think he’s been in the middle of all of those great defensive quarters. His defense has been amazing.”
Sefolosha finished with just four points but had a major impact in the game with six rebounds, three assists and four steals. He was a team-best +20 for the game and saw action down the stretch with the starting unit.
So far so good for these Hawks. The schedule has been kind but as we said on Sunday, there is a lot of things over these first few games to be excited about. Monday’s game wasn’t a stellar performance but they were able to get in a slugfest of a performance and still come out with a double-digit victory. That has to be a big boost of confidence for them moving forward.