Eisenberg: Hawks’ depth and former AAU teammates prove to be deciding factors vs. Warriors

jacob eisenbergATLANTA — With just over a minute left in the third quarter, the Hawks and Warriors were gridlocked at 83-83. Mike Scott was sitting patiently on the bench for his opportunity to make an impact.

“I always tell myself when I’m sitting there on the bench and I sense the game getting a little tight, ‘I could spark the game with energy and change the game in our favor whether it be with scoring or by outrunning the bigs – just something,’” Scott admitted.

Mike ScottMike Budenholzer sensed his starters getting tired to close the third quarter and decided to summon Scott from his seemingly endless stash of role players off the bench.

Within forty seconds of entering the game, Scott provided the exact spark Budenholzer was looking for.

Perhaps it’s time for us to consider calling him Mike “Instant Offense” Scott.

He started his spark with a three pointer from 25-feet deep on the left side to ignite the crowd and give the Hawks an 86-83 lead. Less than 20 seconds later, Scott struck again from the exact same spot. Like a flash in a pan, the tie game swung into an 89-83 advantage for the hometown Hawks.

It was a lead the Hawks never relinquished en route to an entertaining 124-116 win over the Western Conference’s best team in front of a raucous sellout crowd in the biggest game to take place in this city since … since most people can remember.

After the game, Warriors forward Draymond Green was impressed with Atlanta’s discipline.

“Playing against those guys, you realize that they’re one of those teams kind of like the Spurs in that they don’t make many mistakes,” said Green. “They don’t beat themselves.”

Atlanta’s success this season has been well noted. Just this week, the team made league-history by having all five of their starters share Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors after January’s unprecedented 17-0 run. Still, even Atlanta’s starters would tell you that their success is reliant on the team’s incredible depth.

Last summer, the Hawks signed defensive stalwart Thabo Sefolosha specifically to utilize against tough matchups like the ones Golden State presented. Unfortunately for the Hawks, Sefolosha’s been sidelined with a right calf strain and expects to miss at least another month. Regardless, Atlanta just keeps on finding players to step up.

“We miss Thabo. I mean, we really miss Thabo. But it just shows the depth of our team,” said Kyle Korver. “Our starting five was recognized in a cool way, but tonight we don’t win the game without Dennis and without Baze and without Mike Scott. Those guys came in and hit huge shots for us. We keep trying to grow as a team and our bench is a huge part of that.”

Interestingly, Bazemore and Scott’s chemistry on the court dates all the way back to their days as AAU teammates in high school.

“I just try to do what Kent Bazemore does,” Scott said with a smile after the win. “Whatever I see him do I just try to do better.”

Fast-forward 10 years and the two are reunited as teammates again, camaraderie and friendship still obvious to see. Their lockers are next to each other and they happily joke with each other in front of the media. The only difference a decade has made on the relationship is that this time, the two are sharing a much bigger stage.

For a team with three All Stars and a potential fourth on the way, it’s hard enough for opposing teams to formulate a game plan to contain the starters. Throw in the fact that Atlanta has one of the league’s deepest benches, and it’s clear why the Hawks own the NBA’s best record at 42-9.

“I think the difference in the game was that you can’t control Kent Bazemore hitting three 3s and Mike Scott getting three or four 3s,” admitted Green. “Not that those guys aren’t very good but that’s just not what you’re planning for.”

“I think they went for like 8-for-9 from 3 on their bench,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “We tried to stay with them and their shooters but you’ve got to give them credit, they executed. There’s a reason they have their record.”

Kerr wasn’t far off when he estimated Atlanta’s three point prowess off the bench tonight. The Hawks reserves actually combined to shoot 7-for-8 (88%) from the perimeter, which proved to be a deciding factor in the game. Scott scored 17 points in only 17 minutes while Bazemore and Schroder combined for 20 points and eight assists. Those three players combined to outscore five Warriors reserves (including two former All-Stars) by five points.

“The starters don’t have to carry the load the whole game,” said forward Demarre Carroll. “We have a great bench 1-through-15. We have a deep team and that’s the beauty of our team.”

After the loss, Warriors guard Stephen Curry tipped his hat to the victors:

“You’ve got to play on both ends to win in this league. You can’t get by just by outscoring opponents. We did enough on offense to win this game. They just hit more shots than us at crucial times. They’re tough. Mike Scott makes some tough shots. Schroder makes a tough shot. They did a good job.”

Kerr says his team can learn things from tonight’s matchup. Now, they know what to expect when these two teams met again on March 18th in Oakland.

“It was good for us to get a look at the Hawks and see the matchups from our end,” said Kerr. “We knew it would be a tricky matchup for us because they have shooters at every single position and so it kind of altered some things. They were just good all around. They were better than us.”

Jacob Eisenberg is a college senior at Emory University and works as an NBA columnist for Sheridan Hoops, specializing in analytics-based scouting reports for individual players. Follow him on Twitter and check out his website.

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