The Atlanta Hawks took care of business Tuesday night riding a 24-3 run to start into an 89-72 win over the Boston Celtics. While Atlanta's offense sputtered at times, their defense was suffocating holding the Celtics to just 32 percent shooting including 18 percent from beyond-the-arc.
"Both teams made it really hard on each other," Mike Budenholzer said after the game. "Obviously, maybe, the tale of two different halves. What they were able to do in the second half....luckily we had a little bit of a cushion from the first and made enough plays down the stretch."
Boston cut a 21 point Atlanta lead to just 10 at one point in the second half but the Hawks always had an answer to hold off the threat.
"It's a competitive game," Budenholzer added. A lot o stops, 50-50 balls, all the activity, deflections. I think we made one or two more plays down the stretch and we need to be better, especially in the third quarter in all areas of our defense. We can't let up for a second."
The Hawks won the game despite Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap combining for just nine points on 3 for 26 shooting. Both players along with Al Horford led the charge defensively. Bazemore finished with nine rebounds and a pair of steals while Millsap and Horford combined for nine of Atlanta's 15 blocked shots.
"I think Baze was great," Budenholzer answered when asked about his performance. "His focus, his mentality was in the right place. When he's really locked in defensively, he's making things difficult. That puts him in the right place. Then his ability to attack and close out, get to the rim, get to the free throw line, rebound, his overall game...against them, we just need to be solid."
Bazemore in many ways is the spiritual leader for the Hawks at the defensive end of the floor. He typically draws the toughest wing matchup and might be matched against a speedy point guard like Isaiah Thomas on one trip and a big small forward like Jae Crowder the next.
"That's what this time of the year is about," Bazemore said when asked about his team's strong finish. "They have a great team, as far as playing from behind. If you look at their last regular season game, they were down huge to Miami. They came out in the third quarter and made it interesting. They have some blue-collar guys over there that I really respect. They're not going to quit. They kept fighting."
"It was big for us to show resiliency," Bazemore added. "When things aren't going your way, they started hitting shots late and we got a little erratic. That playoff experience last season always comes back at certain moments. It was huge for us."
With Bazemore leading the charge defensively, Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague did most of the heavy lifting on the offensive end.
Korver knocked down four three-pointers in the first quarter and finished the game with a team-best 17 points. It was a big turnaround for Korver who struggled through a 1 for 10 shooting performance in Game 1.
Horford scored 10 of his 17 points in the second half and knocked down three three-point buckets. Teague finished with 13 points and six assists and drew praise from his head coach for his aggressiveness throughout the game.
"I felt like Jeff was in attack mode most of the night," Budenholzer said. Avery Bradley is obviously a very good perimeter defender. Without him, Jeff may have gotten even more aggressive and found some situations that we like. Hopefully, he can get to the basket or find guys that are open and play a two-man game, he and Al or he and Paul. That's how we've finished a lot of fourth quarters.
Sefolosha, Schröder lead the bench charge
Thabo Sefolosha and Dennis Schröder had good nights off the bench for the Hawks before an ankle injury to Schröder put a bit of a damper on the evening. Schröder was injured on a drive to the basket late in the fourth quarter. X-Rays were negative but no further update was available.
Schröder has struggled a bit of late but played well in Game 2 finishing with eight points and just one turnover in just under 20 minutes of action.
Sefolosha went 4 for 5 from the field and finished with 12 points and six rebounds. He and Bazemore helped suffocate Boston's wing attack from the perimeter and off the bounce.
Hawks winning the battle of the boards.
Coming into the series, one of the biggest concerns for Atlanta was rebounding and specifically, keeping the Celtics off the offensive glass. Atlanta 53-50 rebounding edge in Game 1 but did allow 22 second-chance points to Boston. The Hawks had a 49-43 edge in Game 2 but held the Celtics to just eight second-chance points.