On-court words between Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard led to a defensive breakdown in the Hawks’ loss to the Warriors Monday night.
It also led to something much bigger.
In addition to the heated exchange between players, Schroder also had words with coach Mike Budenholzer following the play. Budenholzer then benched Schroder, who played just 3:19 of the second half, in the 119-111 loss.
Budenholzer called it a coach’s decision. Schroder said he didn’t understand the discipline and wanted a meeting to discuss it. Howard said such a conversation would not a bad thing. Several other Hawks players wanted to put the incident behind them and move forward.
The slumping Hawks need no such distractions as they enter the stretch run of the regular season and playoffs still trying to get on the same page.
Budenholzer made his example of Schroder despite the point guard’s 23 first-half points, including 19 in the first quarter, which had the Hawks up by as many as 15 points.
“Just us staying together is the bigger point,” Budenholzer said of his decision. “We’ve got to stay together and find a way to move on to the next play. Those things are important.”
The Hawks led 70-69 early in the third quarter when Howard was credited with a turnover on a bad pass to Thabo Sefolosha with 9:42 remaining. As Schroder and Howard argued, the Warriors inbounded the ball and Stephen Curry quickly hit a 3-pointer. Budenholzer was heard to yell at Schroder “That’s what I’m talking about.”
Less than a minute later, Schroder was replaced and spent the remainder of the game on the bench.
“I don’t really know,” Schroder said when asked why he was benched. “I know the 3 from Steph Curry when me and Dwight was arguing was part of it. That can’t happen. I don’t understand coach’s decision. I want to be on the court. Maybe I’m too competitive. I’m just trying to be competitive and win games.”
He added he would like to meet with Budenholzer about the disciplinary action.
“We have to figure it out, me and coach,” Schroder said. “I want to talk about it. Dwight’s got to be in there too. Get on the same page.”
The Curry 3-pointer was part of a 26-10 Warriors run that put the game nearly out of reach. The Hawks lost for the third straight time, all at home. They have dropped six of the past eight games. The Hawks are 11-14 since a seven-game win streak ended in early January. They are 25-27 since starting the season 9-2.
Howard was asked after the game whether he would welcome the meeting Schroder suggested.
“Listen, we are a team right?” Howard said. “It’s OK if we have conversations. It’s not always conflict when you have a conversation with your coach or a team meeting. That’s what you are supposed to do. By him wanting to have a meeting, it’s great. It’s great for our team. It’s great for each other. We’re all open to it. It’s not always bad when you have a conversation.
“We just have to move forward when we have plays like that. I know it’s highlighted but it’s OK. We made mistakes. We are human. Wish it didn’t happen but it did. Hopefully, everyone will just let it go and move on.”
Paul Millsap insisted the Hawks have a “tight locker room.” Sefolosha said incidents occur during the course of a game.
“When you play basketball, especially in a game like this, emotions are high,” Sefolosha said. “We are a team. We have to play as a team. I’m sure things are going to be talked about between the two of them and we are going to be fine.”
That Budenholzer would make the move to sit Schroder despite his offensive output was part of the bigger picture. Schroder was suspended for one game last week for not returning from the All-Star break on time. He did not start the following game after he was late for the team bus. Players were frustrated with Schroder that he would argue with Budenholzer during Monday’s game and be benched.
“We need to learn to play together and stay together for 48 minutes,” Budenholzer said. “That is something that is important to us.”
The Hawks did have a chance in the fourth quarter when they closed to within a point, 94-93. Budenholzer did not get Schroder off the bench. Instead he played Malcolm Delaney and Tim Hardaway Jr. extra minutes and Kent Bazemore played some at the point.
“I’m not the coach,” Howard said of Budenholzer’s decision to keep Schroder out of the game to make a bigger point. “My job is to play, rebound, block shots and run the floor. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to let coach coach the team. If he decides to sit any of us, that’s on coach. That’s why we have a team. It’s not one player on a team. It’s 15 of us. We have to trust each other. If one man goes down, someone has to step up. It’s just like if one man gets in foul trouble. If I get in foul trouble, I’ve got to trust the next guy to come in. If Dennis gets in foul trouble, it’s the same thing. That’s how it has to be.”