The Atlanta Hawks (21-50) battled the Utah Jazz (40-31) Tuesday night in what was the first of a five-game West Coast road trip for the Hawks. Atlanta entered the night as losers of their last six while Utah tried to extend their winning streak to double digits.
The Jazz entered the night as the seventh seed in the Western Conference while Atlanta had the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Newly acquired wing Damion Lee drew his first career start for Atlanta in the backcourt with Dennis Schröder by his side, while Taurean Prince, Mike Muscala and Dewayne Dedmon rounded out the front-court. Utah started Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles, Jonas Jerebko and Rudy Gobert.
Kent Bazemore (knee) and Malcolm Delaney (ankle) remained out with injury, while rookie John Collins missed his first full game with an ankle injury he suffered Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The shooting guard matchup in this game was a reunion of sorts, as Lee played his post-grad season (2015-2016) at the University of Louisville alongside Mitchell during the latter’s freshman campaign. Mitchell entered last night’s play leading all rookies with 19.9 points per game, while Lee spent most of this season with the Santa Cruz Warriors of the G League before signing a 10-day contract with Atlanta last week.
Coach Mike Budenholzer was also in store for a reunion, as Utah head coach Quin Snyder served as a Hawks assistant for Budenholzer in his first season as head coach (2013-2014).
Utah boasts a 21-2 record since early January behind standout rookie Mitchell and a healthy Gobert, whom many around the league consider the best defensive center in the NBA.
The Jazz finished the night tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the second best defensive rating in the NBA (101.7). However, over the past 15 games that number rests at what is by far a league best, 92.9. Gobert missed 26 games earlier in the season, so the latter number indicates Utah could very well be the best defensive team in the league while he is on the floor.
For those who are wondering, the Hawks rank 22nd in defense (108.4) and 26th in offense (103.2), with a net rating off -5.2 following the win in Utah.
Early in the game, the Jazz led 13-8 before a 9-0 Hawk run. Schröder started the game very aggressive with nine first quarter points, as the Hawks used he and Dedmon in a series of high ball screens in an effort to draw Gobert and his shot blocking prowess away from the basket.
Gobert overplays the drive, leaving Dedmon wide open for a jumper.
However, Utah’s defense locked in for the most part for the remainder of the quarter as the Atlanta offense scuffled when Schröder exited the game. Atlanta trailed 27-21 after one.
Miles Plumlee hit a turnaround banker to kick off the scoring in the second as Atlanta began the quarter on a 14-6 run to retake the lead. The majority of this run was made while Gobert was on the bench and the Hawks struggled to score when he got back on the court. Mitchell struggled for much of the half as Lee was able to stay right with his college teammate. A back and forth half concluded with Utah up one, 42-41.
Schröder led the way for the Hawks in the first half with 15 points, three assists and three rebounds. Rubio led the way for Utah with 15 points and two assists while Gobert added seven points, eight rebounds and one block.
Another competitive quarter was in store for the third as Atlanta continued to play through Schröder, who poured in nine more points in the period. Utah separated themselves momentarily before a 15-3 Hawks run put Atlanta in front by two late in the quarter. Mitchell finally got going for the Jazz as he also scored nine points for the quarter, although he only shot 3-for-8 from the floor. Ingles also added seven points in the period for Utah, who led 67-63 after three.
Muscala hit a three-pointer to put Atlanta up one with a little over ten minutes to play, but Utah promptly responded with an 8-0 run. The second half of the fourth quarter in Utah was dominated by the persistent aggressiveness of Schröder. He scored 17 points in the period (15 in the final 7:26), much of it utilizing high screens and essentially playing off of Gobert’s decision to either help or stay home, setting up what was back-and-forth affair down the stretch.
Gobert sells out on the drive, leaving Dedmon wide open again for the easy deuce.
The lead changed hands four times in the final period before Schröder used the threat of a high screen from Prince to get the Ingles-Mitchell switch, then he quickly isolated and nailed the go-ahead floater over Gobert with 37 seconds to play.
Utah got a couple of solid looks in the final seconds but couldn’t connect, and a couple perfect trips to the line from Prince iced the win for Atlanta, 99-94.
Schröder finished with a career high 41 points, the most any Hawk has scored since Joe Johnson had 41 all the way back in December of 2008. He also added seven assists and five rebounds. Dedmon posted 15 points, 15 rebounds and four assists in what was certainly one of the better nights of his career as well.
Mitchell (24 points on 9-of-28 shooting) and Rubio (23 points) led the way on offense for Utah, while Gobert was, as usual, the defensive anchor with 15 points, 16 rebounds, and two blocks despite battling a little bit of foul trouble in the second half.
It was a hard fought win for the Hawks, who notched their 21st win of the season in dramatic fashion over a surging Utah team, who was playing in front of a packed home crowd (announced sellout of 18,000+).
Atlanta will continue their road trip Thursday night in northern California when they square off against the Sacramento Kings, a game many will be watching the ping pong balls on their minds.