While the schedule hasn’t been incredibly challenging, you must credit the Atlanta Hawks for taking care of business. Atlanta extended their winning streak to four-straight games Saturday night with a 117-96 blowout win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Besides a brief two-game skid that included losses to the Lakers and the Wizards, Atlanta has been near dominant thanks to a revamped approach to rebounding and some very strong play from the bench.
After a sluggish start on Saturday, the Hawks turned it on outscoring the Sixers 36-21 in the second quarter to take a 59-48 advantage at halftime. Atlanta floundered a bit in the third but once again slammed the door shut in the fourth.
“It was a good win,” Mike Budenholzer said after the game. “The bench continues to be very, very big for us. A lot of different guys played well. It’s good going into a big week next week.”
Bench play has been a common theme throughout the early part of the season. Atlanta has benefitted from different guys stepping up at different times. On Saturday, it was Tim Hardaway Jr. who led the team with 20 points off the bench. Kris Humphries just missed out on a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds. There has been a different hero it seems every night and Atlanta’s depth has been an underlying storyline throughout their good start to the season.
“I think it’s a huge plus for our team to have several guys that can fill it up,” Kyle Korver said when asked about the team’s depth. “We had a bunch of guys score in double-figures [Saturday] and Paul wasn’t even one of them. That’s pretty awesome. As the season goes on, it’s a long schedule, and to have different guys that can put up some points is going to help us.”
After a 3 for 30 shooting start in the preseason, Hardaway Jr has found himself through the early part of the regular season. He has given Atlanta a huge boost in the scoring department off the bench averaging 12.3 points on an efficient 47 percent shooting. He knocked down five more three-pointers against the Sixers and is shooting at a 35 percent clip from beyond-the-arc.
“Tim had an incredible game, but he wasn’t the only one,” Thabo Sefolosha commented on the team’s depth. “Kris Humphries as well. We’re rolling right now. We’ll try to keep it up. We wanted to play a little bit better from start to finished but we had some spurts where we really played well, played together and executed on defense and offense.”
Humphries had seen a bit of a reduced role of late but Atlanta needed his muscle against the physical front line of Philadelphia. Humphries has now grabbed 19 rebounds in two games against the Sixers this season.
If there has been an area for concern for the Hawks through the first nine games it has been an increased amount of turnovers. Atlanta turned the ball over 16 times in Saturday’s game leading to 22 points for Philadelphia. Nine of those 16 came in the first quarter and helped the Sixers take an early 27-23 advantage.
“That first quarter, that’s hard to fathom, nine turnovers in the first quarter,” Budenholzer said of the turnovers. “We talked about it in one of the timeouts that the turnovers were fueling their transition. It was like we’re handing them the ball and they’re going and scoring. Credit to our guys to kind of flip that, and just still play with great ball movement and great confidence and reduce the turnovers.”
Atlanta is tied for 28th in the league averaging 17.8 turnovers per game. Schröder is turning the ball over 3.3 times per game but Millsap is at 3.1 while Howard and Kyle Korver are averaging more than two per game. The problem hasn’t been any single player but it is something that is plaguing the starting unit and hurting their effectiveness.
“We had some bad turnovers in the first quarter. That led to easy offense for them,” Korver said. “I thought our defense was pretty solid for the most part. On the turnovers, they were able to get some easy baskets. It’s been a problem for us all year. It’s something we have to clean up. Coach Bud wants us to play free and make things happen. He doesn’t want to take that away.”
Atlanta will enjoy a pair of off days on Sunday and Monday before embarking on a four-game in six-days stretch. The Hawks play a back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday beginning in Miami and ending at home against Milwaukee. They travel to Charlotte on Friday and wrap up the week with a 12 p.m. game next Sunday in New York.