ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks pulled away from the Washington Wizards with a dominant second-half run on Sunday afternoon, taking down their division rival 120-89 in Philips Arena. Here are four observations from the game:
1. Hawks keep stranglehold on Eastern Conference
In terms of the conference standings, the Washington Wizards sat only three games behind Atlanta in the East entering Sunday’s contest, holding a 25-11 record with wins over the Cavaliers, Clippers, Rockets and Bulls. The Wizards have yet to figure out the Hawks, though, falling to the East leaders for the second time this season — and this latest meeting turned into an absolute rout. Right now, the gap between the Hawks and the rest of the East powers looks like its growing wider.
It was the eighth straight win for the streaking Hawks, who have steadily cemented themselves as title contenders while winning 22 of their past 24 games. Their resume of wins is growing more impressive by the week. In this month alone they’ve taken down the Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Clippers and Wizards — teams with a combined 104-42 record entering Sunday’s games — but Hawks guard Kyle Korver claimed this was the team’s best performance to date.
"We were clicking tonight. At this point, I don’t think we’ve played a better game. We had that one about six-minute stretch (of below-average play) in the second quarter, otherwise that’s about as good as we’ve done so far this year," said Korver, who poured in a hame-high 19 points. "I’m sure they feel like they could’ve played better. They had a bunch of turnovers in the first half which really helped us at times and got us out and running and got the crowd into the game."
It’s difficult to disagree. The Hawks took a game with the second-seeded team in the conference and turned it into a 31-point blowout, running up an early 20-point lead, watching the Wizards claw back and then burying them with a late barrage.
The Wizards aren’t necessarily an offensive juggernaut, but they have a dynamic backcourt with some quality pieces around it. The Hawks held that group under 90 points — the 11th time they’ve done so this season. Coach Mike Budenholzer has built a sustainable offensive force that is only getting better defensively as the season wears on. After Sunday’s performance, the Hawks could very well rank top-10 in offensive efficiency and top-five on the defensive end.
"The turnovers and the (defensive) activity fueled our offense," Budenholzer said. "The ball (was) moving, the guys (were) attacking and playing with a lot of confidence."
Added Pero Antic, who scored 12 points in 19 minutes off the bench: "It’s a big deal for us, but we look at everything (the same). We don’t see who we play. We just concentrate on our game, our defense, our offense and executing the system."
The Hawks are about to go on an extended road trip — Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto and Chicago — but they own a 13-5 record on the road already. It will be intriguing to see how this team performs against the Raptors, the only team that’s truly had Atlanta’s number this season, and see how far this team has come since late November. If the Wizards win was any indication, it’s come a long way.
2. Matchup of potential East All-Star point guards
Wizards point guard John Wall is the Eastern Conference’s leading backcourt vote-getter for the 2015 All-Star Game, and for good reason. The fifth-year guard is enjoying a career year, averaging 17.2 points and 10.3 assists per game while leading all East point guards with a 21.12 PER.
Hawks point guard Jeff Teague is not drawing that type of recognition, at least not via the fan vote. Still, Wall was not the only point guard in Philips enjoying a phenomenal season, as Teague has noticeably improved in Year 2 under Budenholzer, averaging career highs with 17.6 points, 7.2 assists and a 116 offensive rating. It’s widely expected that without a single Hawks player being voted in by the fans, Eastern Conference coaches could recognize Teague and teammate Paul Millsap as All-Star reserves.
That was the type of backcourt matchup Sunday promised.
And although neither player enjoyed a particularly great game, Teague finished with a double-double (11 points, 10 assists) while Wall scored 15, dished out eight assists and looked like the best player on the court when Washington was making its run. Both players also made multiple plays on the defensive end. The difference? Teague avoided committing a single turnover — Wall struggled with eight — and he got much more help.
Don’t be surprised, though, to see Jeff Teague — or Firsto Lasto — as Wall’s teammate in New York City.
3. Hawks overcome cold second quarter, continue to shoot lights out
It’s no secret at this point that the Atlanta Hawks can shoot the ball. For one thing, that comes with the territory when Korver is on the payroll. Still, the Hawks are in the middle another hot shooting stretch — hitting 52 of their 106 3-pointers over the past four games, knocking double-digit outside shots each time — and they didn’t slow down against the Wizards.
If anything, they heated up even more.
Atlanta hit 16 of their 31 3-pointers on Sunday. It shot 47.2 percent from the floor period. Korver led the way (of course) by missing only two of his eight shots. In the end, eight different Hawks players hit an outside shot, a nod to the depth and all-around balance of this team. Of course, the Hawks have seven or eight players hoist 3-pointers on a nightly basis, but …
"You’ve still gotta make them," Korver said. "We’ve had eight guys shoot 3-pointers about every night. It just just felt like, like I said, it was probably one of our best games this season. Guys were clicking."
The Hawks entered the game effectively shooting 52.5 percent from the floor, ranked fourth in the NBA behind the Warriors, Clippers and Mavericks. They have their sights set on tha top spot.
19: For the third time in the past four games, the Hawks forced their opponent into 19 or more turnovers.
48: The Hawks bench outscored its Washington counterpart 48-27 and had three different players in double figures.
"Well I was thinking about trying to dunk it, but then I saw John Wall. And I’ve seen too many highlights of him getting blocks from behind. And it’s just one of those things where I’m up in the air and it’s not for very long but it was long enough to know that I’m not going to get the dunk and I saw DeMarre (Carroll) and flipped it around my back. I hope it looked good." — Kyle Korver on his highlight behind-the-back pass in transition