This Hawks rebuilding project will have highs and lows over the course of this 82-game NBA season.
You can count Friday as a high.
The Hawks jumped on the Raptors in the second quarter and pushed forward for a 102-95 victory in the home opener. The Philips Arena crowd was announced as a sellout but featured plenty of empty seats.
“I really feel good for the group,” said Mike Budenholzer, who got his first NBA head coaching victory. “The group really competing, and really and doing it every night and every practice and in every situation is what we’ve been harping on. I felt that the group really competed tonight and I’m happy for them. There are still a lot of things to clean up but that is the good part of coaching. I don’t know if the players like the cleanup part as much but we’ll look at the film and see where we can improve. I feel good mostly about the competitive nature of the group and the spirit of the group. If we keep doing that we’ll continue to get better.”
Al Horford’s dunk off a DeMarre Carroll miss with 4:32 left in the third quarter gave the Hawks an 18-point lead, 70-52, and punctuated the celebration. The Hawks weren’t perfect as the Raptors made it interesting by pulling to within five points in the fourth quarter.
“I was thinking they really made me sweat it there at the end,” Budenholzer said.
Horford, 22 points and 16 rebounds, and Jeff Teague, 15 points and 12 assists (and just one turnover), had double-doubles for the Hawks (1-1). Kyle Korver had 17 points, including five 3-pointers.
DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors (1-1) with a game-high 31 points.
“I think offensively, from the beginning of the game, I made an effort to be more aggressive,” Horford said. “I think the first game against Dallas, I started out well but I was trying to feel everything out and see how the offense was going. I got to a point where I realized I have to be more aggressive and set the tone.”
Teague put an exclamation point on the Hawks’ 13-2 run to close the first half with a fastbreak dunk. It was part of an 18-4 run to close the second quarter as the Raptors managed just one field goal in the final 5:06. The Hawks went into intermission with a 10-point lead, 49-39, with the rally.
The Raptors struggled from the field in the second quarter as they shot a meager 23.8 percent (5 of 21) from the field. The numbers included 1 of 9 from 3-point range.
The Hawks led by one, 25-24, after a back-and-forth first quarter that featured 17 lead changes and two ties.
“Guys had a lot of open looks and I was just trying to find guys,” Teague said. “Al was rolling, Paul was rolling and we got Kyle rolling. When guys are rolling like that I just try to get them the ball, get in the land and make plays.
Horford lead the Hawks with 11 first-half points, nine of which came in the first quarter. He scored nine of the Hawks’ 11 points during one stretch. Teague had eight points and eight assists in the first 24 minutes.
Budenholzer was displeased with the team’s transition defense in their season-opening loss to the Mavericks Wednesday. It was a point of emphasis, complete with video examples, at practices. The Hawks limited the Raptors to just six fast-break points, none in the second half.
“We definitely got back today, huh?” Teague said. “We’ve been stressing transition D the day off we had and it worked. I hope it continues.”
Korver extended his streak to 75 consecutive games with a 3-pointer, the fourth longest in NBA history, with the Hawks opening basket. He is now just three four behind Dennis Scott (78) for third place all-time.
Hawks begin a three-game road trip Sunday against the Lakers.
Horford said the victory was important, even as the second game of the season.
“I was thinking ‘We can’t go on the road 0-2. We can’t.’ This was a must win for us.”