ATLANTA — A rested Atlanta Hawks team took Saturday night’s loss to a Eastern Conference bottom-feeder, the 76ers, out on a Western Conference bottom-feeder on Monday night, beating the Sacramento Kings 130-98 in Philips Arena. Here are three observations from the game:
1. Hawks find groove, more success against Western Conference teams
Mike Budenholzer’s team likes to hang its hat on the defensive end, but every now and then, when things click in the pass-first pace-and-space system, franchise records are going to be challenged. Monday night was just one of those nights, arguably Atlanta’s most complete effort of the season.
After resting starters Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap in the Philadelphia loss, the Hawks shellacked a disinterested Kings team, running up a season-high 130 points — and it could have been much worse after a white-hot first half in which they poured in 76 points. They hit a franchise-record 20 3-pointers. They logged more assists — 42, the best mark in the NBA this season — than the Kings made field goals.
The result? Smiles and shrugs.
"We’re trying to do something special," Korver said. "If you do that and approach every day the right way and hopefully some good things happen along the way. I think that’s all this is. I don’t think anyone here is gonna go home and brag about it or write home to mom or anything."
Added Budenholzer: "I thought the pace of everything — our pace into our screens, our pace coming off of screens — there was a good energy. There was a good crispness to the offense and it allowed us to get into a good place."
With the win, the Hawks became the first team to 50 wins for the first time in franchise history.
In general, the Kings defensive effort was never going to contain a Hawks team that simply caught fire. As Budenholzer referenced, the team ran its sets effectively and created wide-open looks throughout the contest, notably for Korver and Carroll. When the Hawks weren’t raining down 3s from the perimeter, Al Horford (18 points) tormented the Kings interior playing the two-man game with point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. Atlanta shot so well from the field (60.2 percent) that it needed only four made free throws to reach 130 points.
The Hawks magic number to clinch home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference is now down to seven games. And while the team isn’t putting a win total on its list of goals, clinching the No. 1 seed as soon as possible would clearly be beneficial for all involved.
"I don’t think we’re really worried about getting a whole bunch of victories," Carroll said. "We’re worried about postseason, being better later than we are now."
2. Kyle Korver gets his shooting numbers back on track
During his time off, Korver did not touch a basketball.
The Hawks sharpshooter rested on the second part of a back-to-back and instead of hoisting up shots to get himself out of his recent "slump," relatively speaking, he focused on recharging his battery.
"I got a massage one day. I got a lift in. I saw the chiropractor — two things to kind of take care of my body. But I didn’t touch a basketball."
Korver, once on pace for the NBA’s first official 50/50/90 season, had not been shooting the ball well over the past month-plus. Entering Monday’s game, he was shooting 37.6 percent from the floor and 35.6 percent from the outside since Feb. 1 — numbers that were way off his early-season pace. He didn’t even hit 90 percent of his free throws over that stretch. And while he still affects the game on the defensive end and without the basketball as teams look to take away the deep ball, he wasn’t pleased with the results. As Budenholzer said, "He’s probably the hardest on himself."
The time off did the 33-year-old some good.
Korver finished with 20 points, his highest-scoring game since Jan. 17 (not including the All-Star Game), on 7 of 9 shooting. He hit six of the team’s record 20 3-pointers. He was locked in and moving well without the ball, and his teammates clearly were looking to help get him going.
Along with Korver’s breakthrough, six other Hawks hit at least one 3-pointer.
"I mean, I looked at the statsheet, I knew we hit a bunch of shots but I didn’t know we made 20," Korver said. "It’s a big number."
As the Hawks close in on clinching home-court advantage, the resting of starters will likely only get more common. It’s a strategy pulled directly from San Antonio’s playbook and it’s one that the Hawks will have the luxury of employing down the back stretch. The key for the coaching staff is finding the right balance of keeping top players fresh and keeping them sharp. Was it a main reason for the juggernaut-type performance against Sacramento?
"You never know. It’s one of those things that you’re constantly debating and discussing and hoping to keep our guys in a real healthy, energetic kind of place," Budenholzer said. "I think you could see that the legs were good on a lot of guys tonight. It helps us."
3. Hawks shut down elite big man
One of the main criticisms of the Hawks has been their ability to limit the effectiveness of dominant big men, such as their struggles against Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis or versus the Memphis Grizzlies massive frontcourt. Enter DeMarcus Cousins, one of the best interior presences in basketball. The 6-foot-11 force entered the game averaging 23.6 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.
He didn’t finish anywhere near that level of productivity on Monday, and by the time he did get going the game was already out of hand. He didn’t hit his first field goal until there was less than a minute left in the first half.
"That would probably be one of the things that was a big emphasis coming into the game. DeMarcus Cousins is such a good player, such a good low-post player. If you can limit his catches, especially deep, where he’s so effective — I thought our guys worked really hard to make his catches tough. And that’s not easy to do. It takes the whole group kind of working together to make his catches tough.
Cousins finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds and six assists — decent numbers, to be sure, but also numbers that came too late in a lopsided contest. The Hawks tried to take the game out of his hands, and they were fairly effective to that end.
"Just containing him, showing him different looks," said Horford, who matched up with Cousins individually for long stretches. "Really, our team did a great job of guarding and guys kept coming in and helping. He’s a tough player."
25: The Hawks tipped off the opening half with 25 assists on 30 made field goals, setting their season high for a single half. For a reference point, Atlanta ranked second in the NBA averaging 25.5 assists per game entering the game.
15: The Kings won the free-throw battle by 15 points, and still lost by 25.
"Pack." — Mike Budenholzer, when asked about his message to his team after the game as it heads into a long road trip
"Coach (Budenholzer) is going to look at it and say, ‘We could have been better defensively.’ Which, it’s true, but hey." — Al Horford