Court Vision: Hawks set club record with 8th straight road win
Here are three detailed, yet random observations from the Hawks’ 106-103 victory over the Detroit Pistons — doubly clinching Atlanta’s seventh straight triumph … and a franchise-record eighth consecutive road win:
1. The Hawks got sucked into and nearly succumbed to a game that could only be described as scatterbrain
It’s a wonder the Pistons (12-24) even won seven straight games leading up to Friday’s clash with Atlanta. (For what it’s worth, each victory came after Detroit waived Josh Smith and "ate" something like $35 million on that contract.)
From the get-go, Detroit’s shot selection — both in the paint and from beyond the arc — was needlessly frenetic and impatient. In fact, the Pistons established a new franchise record on this night, hoisting up 43 triples against the Hawks — with a number of wayward shots resembling prayers more than open rainbows.
For the longest time, Atlanta ignored the noise and stuck to its own plan of crisp ball movement and attacking the basket. The trio of Jeff Teague (14 points, 11 assists), Al Horford (19 points, 16 boards, four assists) and Paul Millsap (17 points, seven rebounds) headlined that production, helping the Hawks amass 64 points by halftime (31 in the first quarter/33 in the second).
But everything started to turn in the latter half, with the Pistons chipping away at a 23-point deficit, thanks to a bevy of dribble-drive layups from point guard Brandon Jennings (14 points, eight assists) and varied jumpers from reserve Anthony Tolliver (season-high 15 points).
But even with this success in spurts, Detroit still couldn’t get out of its way, allowing unfettered layups to the Atlanta reserves (Kent Bazemore produced three crucial baskets from point-blank range) and chucking up a flood of rushed shots in the open court, essentially oblivious to the ample time for a comeback.
In fact, there was one sequence late in the fourth quarter, when former University of Georgia star Kentavious Caldwell-Pope jacked up a wretched 26-footer from the left side — with no Pistons in rebounding position — with his team only down by four points.
For those with long memories … it was almost like Caldwell-Pope was vying for the famed "25-point shot" in the old MTV Rock-n-Jock Celebrity Hoops Game (All-Star Weekend).
To wit, KCP finished with a club-high 20 points … but he also missed 12 of 16 three-point tries.
Citing those ill-advised shots, the Hawks dutifully out-rebounded the Pistons 43-35 and surrendered only 20 points in the paint. Of equal importance, Atlanta held burgeoning All-Star Andre Drummond to just four points and five rebounds in limited action (17 points).
And yet, the Pistons still had a chance to tie the game before the buzzer. After a disputed inbounds pass with two seconds left — a twice-deflected ball that had Hawks TV announcer Bob Rathbun demanding more than 0.8 ticks off the clock — Caldwell-Pope had a long-shot opportunity to knot the game at 106.
But his contested triple from the right side wasn’t even close … meaning the Hawks could walk away with a forced smile, knowing they had collected five victories in five different cities over the last seven days (Salt Lake City, Portland, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Detroit).
2. Al Horford might have notched his most complete game of the season — and that’s saying a lot
The Pistons might not be flush with imposing big men throughout their roster, but the tag-team duo of Drummond and Greg Monroe (15 points, 12 rebounds) certainly presented a formidable challenge on Friday.
Challenge accepted … and challenge conquered for Horford, who fostered team highs with blocks (one — tied with Bazemore and Elton Brand), field goals (nine), offensive rebounds (14) and defensive rebounds (16). He also helped Atlanta register 46 points in the paint.
2a. We felt obligated to recognize the play of the night, spearheaded by DeMarre Carroll
With the Pistons trailing by seven with 2:19 left in the game, Greg Monroe stealthily pulled down a defensive rebound but offered a lazy outlet pass to a Pistons guard — an attainable ball that was intercepted by Carroll (13 points, four rebounds) and subsequently dished to Paul Millsap down on the blocks.
With the majority of players hustling back to the basket, Millsap waded through a double-team near the baseline and fired a baseball pass to Kyle Korver, who drained his last three-pointer of the night, boosting the Hawks’ lead to 10.
Yes, Detroit would make a frenetic run in the final seconds … but the Carroll-to-Millsap-to-Korver exchange essentially gave life to the Hawks setting a club record for consecutive road triumphs.
3. Atlanta’s easily on pace for 35-plus wins by month’s end
Back on Dec. 30, just minutes after Atlanta had squeaked past Cleveland at home (sans LeBron James), I conservatively figured the Hawks for a 12-7 record during January — putting the club at 35-13 by Feb. 1, tops among Eastern Conference foes.
And truth be told, the seven prescribed losses (for the month) were front-loaded, given the Hawks’ West Coast swing after that Dec. 30 win over the Cavaliers.
Well, the Hawks didn’t need a whole month to catch the other Eastern powers. At 28-8 — the greatest 36 -game start in franchise history — they’re at least three games ahead of the Wizards (25-11), Raptors (24-11) and Bulls (25-12) … and have no legitimate fears of being caught by any other team by mid-April.
Let’s use the Cavaliers, for example. Even if LeBron, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mosgov were to magically come together over the next three months and wreck the league from January to April … they still wouldn’t catch the Hawks.
Even if Cleveland (19-17, 5th in the East) went 37-9 from this point forward (humor us here) … Atlanta (28-8) would still rank ahead of the preseason title favorites with a 29-17 finish.
And with winnable outings against the 76ers (twice), Pistons, Timberwolves, Nets, Pacers and Celtics still on the January docket, the Hawks could be sitting on a 38-12 mark before the calendar turns to February.