Atlanta Hawks’ Mike Muscala (31) is congratulated by Malcolm Delaney after Muscala scored and was fouled during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in Indianapolis. Atlanta defeated Indiana 96-85. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

How Howard’s motivational words fueled Hawks to much-needed win

1. Dwight Howard addressed the team before the game. It is not out of the ordinary for the center to speak. However, he had important words with his team mired in a three-game losing streak.

“I just said we have to come out better than we have the last couple games,” Howard said. “First unit has to bring defense and we have to play with energy. We’ve got to put it on them from the beginning of the game.”

Howard responded with his 11th double-double of the season with 23 points and 20 rebounds. Howard pulled down nine offensive rebound, nearly double his league-leading per game average. They were a motivator.

“He came out with a mindset from the beginning of the game,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It felt like he was getting every offensive board.”

Howard played the first 9:47 of the game as the Pacers countered with center Myles Turner and Al Jefferson, a formidable duo. Howard had 10 points and seven rebounds before his first rest.

2. Malcolm Delaney had another solid game at point guard as Dennis Schroder struggled. Delaney played 9:19 of the fourth quarter and he hit a 3-pointer with 37 seconds remaining that put an end to the Pacers’ last-ditch rally.

“They had a big on me,” Delaney said. “Anytime I have a big on me I feel like I can score. I pump faked to see if he would jump and he didn’t really react. Just had to hit my shot.”

Delaney finished with 13 points. Budenholzer said he played Delaney down the stretch more for his good play and less for Schroder’s struggle. Budenholzer gave Delaney a brief rest in the final period before turning back to the guard with the game suddenly on the line. Delaney also hit a 3-pointer late in the third quarter that started the Hawks’ game-winning 19-2 run.

3. The box score will show that Thabo Sefolosha had just four points and eight rebounds. His biggest contribution came on the defensive end by guarding Pacers’ All-Star Paul George, who returned after missing three games with an ankle injury. George averages 21 points per game and he was held to 18 by Sefolosha and Taurean Prince.

“The defense, really it takes everybody, but that guy who is assigned to Paul George has got his work cut out for him,” Budenholzer said. “A ton of screens for him, a lot of off-the-ball action, when he has the ball a lot of pick-and-rolls. He is a tough cover. I thought Thabo was good and Taurean had some good minutes on him. We tried to make it difficult on him.”

4. Paul Millsap continues to be, well, Paul Millsap. In addition to his all-around game of 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assist, four steals and three blocks, he had to contend with Hawks’ killer Thaddeus Young on the defensive end. Young finished with a game-high 24 points. Young entered the game with a career average of over 15 points against the Hawks in different uniforms.

It was Millsap who hit a pair of big baskets at the front end of the Hawks’ decisive 19-2 run between the third and fourth quarters.

5. Much of the pre-game focus was on Jeff Teague and Schroder, the former teammates going head-to-head at point guard.

Schroder struggled to just nine points with four turnovers and three assists. He was a minus-15. Teague had just four points by the end of the third quarter before finishing with 11 points. He had a better all-around game with eight assists, five steals and two blocks. So much for that matchup.

Chances are there will be more on the line in the last two matchups of the season – March 5 in Atlanta and April 12 in Indianapolis, the final game of the season.

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