“Coach came in and really got after us to be the more aggressive team, like he always does,” said DeMarre Carroll, who scored all nine of his points in the fourth quarter. “I think it woke us up. He let us know that they played last night and we didn’t. We should have the energy.”
Although they didn’t say so publically, the Hawks coaches and players knew what was at stake Monday. They now own the tiebreaker over the Bobcats.
Paul Millsap led the victory with a game-high 28 points, including a streak between the second and third quarters when he scored 17 of 19 Hawks’ points. Jeff Teague and Pero Antic each had 11 points and Kyle Korver and Mike Scott each had 10 points. Antic had his second double-double of the season with 10 rebounds and Teague was one assist shy of one.
“We’ve been talking about improving our defense going down the stretch,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “The activity, the effort and the commitment on the defensive end in the second half was what allowed us to beat a very, very good team tonight. It is something that we want to continue to build on and continue to improve on as we go down the stretch.”
The Bobcats (33-35, 19-15 home) had a four-game win streak snapped and failed to pull their record to .500. Al Jefferson had a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Bobcats on the day he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. He had 24 points and 23 rebounds in loss at Atlanta in December. Kemba Walker added 20 points, five in the second half.
“We compete,” Antic said of the effort on Jefferson. “Everybody helped. He is a hell of a player, a low-post player. When they passed (to Jefferson), there immediately was another player that helped. We played great team defense and in the end that was the result.”
The Hawks used an 11-2 start to the fourth quarter to grab a commanding lead. They led by 17 points when Carroll hit a 3-pointer with 6:03 left. The lead would be as many as 18 points before the Bobcats made a mini-run late. They scored on four straight possessions to pull to within nine points – but no closer.
The Hawks used a 13-2 third-quarter run on their way to outscoring the Bobcats 30-16 in the period. They turned a six-point deficit into a nine-point advantage and led 76-68 heading into the fourth quarter.
“It feels great,” Millsap said of the fourth straight win. “We feel like this is one of the better second halves that we played all season. The intensity was definitely there. The focus was there. The scout (report) that we had, we came out and executed well. That is what we need.”
The Bobcats led by as many as 10 points in the first half and took a 52-46 lead into intermission. The Hawks held advantages in shooting percentage (43-40 percent) and rebounding (27-23). The key difference was the Hawks also held an 11-3 lead in turnovers.
The Hawks host the Raptors Tuesday.