The Atlanta Hawks struggled defensively on Wednesday and offensively on Friday. On Saturday, however, the team put together a relatively complete performance, taking control and putting away the Houston Rockets in the second half on the way to a 112-97 victory.
In contrast to Friday night, the Hawks began Saturday night on a positive offensive note. Kyle Korver knocked down two threes and Atlanta executed a perfect lob from Dennis Schröder to Dwight Howard in the early going, and the Hawks later scored nine consecutive points to claim a 20-15 lead.
The first quarter was generally kind to the offense, with 57 percent shooting and 60 percent (3 for 5) from three, but the defensive end was not as encouraging. Houston managed to match Atlanta with 30 points, based in large part on 11 points and seven assists from James Harden, and that defense would continue to be an issue.
The Hawks did manage to build a small lead while Harden sat on the bench early in the second quarter, and the home team would continue to chip away before halftime. The highlight of all highlights was actually a “foul” on Dwight Howard on a tremendous block, but Atlanta quietly built as much as an 11-point lead with strong offensive execution, and the advantage was six points at the break.
All told, Atlanta shot 61 percent from the floor and 50 percent from deep before halftime, and that was evident by the 65-point outburst. Still, there was work to be done and the Hawks took care of business coming out of the locker room.
Kent Bazemore capped a 12-4 spurt with back-to-back threes to give Atlanta its largest lead of the night to that point at 89-77 and, in general, the offense was quite good yet again. That was manifested with a 28-point quarter and, in the end, Mike Budenholzer’s team took a nine-point lead into the closing period.
From there, it was relatively smooth sailing, as a 10-1 run early in the fourth quarter provided the cushion necessary to secure victory. When that spurt stalled, the Hawks led 105-87 and, when Kent Bazemore knocked down a corner three shortly after, Atlanta held a 20-point lead that would not be relinquished.
In terms of individual performances, there were several to spotlight on this night. Paul Millsap led the way with 23 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 steals, while Dennis Schröder added a double-double with 17 points and 12 (!) assists. Dwight Howard was the center of attention throughout the day (REVENGE GAME!) and he responded as well, finishing with 20 points and 14 rebounds, and Kent Bazemore bounced back from a slow offensive start with 20 points, including 7 of 12 shooting and 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
From a global standpoint, the Rockets can be an elixir to any struggling offense, but the Hawks clamped down defensively in the second half against a quality team and that is worth noting. The next test for Atlanta will come in a house of horrors for the team, as the Hawks travel to Cleveland to take on the defending NBA champion Cavaliers on Tuesday.