For a team with the marginal results all season, the Atlanta Hawks simply cannot afford to relax.
In control for nearly the entire contest Tuesday night in Phoenix, the Hawks learned a bitter lesson that an NBA game is played for a complete 48 minutes. With a five-point lead and 1:29 remaining, the Hawks allowed Phoenix to creep back into this one, and gave Devon Booker every opportunity to prevent the Hawks from claiming their 11th win over the season.
Despite keeping the Suns at arms’ length for most of this game, the Hawks faded down the stretch, and Dennis Schroder, who chipped in with 20 points, explained that Atlanta cannot let their foot off the metal.
“We did a great job for 46 minutes,” he said. “Did a great job as a unit in sharing the ball, playing defense together and doing everything together. This is something we learn and build upon, for sure. It’s the first game of 2018, we have to move on and keep getting better.”
From a coaching standpoint, Mike Budenholzer explained that there were several positives to take from this latest experience. For one, the Suns managed to create double-digit leads on several occasions.
In the first half, a pair of threes from Marco Belinelli help create a 37-24 lead, and later after intermission, Schroder hit a three and dropped in a basket on a feed from Belinelli to forge a 97-85 lead with 4:51 remaining in the game.
That was the kind of play which encouraged Budenholzer to step away and tell reporters afterward there is hope for the future.
“I think there were many positives to take from this game,” he said. “It’s hard when you lose like this and you feel you should win. The way we’re playing and the way we are competing, there is a great deal of togetherness on the court. It’s frustrating right now in the locker room, but here are several positives the way this group has played over the past 10 to 14 days.”
Despite a 20-point game, that included 7-of-8 from the field, forward Kent Bazemore wore his emotions on his sleeve. His two-way play carried the Hawks for important stretches, but, as a team, Atlanta could not overcome a 34-point effort from the Suns’ Devin Booker, including Booker’s 14 of 15 from the free throw line.
Commencing a five-game trip here in the desert, the Hawks face several teams contending for playoff spots in the Western Conference. That can only mean for Bazemore and his teammates the need to recognize an urgency to the moment.
“Grant Hill told me sometimes the best defense is a good offense,” Bazemore said. “I took it upon myself to be aggressive at both ends of the floor. I have to be more assertive down the stretch, and especially if I’m trying to close out the game for my team.”