In the first clash between the two conference leaders, the Atlanta Hawks came out on top with a 124-116 win against the Golden State Warriors as the approach of relying on more than two players offensively seemed to work in the end against the excellence of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
The Hawks outscored the Warriors by 21 points on catch-and-shoot , shooting 54.5% from behind the arc in the process. Kyle Korver scored 12 of his 17 points on such shots. The Hawks also shot 6-of-12 on contested 3-point shots, compared to the Warriors who shot 3-of-12 on such shots. Curry himself shot 3-of-8 on jump shots with Jeff Teague as his primary defender. Curry’s primary defenders entered the game contesting 35.1% of his jumpers; Teague contested all 8.
Curry had a slow start with just 1-of-6 from the field in the first quarter, including 0-of-4 when Teague was guarding him. Curry finished the game with 26 points and 9 assists on 8-of-19 from the field. Klay Thompson led the Warriors (and all scorers in the game) with 29 points but found it very difficult to keep up with Kyle Korver as the Hawks’ ball movement and screens constantly left players open inside or on the perimeter. When you’re facing a team that has almost 12 players who can shoot from long distance, the defense has to be a lot more disciplined and quick on its feet.
Teague wasn’t very accurate, but his aggressiveness paid off and got him 11 times to the line, making all of his attempts to finish with 23 points despite just 33.3% from the field. The Hawks shot 37 times from the line compared to the Warriors’ 15, but it wasn’t a case of bad officiating. The Hawks kept attacking the paint because of how worried the Warriors seemed to be about leaving the shooters open. Paul Millsap, scoring 21 points, was 9-of-12 from the line.
And of course there was Kyle Korver with another excellent shooting game, scoring 17 points on 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. Even though Korver is rarely the leading scorer for the Hawks, he creates so much panic for opposing defenses just by being on the floor, and the necessity of keeping four watchful eyes on him as he moves around screens which are often used as decoys. Stephen Curry can go off at any minute, but Korver taking a 3-pointer when he isn’t contested is almost automatic.
The West might be the better, deeper conference yet again, leading Adam Silver to announce he’s thinking about changing the playoff seeding system. But it doesn’t mean the best team in the league is in the West as well. The Hawks are the best team in this NBA season against teams with a .500 record or better, winning 76% of those games. Only four other teams are winning 50% of their games against winning teams: Warriors, Grizzlies, Bulls and Rockets.
Was this a preview to the NBA finals? Very soon to say, obviously. A lot of things can happen, and this NBA season is turning out to be quite unpredictable, which means the same thing about the playoffs. But the Hawks currently have something no other team in this league has, which is a playing style that puts them ahead of everyone else, even without superstars or starters in the All-Star game. If Steve Kerr admitted at the end of the game what a huge problem it is facing an offense that keeps stretching out a defense, imagine what inferior defenses might feel like when they’re up against the Hawks.