After what seems like a full season of waiting, the Atlanta Hawks followed up their big win in Houston with a dominant performance in a 113-86 win over the Orlando Magic. The Hawks led wire to wire and tighten the gap even further at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
Atlanta has been plagued by slow starts of late so it had to feel good when they came out of the gate firing on all cylinders. The Hawks connected on 16 of 22 shot attempts while jumping out to a 35-24 lead. Their defensive effort was present as well as they set the tone early holding the Magic to just 38 percent shooting in the opening 12 minutes.
“To start the way we did was good, with that focus and effort, really on both ends,” Mike Budenholzer said after the game. “To get out to a great start....following the game on Thursday, it was kind of important to come out and start that way. I think it was tough for Orlando on a back-to-back. This time of year those are not easy. I was happy with our focus and our effort on both ends.”
Orlando pulled off a big victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday and looked a little gassed from the outset. However, we have seen situations this season where these Hawks haven’t taken advantage of those situations. They did just that on Saturday.
Atlanta blew the game open in the second quarter outscoring the Magic 30-15 to take a 65-39 advantage into halftime. The Hawks never looked back from there and were able to cruise home with the win with their starters sitting for most of the fourth quarter.
“We just picked up where we left off in Houston,” Kent Bazemore said. “Playing with aggression. Dennis was attacking. Tim is playing out of his mind right now. He’s sort of a catalyst for us right now.”
Hardaway stole the show in Thursday’s win scoring 23 fourth quarter points to spark a fourth quarter comeback in Houston. He picked up where he left off on Saturday with nine quick first quarter points. He tied Paul Millsap for the team lead with 21 points on an efficient 8 of 14 shooting in just 27 minutes.
“I was just being aggressive and just picking and choosing my spots wisely,” Hardaway told reporters after the game. “My teammates are doing a great job of just finding me. It all starts on the defensive end. When you run out and get easy baskets. It just sets the tone on the offense and makes you more comfortable out there on the offensive end of the floor.”
“Anytime you have a guy playing like that...he shows up, he works hard,” Bazemore said of Hardaway. “He’s just a product of what he does in his spare time. He takes care of his body. He’s in the weight room. He’s in the gym. He’s doing the right things that he needs to do to play at this level. It’s paying off.”
Paul Millsap added 21 points while Dennis Schröder finished with 17 points and 10 assists.
Before this two-game winning streak, Atlanta had alternated wins and losses for six straight games including lifeless losses to the Washington Wizards and Miami Heat. After Thursday’s emotional victory in Houston, a potential letdown had to be something that was in the back of their minds coming into Saturday’s game.
“I think it was just us challenging ourselves,” Hardaway said when asked about avoiding a letdown. “We knew that in the last three or four games, we’ve given up a lot of points. Thirty-plus points each game in the first quarter. So we just wanted to set the tone on the defensive end. Just take care of the ball and make shots, make good plays on the offensive end. It started with Baze and Dennis, and we just rolled from there.”
With the victory, the Hawks moved back into a tie for fourth place in the Eastern Conference with the free falling Raptors. Toronto has lost two straight and 8 of 10 overall. Atlanta is just a half game behind the Wizards who have won seven straight and 2.5 behind the Celtics who are currently riding a six-game winning streak of their own.
Atlanta will continue its home stand on Monday with a matchup against the Utah Jazz. The Hawks host Denver on Wednesday before heading out on a three-game west coast trip that will take them into the All-Star break and to the trade deadline.