BOSTON — The Atlanta Hawks took the NBA by storm last season, pacing the Eastern Conference with 60 wins after winning just 38 games during the 2013-14 season.
It’s a testament to head coach Mike Budenholzer’s balanced, talented group, which included five All-Stars and a starting unit that was among the NBA’s best. But the Hawks lost a key cog to free agency this offseason in forward DeMarre Carroll, leading many to question if Atlanta could replicate last season’s brilliance.
So far, so good.
The Hawks are 8-2 entering Friday’s contest with the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Their entire starting five is averaging double-figures in points and the team is averaging 104.4 points per game, fourth-best in the league.
As for replacing Carroll? Swingman Kent Bazemore has stepped right in, averaging 11.6 points per game and knocking down 44.4 percent of his 3-pointers.
“His energy is No. 1, his defensive presence is No. 1, but as an added bonus, he’s making shots at a pretty high level,” Hawks assistant coach Kenny Atkinson said Friday. (Budenholzer stayed home to deal with a family emergency.) “But really, we like him doing all the dirty work and defending and rebounding, so he’s been a pleasant surprise.”
As was the case last season, though, Atlanta is excelling because it’s the sum of its parts. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens says the Hawks’ offense is better than ever, especially after watching their furious comeback in an eventual loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday.
“This team moves it,” Stevens said. “They don’t waste dribbles, they don’t waste possessions, they find the right guy. They’re a headache to play against. You’d better be on your toes for 48 minutes, or they’ll expose you when you’re not.
“That Minnesota game, when they were down 81-47 — in 11 minutes, they were at 89. I mean, it was like 52 points in 11 minutes. That was a joke how quickly that thing evaporated. It’s a heck of a team: They’ve done a really nice job.”
Boston shocked the Hawks in the teams’ last meeting in February, winning 89-88 thanks to Evan Turner’s buzzer-beater. If early impressions are any indication, though, the Celtics — and the rest of the Eastern Conference, for that matter — once again will need to pull out all the stops to keep pace with Atlanta this season.
Thumbnail photo via Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports Images