The student has not quite become the master, not even for one night.
Coach Mike Budenholzer, a former grasshopper to sensei Gregg Popovich on the Spurs sidelines for 17 years, was back in San Antonio, this time as the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks came in losers of 4 of 5 games and as part of a long losing streak in middle Texas. The Hawks now haven’t won in San Antonio since Feb. 15, 1997, as part of a 16 game losing streak, including tonight’s game.
Gregg Popovich’s pregame quote on facing his former assistants was quite revealing:
Popovich on facing ex-assistants: “I don’t like it at all. It’s awkward. … You win and you feel badly. You lose and you feel even worse."
— Chris Vivlamore (@ajchawks) December 3, 2013
Kyle Korver missed his fourth straight game with a rib contusion, meaning his streak of 88 straight games is still being kept on hold. He needs one more to tie Dana Barros for the longest streak of its kind in NBA history.
The game itself was a close affair. It was a matchup of very similar styles, with a lot of offensive schemes of motion and side screens. Tim Duncan had a whale of a game, scoring 23 points on 15 shots and pulling down 21 rebounds. It was the first 20/20 game against the Hawks since…well…Tim Duncan in early 2010. The Hawks were able to stay in the game by forcing a lot of steals, employing Spurs-like tactics to jump passing lanes and start fastbreaks. Unfortunately, the Spurs were able to lure the Hawks occasionally into driving into tough defenses close to the rim and as a result recorded 8 blocks.
A pair of threes helped overcome a 7 point Hawks deficit in the last 2 minutes. Millsap continued his ridiculous three point shooting spree by hitting a late one from top of the key. He came into the game shooting 4% from long range. Jeff Teague also put in a pull-up three from the wing with under 10 second to go. However, the Spurs won the game on a pin down for Tim Duncan that allowed just enough freedom over the defending DeMarre Carroll to put a jumper in with only .4 second to spare.
Jeff Teague had struggled with his three point shot all season long but he went 3-4 tonight despite coming in shooting 20% from long range this season. His career average is 33%, so expect this season’s average to rise in the coming weeks and months.
It quickly became a three point fest for Atlanta, as they jacked up 31 of them by the final buzzer. Millsap somewhat uncharacteristically was responsible for 6 of those, hitting 2 big ones. However, he finished with an inefficient 15 points on 20 shots. It was clear that the size and reach of the Tim Duncan-Tiago Splitter duo affected his ability in the low post.
The Hawks bench only had 21 of the Hawks 100 points, compared to 46 of 102 points for the Spurs bench. Elton Brand looked rejuvenated and about 5 years younger back in the Lone Star State where he played last year as a Dallas Maverick. He logged 6 points, 4 rebounds and a steal in 13 minutes of play.
There’s no shame in losing to the team in the rough and tumble Western Conference with the best record, especially considering how close the Hawks were to a win. There’s no question that Millsap should be given a long leash to shoot threes when he’s comfortable. Unfortunately, this loss drops the Hawks to 9-10 and 5th in the Eastern Conference behind the .500 Washington Wizards, pending the Chicago Bulls result.
In all, it’s a fine audition of Coach Budenholzer’s abilities as a first year coach back in the arena in which he’s most comfortable. He’s successfully gotten this rebuilt Hawks team to buy into some schemes he ran when coaching the white and grey uniforms.
It’s perfectly okay for this process to take time. Karate masters were not birthed in one night.
Next game is Wednesday at home against the Los Angeles Clippers at 7:30 EST.