The Atlanta Hawks were “supposed” to win on Saturday night. For a team with a 5-19 record, that may seem like an odd dynamic but the Hawks, facing an Orlando Magic team with serious injury concerns, entered the game needing only to “take care of business” in the minds of some as a Las Vegas favorite and they were able to do just that in a 117-110 victory.
However, the Hawks faced a myriad of challenges in the form of a virtual “kitchen sink” game from the Magic, who performed extremely well despite real personnel concerns. Head coach Mike Budenholzer praised Orlando’s coaching staff, headlined by head coach Frank Vogel, and it was clear that the duo of Nikola Vucevic (31 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists on the way to his first career triple-double) and Jonathon Simmons (29 points, seven rebounds, five assists) had the mindset to play spoiler in what appeared to be a favorable spot for Atlanta.
Still, the Hawks were able to generate a victory and a number of things were key in putting together that positive result.
The veteran power forward played his best game of the season, scoring 26 points to lead Atlanta and operating with ridiculous efficiency. In fact, Ilyasova navigated his 28 minutes of playing time without missing a single shot (9 of 9 from the floor and 5 of 5 from three) during live play and Budenholzer thought only to say that he “did not see him miss” when prompted after the contest.
Ilyasova’s shooting performance (one that doubled as the first instance in the NBA with 9 for 9 shooting and at least five three-pointers since 2008) is clearly not fully sustainable but his defensive effort and aptitude did not go unnoticed. Budenholzer credited him for a strong showing against bigger players (including Vucevic) and, from an overall standpoint, the Hawks outscored the Magic by 11 points during the minutes he was deployed.
While Bazemore did not put together the same spectacular efficiency as Ilyasova, he was the key force in the late portion of the contest. The sometimes maligned shooting guard punctuated things with two dunks in the final 36 seconds, creating both with live-ball steals, and even getting to the line to convert two crucial free throws in between highlight plays.
Bazemore finished with 19 points (on 7 of 12 shooting with 3 of 6 from long distance), seven assists and six rebounds in the contest and, frankly, that likely undersold his contributions. From an efficiency perspective, Bazemore’s overall profile has lacked this season but he has seen an uptick in his across-the-board impact and there was a palpable buzz (including from Budenholzer) concerning his activity, length and influence on the win.
It was clear that Ilyasova, Bazemore and Dennis Schröder (18 points, seven assists) were the offensive engines in this particular game but it is important not to overlook Prince’s contributions. For much of the season, he has been criticized (by yours truly) for defensive energy and execution but, in this spot, Prince strung together arguably his best game of the season on that end.
“When he’s competing and making plays like that,” Mike Budenholzer said. “Those are where we talk about winning plays. The blocked shots. The steals. The rebounds. You have to make more of those than your opponent and I thought Taurean, overall, had a very good game.”
Prince’s energy level was quite solid throughout and, offensively, he was able to produce an efficient and helpful game with 10 points, six rebounds and three assists. It was his three memorable blocked shots (Budenholzer made sure to note that the two in the first half were nothing to sneeze at in addition to his late rejection) that garnered the attention but this was a solid, across-the-board effort that was much needed.
In the grand scheme, this will be remembered as a seven-point home win against a banged-up opponent and one that Atlanta desperately needed. Still, it has to be noted that the Hawks were excellent offensively, producing 33 assists on 41 field goals with 51 percent shooting and 17 of 33 from three, and there was enough defensive resistance to provide cover on a night that also featured two career-level performances from individuals on the opposition.
The Hawks didn’t play a perfect game on Saturday evening but it was enough to win and there were plenty of things to latch on to from an optimistic perspective. Stay tuned.