Against the Houston Rockets on Friday evening at Philips Arena, things looked bad for the Hawks. Atlanta native Dwight Howard’s squad was in town and they were doing a number on the hometown team.
After the first six minutes of the first quarter, the Hawks hadn’t scored, the Rockets had put 11 points on the board and power forward Paul Milsap had been tagged with his second foul. Then something happened that changed the course of the evening and led Atlanta to an 83-80 victory, their second in a row over one of the NBA’s top teams. When asked about it in his postgame press conference, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said it succinctly.
“Mike Scott,” he whispered.
Scott, the second year forward from Virginia has come on strong this season. He was the talk of training camp and in center Al Horford’s absence, he has asserted his will on the offensive end for the Hawks and played big minutes.
After Friday night’s 14 point, 7-10 shooting performance, including the Hawks’ first six points and eight of their first 10 in the opening quarter – an outburst that dug them out of an 11-0 hole – Kyle Korver, who extended his NBA record 106-game three-point streak on the night and scored 20 points, gushed about Scott.
“Mike was so big for us,” said Korver. “We were playing a little bit slow, couldn’t get a good look, I don’t think we scored for, like, six minutes…and Mike came in and had eight points in that quarter and he really gave us a spark. We need him to do that.
“Mike is a very capable scorer, he’s done it his whole life. He’s a great pick and pop player, he’s expanding his game, driving to the basket and he finishes well. He’s in constant motion, you know, and he’s gonna be a big part of what we do going forward.”
Scott played only 18 minutes, but they were some of the biggest minutes of the game. He threw down three straight dunks and picked the Hawks up after a horrific start to keep them in the game.
His offensive effort was impressive, but for Coach Bud, Scott’s improvement has been most important on the defensive end.
“I think defensively is an area where we’ve really been talking to him about improving and that’s an area that if he can take some strides and take some steps, he gives us so much on the offensive end,” said Budenholzer. “He’s a unique player offensively.”
That improvement has helped get Scott on the court in Horford’s absence, since a season-ending right pectoral injury, and make an impact.
“I think tonight he made some great rotations,” Budenholzer continued. “He saw where he’s supposed to be a half a count earlier and he’s playing a little bit bigger and playing a little bit more physical and we need that to continue.”
Scott understands the importance of defense when it comes to getting on the court for Budenholzer, a disciple of San Antonio Spurs’ coach Greg Popovich, and he said he’s committed himself to that end of the floor.
“Offense comes natural to me, I’m an offensive player, so one of the challenges as a player [is] to get better on the defensive end,” Scott told the Daily World. “That’s just something I want to continue to work at…I’ve still got to get better with both, but I just take the challenge to guard smaller players. That’s been one of my weaknesses and I think I did pretty good tonight.”
As for his impact in the first quarter, when he all but saved the game for Atlanta, Scott chose to remain humble.
“I was just looking to come in and have a lot of energy,” he said. “My teammates got me the ball, I just finished forcefully around the rim and just try to pick up the team.”
As the Hawks face a season without their best player, Scott may be the key to maintaining the early season success and maybe even advancing in the postseason. If Friday night was any indication, he’s ready.