MINNEAPOLIS -- Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll combined for 54 points (20-31) and 12 rebounds to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 117-105 win over the Wolves on Monday night. Paul Millsap added 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and the loss snapped a three game winning streak for the Wolves.
"There's a reason they've got three all-stars," coach Flip Saunders said. "There's a reason they've got the best record in the league and have won 43 games. This is a team that's been together for awhile, they know how to play and every time that you gamble or make a mistake they make you pay for it."
In the first half, the Wolves beat up the Hawks on the offensive glass and scored tons of second chance points, which helped them stay within reach even as Atlanta's gorgeous offense moved the ball all around the court and seemingly collected assists or "hockey assists" on almost every possession.
"Coach [Mike Budenholzer] came in and was really amped up about us not hitting guys [boxing out], especially their guards," Carroll said after the game. "Big men, big guys like Al and Paul, they were hitting their guys but myself, Kyle and Jeff weren't really getting hits on Wiggins and all those guys. We just made an effort to hit them... this was the first time we ever came across any guards who just really go to the offensive glass and it was a good test for us."
But even as the Wolves dominated the glass, outrebounding Atlanta 50-36 on the night -- including a season-high 23 offensive rebounds -- they couldn't keep the Hawks out of the paint and were dominated in transition.
Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder got into the lane at will, consistently breaking down the defense, which led to countless easy buckets for the Hawks throughout the game. Carroll destroyed them in the first half and Horford went to work with his mid-range jumper in the second half. Millsap was a consistent threat all night, while Teague directed the offense and controlled the tempo.
As for Kyle Korver, he played his role perfectly yet again. He stretched the defense all night long and made the Wolves pay close attention to him on the perimeter (rightly so) which opened up room for their bigs to do work in the paint, and created outstanding looks for Carroll.
"Going into the game plan we said we've got to keep them out of the paint and they were pretty much there the whole time," Saunders said.
Atlanta finished with 58 points in the paint, compared to the Wolves 44, and swiped 14 steals which helped them get out, run in transition and ultimately break the game open in the third quarter. The Hawks finished with 21 fastbreak points to the Wolves nine.
"I thought in the second half we were able to clean up the defensive boards at least for a stretch in the third quarter," coach Budenholzer said when asked what helped them create separation tonight. "In the first half both teams were scoring and we couldn't get a board. It was a four point game going into halftime and we just couldn't get a rebound. Offensively I thought we were in a pretty good place all night and it was just if we could find a way to get some stops and board we might be able to get some separation."
Kevin Martin probably said it best in the locker room after the game: "It's one of those games in the season when you just run into a really good team that will expose everything you do wrong on the defensive and offensive end." He continued, "They're a very good team at the end of the day. They play for each other, no super stars, no egos. They're one of the NBA's best teams due to that."
- In positive news, Shabazz Muhammad finished with 18 points and eight rebounds tonight in just under 24 minutes of play. This was his first game back since Jan. 9 (oblique strain) and his 24th double-digit performance of the season after recording four during his rookie year.
- Muhammad on returning tonight: "It felt great. I thought in the first half that we had really good energy. We came out, played really hard and I thought that we established ourselves on both ends of the floor. It was an all-around good game in the first half, but in the second half we came out sluggish and they jumped on us and we couldn't fight back to get the win."
- Gorgui Dieng finished with a season-high five blocks, but there were a few occasions where he didn't slide over to help the rotating defender and the Hawks scored easy baskets because of it. G had a good game off the bench altogether (6 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks, 3 assists and 1 steal in 24 minutes) but I noticed he didn't help the help defender a few times. I suppose great ball movement can make even the best defenses look bad.
- Ricky Rubio was not Ricky Rubio tonight, and since we're a community that understands his worth to this franchise, that's about as deep as I'll go into that. Aside from his poor game, I heard Rubio worked out with his trainer immediately after the loss and that's why he was unavailable to the media. Questioning the Spanish Unicorn's work ethic, or desire to be great, is beyond incomprehensible.
- Pek and TJ update (Thad Young's son, as many of you know): still best friends, even after a loss in which Pek received the cold shoulder from the referees.
- Andrew Wiggins finished with 15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in 37 minutes. He was a beast on the offensive glass (5 offensive rebounds) but did most of his damage in the first quarter and went quiet after that. Saunders continues to say some form of "I think he's tired" during the postgame pressers. Muhammad's return should help that, but, you know, Saunders has control over that too!
- I stand by this tweet (especially after watching the Hawks make extra passes ALL NIGHT):
Talking to @PDWolves about this throughout the game, but Thad has not made the extra pass tonight and it's really hurting the O.— canishoopus (@canishoopus) February 10, 2015
- Atlanta shot 51.2 percent from floor, 47.6 percent from three-point range and 95 percent from the free throw line. 50/40/90. Just amazing. Tonight was the 12th time a team has shot 50/40/90 this season.