ATLANTA — On a night that began with almost laughably bad news for the Atlanta Hawks, who have endured an absurd run of injuries this season, career-highs in points from Mike Scott and DeMarre Carroll willed them to end their longest losing streak in seven years in the form of a 107-98 win over the New York Knicks at Philips Arena.
Scott finished with 30 points and Carroll with 24, as the Hawks continued the misery of the Knicks (21-35), who lost for the eighth time in 10 games.
All-Star forward Paul Millsap suffered a knee contusion in the Hawks’ loss at Detroit on Friday — the Hawks’ eighth straight — making him unavailable on Saturday. That meant that at times the 6-foot-8 Scott, in his second season, had to play center and that 15-year veteran Elton Brand (one point, six rebounds) ended up playing 43 minutes.
So the Hawks improvised and played "small ball" and Scott made 11-of-14 shots, including 6-of-7 3-pointers in a dominant performance. His sharp shooting helped the Hawks to rally from a 17-point deficit in the third quarter.
Four consecutive 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter from Scott and Lou Williams, who had two, and Jeff Teague propelled the Hawks from a 68-73 deficit at the quarter’s outset to a 80-75 lead. From there, the Hawks (26-29) never trailed.
"It was a good win," said coach Mike Budenholzer, who cited 6-1 guard Lou Williams’ nine rebounds as emblematic of the contributions in a group victory. "Our group needed this win. It would be naive to say it’s not important for us to get this and continue to move forward and get ready for whoever’s next on the schedule."
A turning point came with 5:47 left in the third quarter. The Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony had just converted a 3-pointer to expand his team’s lead to 63-48 but Carroll followed up with some trash talk as the two went the other way down the court. The play ended in technical fouls to Carroll and Anthony but also Knicks coach Mike Woodson but mostly it ignited a fire under the Hawks who began to whittle away at the lead.
Carroll, in his first year with the Hawks, said he has been trying to assert some leadership and it just took that shape on Saturday.
"A lot of people get caught up in me and Carmelo was trash-talking, I think it’s bigger than Carmelo tonight," Carroll said of the Knick who finished with a game-high 35. "Coach told me you got to learn how to get your guys motivated. If I got to trash-talk a guy to get Jeff Teague scoring 10 in a row" — actually eight in a row and 10 of 13 during a fourth-quarter sequence — "Mike knocking down shots and Lou, then that’s what I got to do."
Teague’s performance was particularly inspired. He sat out the loss on Friday at Detroit with an ankle injury that he suffered on Wednesday against Washington. Just four minutes into the game, Teague drove to the basket and scored but fell awkwardly on the injured left ankle.
As play continued, he walked along the baseline towards the bench as trainer Wally Blase came to meet him. At the other end, playing 5-on-4, Anthony hit a 3-pointer to put the Knicks up 10-6 and the Hawks called timeout with 7:52 left. After the timeout, Teague came right back and played. Officially, he never left the game.
He finished with 28 points, as he continually attacked the basket and got to the line. He made 13-of-15 free throws for the game and also had six assists. Teague said his attitude was one of disgust with losing, no matter the circumstances.
"I was just like, ‘I’m playing, man,’" Teague said of re-injuring the ankle. "I don’t care … I’m just going to fight through it and play. Try and do what I can do to help my team to win."
As was the case on Friday, the Hawks had only 10 healthy players. One of the key differences was that Teague played while Millsap didn’t but there also was turnover at the bottom of the roster on Saturday.
Less than two hours before the game, Budenholzer announced the Hawks had signed 6-11, 285-pound center Dexter Pittman, 25, who had played 48 NBA games over three seasons.
In 2011-12, Pittman played 35 games with Miami as they won the NBA title and averaged 3.0 points per game. In 17 games with the Austin Toros of the NBA Developmental League, Pittman averaged 9.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.29 fouls in 17.5 minutes per game. On Friday, Pittman played 32 minutes (scoring 28 points on 9-of-12 shooting and pulling down 17 rebounds at Sioux Falls). Pittman dressed but did not play on Saturday.
Earlier in the day, the Hawks also waived guard Jared Cunningham, a deadline acquisition of last year. So, to recap the Hawks’ flurry of roster moves in the past three days: on Thursday, at the NBA trading deadline, the Hawks acquired forward Antawn Jamison from the Los Angeles Clippers but then waived him on Friday. The same day they re-signed Cartier Martin, whom they had cut on Thursday to make room for Jamison, for the remainder of the season.
Improvising with his roster on the court, Budenholzer’s small ball prevailed in large part because of Scott’s shooting. After his opening statement to the media, Budenholzer summed up by dead-panning, "I think Mike Scott was decent, too."
Scott said that as the Hawks fell down by 58-41 early in the third quarter, they had the same sinking feeling as so they did in so many of the other nights during the past 18 days of the losing streak, which was the longest since January 2007.
Only this time, it ended differently.
"Just felt good," Scott said of his shooting. "Just let the game come to me, let the shots come to me and just shot it with confidence."