The Atlanta Hawks came into to Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns needing a win. The 95-91 result wasn’t an inspiring outing but it was a victory just the same and it snapped a seven-game losing streak in the process.
“Obviously we needed a win so I was really pleased with the way the guys came out in the first quarter,” Mike Budenholzer said after the game. “The aggressiveness, the competitiveness, the togetherness. Obviously it gave us the cushion we needed to get through the rest of the nigh. We weren’t great for all 48 minutes, but I thought we played hard and competed for all 48. Two big three’s by Dennis when we were down seven, I think Ersan made a layup, we scored eight straight to get us back in a good place. So that was a huge stretch right there. It was just a good win.”
In the beginning it looked like the Hawks might just run an openly tanking Suns team off the floor. Phoenix came into the game having shut down several of their regular players most notably point guard Eric Bledsoe. They also scratched Devin Booker, he of the 70-point performance against the Celtics, shortly before tip off with what was categorized as a sore ankle.
Atlanta quickly jumped out to a 27-12 advantage at the end of the first quarter. The Hawks held the Suns to just 19 percent shooting in the first while Dennis Schröder raced out of the game with 13 first quarter points.
As has been the case for the Hawks most of the season, they weren’t able to sustain the start. Atlanta’s defense relaxed in the second as Phoenix outscored the Hawks 32-20. Atlanta led by as many as 18 points in the first half but held only a 47-44 advantage at the halftime break.
“Just to keep competing. That was our message. That was our mantra coming into this game,” Budenholzer said when asked about his message for the team after giving up the big lead. “Can we play harder? Can we compete harder? For the most part, even when weere down seven, I thought they stepped up and did that.”
Phoenix continued to push in the third quarter but the Hawks were able to hold them at bay. That wasn’t the case in the fourth when the Suns opened the period with a 10-0 run to take a 78-71 lead. The Hawks came right back with an 8-0 run of their own including back-to-back three-pointers from Schröder to regain the advantage.
Atlanta pushed the lead back to as many as nine from that point on and while they were never able to completely pull away, Phoenix never really threatened again.
Dennis Schröder led the way for the Hawks finishing with 27 points to go along with nine assists. However, he was just 12-for-27 from the field and was saddled with eight of Atlanta’s 19 turnovers.
“I think, being aggressive on the defensive end and playing with pace,” Schröder said when asked what fueled Atlanta’s fourth quarter comeback. “We shared the ball very well. We did a great job of that. We just got to keep getting better. We need to play Hawks basketball. The last couple of games we didn’t do that, but today we did better.”
Ersan Ilyasova finished with 18 points while Dwight Howard logged another double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Taurean Prince made his second-straight start for the Hawks and was solid with 15 points and six boards.
“Another good effort. His ability to attack, get to the basket and finish,” Budenholzer said when asked about Prince’s performance. “Defensively, he does things that make it difficult on the opponent. I’d love for him to rebound a little bit more, get a few more loose balls. But he’s learning a lot. This is a great opportunity for him.”
It was the second straight game that Budenholzer mentioned needing Prince to grab a few more rebounds. To his credit, Prince has heard the message loud and clear and agrees with his coach’s assessment.
“I would definitely agree. There were times when I should have boxed Warren out and probably could have given a lot more effort on loose balls and 50-50 balls. But that comes with the territory,” Prince said. “The more that’s given to somebody, the more responsibility you have. So I just have to take advantage of it and continue to get better like he wants me too.”
The loss stops the bleeding for Atlanta at least for one night. They improve to 38-36 on the season and will complete a back-to-back on Wednesday with a trip to Philadelphia. Atlanta is still tied with Milwaukee for fifth place in the Eastern Conference and holds the tiebreaker over the Bucks. They are one game up on Indiana who is seventh and two up on eighth place Miami.
“It was definitely great to get a win but we have to keep it going,” Prince said. “We know our capabilities, we are not settling with just this win.”
“I said it before, we have to do it now,” Schröder said on finishing out the season. “It doesn’t matter who is out. We just got to try to play Hawks basketball and try to get better. Share the ball. Play how we play and when we get back we will be even stronger, and then we are going to be good in the playoffs.”