Court Vision: Hawks' win streak hits 19 with win over 76ers
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Hawks once again extended their franchise-record winning streak with a too-close-for-comfort 91-85 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night at Philips Arena. Here are three observations from the game:
1. Al Horford's consistency saves the winning streak
When all is said and done, the Hawks are still Al Horford's team. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap are fellow All-Stars, Kyle Korver is on pace for arguably the greatest shooting season in NBA history and the bench has been a difference-maker, but Horford remains the key ingredient, the star who is comfortable deferring. He didn't defer down the stretch on Saturday night, though. The most-tenured member of the franchise simply did not allow his team's historic streak to end on Saturday -- not on those terms, not against a 10-37 team that hadn't won three straight games the entire season.
Horford finished with a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds, coming up with practically every key rebound, block and all but one bucket in the fourth quarter. He played the entire quarter, pouring in 11 points with pick-and-pop accuracy, aggressive drives and trips to the free throw line.
"Four minutes to go, I looked at the clock and I was done," Horford said. "I was so tired."
Well, he still had something left in the tank. In one crucial stretch under three minutes to go, with his team trailing for the first time in the game, Horford knocked down a short jumper, grabbed the ensuing defensive rebound, assisted on Dennis Schroder's game-breaking 3-pointer, grabbed the next available defensive rebound, pulled in a crucial board on the offensive end and then hit an 18-foot jump shot. Catch all that? All of that happened in an approximate two-minute stretch that handed the Hawks their 19th straight win, tied for the sixth-longest streak in NBA history.
"I saw that we needed a spark," Horford said of his play on both ends of the floor. "I just wanted to make plays. We were a little stagnant on offense. I just wanted to step up and make shots.
Only four franchises in NBA history -- 1971-72 Lakers, 2012-13 Heat, 2007-08 Rockets and 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks -- have rattled off longer single-season winning streaks. Three of those teams went on to win the league title that season.
Though Horford and coach Mike Budenholzer both said the Hawks did not make a concerted effort to go through the All-Star big man in the final quarter, he found himself in position to make plays down the stretch, He scored 11 of the team's 20 fourth-quarter points.
"Al has been great at the end of quarters and at the end of games. ... (He) made a lot of big plays when the game got tight. He was, defensively, at the rim and on the boards," Budenholzer said. "He and Paul (Millsap) both can be really efficient in the pick-and-roll situation. (Horford) and Jeff (Teague) have a good working relationship. It's great to have multiple guys that you can put in that position."
2. Short on wing players, Atlanta needed better play out of Kent Bazemore and Mike Scott
With the Hawks missing DeMarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha and Shelvin Mack, the team's deep stock of talented wing players was tested against Philadelphia. And the two remaining names that were given the most minutes, Kent Bazemore and Mike Scott, did not play their best games: combining for 44 minutes and five points (2 of 11 shooting), including Bazemore's 1 for 4 stint at the free-throw line.
As a byproduct of the poor shooting night, Budenholzer's offense was limited at times -- or, in Horford's words, stagnant. The ball movement was not up to its usual high standards and shots were forced throughout. The team shot just 43.6 percent from the floor. For long stretches, Budenholzer ran out both Teague and backup point guard Dennis Schroder in the same lineup, two pick-and-roll players that create mismatches but do not necessarily stretch the floor as well as Carroll or, especially, Kyle Korver. Finding unlikely contributors has been this team's M.O., but at times against the Sixers the Hawks looked like what they were: shorthanded.
"(We are) finding different ways to win, different players stepping up each night against a very good defensive team," said Budenholzer, whose team became the first in NBA history to post a perfect 17-0 record in a single month. "We have to play a lot better going forward."
(Of course, it should be pointed out that Schroder hit the biggest shot of the game, an outside jumper to break an 83-83 tie.)
Though Carroll's injury is not considered nearly as serious as Sefolosha's, who the team announced is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a right calf strain, there is going to be more pressure on Bazemore and Scott to perform during the second half when the Hawks are limited. The good news is that they've delivered on multiple occasions. Saturday just wasn't one of them.
3. John Jenkins sighting
The third-year guard is the oft-forgotten member of this group, seeing his playing time diminished in the Budenholzer era. Part of that has to with his injury history, but it's difficult to remember that Jenkins was the 23rd overall draft pick just three years ago, ahead of Hawks teammate Mike Scott (No. 43 overall), Khris Middleton No. 39), Draymond Green (No. 35) and Miles Plumlee (No. 26) -- each of which worked out for the Hawks during that draft process. In terms of win shares, there a select few first-round picks from the '12 draft that have underperformed -- for various reasons -- quite like Jenkins.
With the aforementioned injuries, Budenholzer dipped into his bench and Jenkins got his chance. To his credit, he took full advantage. Playing in just his third NBA game this month, the 6-foot-4 Vanderbilt product came out firing, scoring nine points in 14 first-half minutes. He missed just one of his five shots and added three rebounds to his stat line.
His 20 minutes played were his most this season since the team's Nov. 15 blowout loss to Cleveland.
"He came in and gave us a big boost in the first half," Horford said.
Jenkins, who has bounced between the NBA roster and Atlanta's D-League affiliate, could work himself into the rotation more over the next few weeks. Sefolosha is expected to miss up to eight weeks and the Hawks, who have a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference at the moment will undoubtedly look to start providing more rest for their starters down the stretch -- not unlike their most recent road trip through Boston and Philadelphia. If Jenkins can knock down shots and play consistent defense (his career's Achilles heel to date) he could see the floor.
14: The 76ers knocked down 14 3-pointers in the loss, the most outside shots any Hawks opponent has made during the win streak
20: The Hawks finished with 20 assists on the night, one fewer than Philadelphia's total. It's the first time since their Jan. 3 win over Portland that the Hawks have logged fewer assist than their opponent.
"I forgot I was tough for a minute." -- Elton Brand on taking a shot to the eye and heading toward the locker room before turning around and coming back on the court