Court Vision: Hawks drop Grizzlies for record ninth straight vs. West

ATLANTA — Going inside the Hawks’ 96-86 win over the Grizzlies at Philips Arena.

The response was there before the ball even left his hands.

Up by five with a minute to play, Kyle Korver broke free and stood along the left corner of the 3-point line. Al Horford hit the Hawks’ shooting guard who rose up, along with the Philips Arena crowd, as he hit a trey to cement the Hawks’ 96-86 win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday night.

"When Kyle hit that three it was like a playoff atmosphere how loud it got here," Horford said.

The popular stance is the Western Conference is far and away the NBA’s more dominant. With eight teams with at least 20 wins compared to the Eastern Conference’s four, there is certainly more depth. But in dispatching the Grizzlies — who entered the night third in the West — the Hawks continued to flex their muscle against the conference.

"They’re a really good team and we knew it would be a tough game coming back off the West coast trip, so to get this one was really big," said Hawks point guard Jeff Teague.

Added with three straight road wins over the Jazz, Trail Blazers and Clippers, the victory over Memphis made it nine straight vs. the West for Atlanta, a franchise record. The Hawks are 10-2 vs. the conference on the season.

"They are a really good team," said Grizzlies center Marc Gasol. "They play together, they share the ball, and they have a lot of shooters. They talk defensively and the play as a team."

Continuing that run is going to be a stiff challenge, but that will at least be a few weeks away as the Hawks don’t face another West team again until they host reigning MVP Kevin Durant and the Thunder on Jan. 23.

When asked about the challenges Gasol presents, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer didn’t hide his respect for the Grizzlies’ MVP candidate.

"He’s almost a quarter from the post and a quarterback from the elbow. He’s such an excellent passer," said Budenholzer.

As many headaches as the 7-foot-1 center can cause offensively — and he did in scoring 16 points, including a shot from behind the basket that drew gasps from the crowd — his biggest impact against the Hawks was clearly on defense early on in limiting Atlanta’s bigs from having much success inside.

Horford, just weeks removed from being the Eastern Conference Player of the Week and riding a 14-game stretch in which he’s averaged 17 points and shot 51.0 percent from the field, missed eight of his first nine shots. Frontcourt mate Paul Millsap, who has averaged 18.6 over the last 11, hit just one of his first seven field goals.

Reserve Pero Antic came up big, though, hitting three 3-pointers and totaled 13 points in 17 minutes.

Next Up: Hawks at Pistons

Things didn’t get much better for Millsap — he finished 2 of 9 from the field, but thanks to his free throw shooting finished with 11 points — but Horford picked it up by getting more aggressive. Five of his last eight shots were from seven feet or closer, hitting two of them as he finished with 12 points.

But Horford turned aggressive, scoring four straight points, including a put-back off his own missed driving layup. He had eight points in the quarter, capped by a 19-footer with 2:34 remaining that gave Atlanta the lead for good after it had lost an 11-point lead.

"I was supposed to hit a different type of shot," Horford said of that jumper. "The guy bumped me on the screen and Jeff kind of had to improvise, so I just ran up, caught it and shot it. I was due, missing so many shots that I normally make, so I was happy to hit that one."

Mike Conley spun out to the top of the key, taking the ball and nailing a 25-foot 3-pointer, then Teague answered, cutting through a pair of Grizzlies defenders for a driving layup.

Two of the league’s most underrated point guards — neither currently ranks in the top 10 in voting in his respective conference in All-Star voting — share another trait: Both are Indianapolis natives and former AAU teammates.

Their duel raged throughout the night as Teague scored a game-high 25 points and Conley had 17 and both had six assists. But it was beyond the total points where Teague reigned.

He scored 11 points in the final 12 minutes, including a 3-pointer with 1:19 to go as he drained to go up 89-84. It marked his sixth consecutive 20-point game, and in that stretch he’s averaging 23.5 on 54.2 percent shooting.

Next Up: Grizzlies at Pelicans

Teague’s found success by attacking, something he’s done with consistency during this run.

"I think that’s maybe in any sport or walk of life if you can be really consistent (you’ll be successful) and that’s something we keep pushing Jeff on," said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. "I think he’s made a lot of progress."

17 — The Hawks steals were their most since April 4, 1994, against the Hornets and the most ever at Philips Arena. They are 12-1 when they have 10 or more steals a game. "We were making something out of them," Horford said. "It was good."

13-4 — Memphis’ edge in second-half points, which was largely due to the edge they held on defensive rebounds (31) compared to the Hawks’ offensive board (eight).