The final statistics won’t show it, but the defense that the Hawks rode to back-to-back wins went missing over significant stretches Wednesday only to show up big as Atlanta outscored Utah 11-0 to close out the Jazz 100-97 for a third straight win.
Atlanta beat the Jazz (3-6) for the seventh straight time no thanks to a first quarter in which Utah shot 63.6 percent (14-for-22) and scored 32 points (same as the Hawks), or a third quarter that saw the visitors shoot 64 percent (16-for-25) and score 35.
That gave the Jazz an 88-82 lead.
Then, Atlanta (4-3) clamped down, allowing just nine points in the final period – a season’s low for an opponent – to make Paul Millsap’s 30 points and 17 rebounds all the more meaningful.
That closing push made it easier to look away after Utah shot 50 percent (43-for-86) overall — a season-high for a Hawks’ opponent.
“Looking at our defense in the fourth quarter, holding them to nine points gave us a chance to win the game,” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer. “Just like always, we’ve got to look at the breakdowns in the first and third quarters.”
Utah’s leading scorer on the season, Gordon Hayward, missed all seven of his shots in the final period.
Making his first start for the Hawks, in place of the injured DeMarre Carroll (groin), Thabo Sefolosha made Hayward work on a 5-for-16 shooting night. In the final period, the Jazz went 4-for-18 from the field and were out-rebounded 18-8 with Kyle Korver (17 points) grabbing five of his season-high 10 rebounds, and Millsap adding four.
Hayward finished with 11 points, or eight below his average, and Utah guard Alec Burks scored just two of his season-high 22 points in the fourth. He got off just two shots in the final period. Korver defended Burks early, Kent Bazemore and even Sefolosha late.
Sefolosha added a season-high 10 points and five rebounds.
More than anything, the Hawks did a better job in the fourth quarter of keeping the Jazz away from the rim. Utah scored 46 points in the paint through the first three periods, but just six (on 3-for-6 shooting) in the fourth.
“We found a way to win, and that’s important for our group,” Budenholzer said. “I think probably our effort, our determination to contest and play without fouling and still have an edge … and to take care of the boards.”