The Hawks have won nine straight and 11 of their past 12 games following Friday’s 87-81 victory over the Magic. The Hawks trailed by as many as 12 points in the third quarter before mounting a comeback.
With the win the 16-6 Hawks remained a half-game behind the Raptors for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks won despite struggling through easily their worst quarter of the season. They scored just 11 points in the second quarter, four points worse than the 15 first-quarter points they scored against the Spurs Nov. 5.
Paul Millsap led the Hawks with a game-high 23 points and eight rebounds. Al Horford added 17 points and seven rebounds.
Here are my five observations from the game:
1. The Hawks had a defensive game plan to stop the Magic and their pick-and-roll offense. It didn’t work. So at the break, Hawks players went to coach Mike Budenholzer and asked to switch back to their normal defensive scheme and coverages. It worked.
The Hawks picked up their defense and it lead to more offense. The used a third-quarter run of 11-0 and a fourth-quarter run of 14-4 to regain control.
“I think the point is to play Hawks basketball,” DeMarre Carroll said of the win and the Hawks’ current streak. “We are trying to build something here. As you can see, coach is trying to lay down the foundation. We are trying to take advantage of our opportunities. The winning streak isn’t really the big thing, playing the right way is the biggest thing.”
2. Enter Elton Brand. The little used veteran center came into the game with 6:17 remaining in the third quarter the Hawks trailing 57-45. He, along with Dennis Schroder, provided a defensive spark. Budenholzer mentioned it in his postgame press conference. Several players pointed to the substitution as the game’s turning point. By the time Brand exited the game with 9:24 left in the game was tied 67-67.
“I thought when Elton (Brand) came in the game he totally changed it,” Kyle Korver said. “His aggressiveness. I don’t know how many minutes he played and (he scored one point) but he came in and just totally changed the game. He brought our energy level way up as a whole. I thought from that point on we played a lot better. I thought he did a great job.”
Brand said that is part of his gig.
“That is a mindset,” he said. “I have to bring defensive intensity out there. That’s the role. Once I get out there I have to help in any way I can. That is how I’ve been able to help our team.”
3. The Hawks proved they can win – and win ugly. The second quarter was about as ugly a 12 minutes of basketball as you’ll see. The teams combined for 25 points in the period. The Hawks scored just 11 points on 4 of 22 shooting (18 percent), including 0 of 7 from 3-point range. The Magic scored just 14 points on 5 of 22 shooting (23 percent). They started the quarter 1 of 16.
“It shows that even though we had a bad night shooting-wise, we were able to win,” Horford said. “Sometimes when the shots aren’t going in you can use that as an excuse, fall behind and not defend. But guys kept fighting. Guys kept defending. We played hard to the end.”
4. When it mattered most, the Hawks made their 3-pointers. It wasn’t easy. It was clear the Magic’s defensive game plan was to have Evan Fournier never leave Korver. It worked – for a while. The Hawks were 1 of 13 from 3-point range in the first half. Korver did not have an attempt. They were 8 of 16 from long range in the second half, including 3 of 7 in the final quarter. The Hawks made the three 3-pointers as Korver, Millsap and Mike Scott connected back to back to back. They were part of the 14-4 run that put the Hawks up by eight points with 4:21 left. Even Horford had a 3-pointer in the second half and now has a career-high five (on nine attempts) on the season.
5. The Magic got little for their bench. The reserves scored just seven points – five by Ben Gordon and two by Elfrid Payton. Former Hawks Willie Green was 0 of 8 from the field with a turnover in 10 minutes. The Hawks’ bench didn’t have a particularly strong offensive game with 16 points, eight by Mike Scott. Again, it was their defense that was key to the victory.