That’s not a shot at Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague, Atlanta’s three All-Star Game selections, who were formally honored in an on-court All-Star jersey ceremony with Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins before Friday night's showdown with the Western Conference-leading Golden State Warriors.
The question is how the Hawks’ kind of talent, described by Kyle Korver as “a lot of unique pieces,” can become championship-caliber. We got a glimpse in the East-leading Hawks’ 124-116 victory over Golden State on Friday night.
If the Hawks’ stars aren’t the hugest, then their role players are good enough to compensate.
The Hawks’ attractive everyman essence—and we all know fans love the underdog—transcended even the all-for-one spirit celebrated by the NBA, as the league oddly named all five Atlanta starters the Eastern Conference Player of the Month.
“We’ve got high-character guys,” said fifth starter DeMarre Carroll. “No egos in here. Humble team.”
Korver explained what the intangible actually does for performance.
“The way we play, everyone matters every single time,” he said. “And when everybody matters, everybody buys in; everybody plays hard. We don’t have one guy we’re just going to get the ball to, and then it’s on him to win the game for us. We have to play together.”
Before the game, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer answered a question about Atlanta’s democratic roster makeup and long-range prospects simply.
“A lot of different ways to win,” he said.
The game then illustrated Budenholzer’s point. Atlanta’s aggressiveness led to a 33-10 disparity in free-throw points, but the Hawks’ 15-of-27 three-point shooting showed how well they can play the space, pass and fire style the Warriors have patented.
Dirty-work kingpin Carroll told himself at halftime he had to be more aggressive. He fueled the tie-breaking 18-8 run to start the third quarter. So-called stars Horford and Millsap fought for every inch of wood versus picks on the perimeter to disrupt Curry and Thompson.
So many little things.
And after the game, Budenholzer pointed to how Golden State’s star power nevertheless started to turn the tide back in the away team's favor in the second half. But Atlanta responded with its own kind of star power.
“Then,” Budenholzer said, “Dennis and Mike made some plays.”
Dennis and Mike? Who, Rodman and Jordan?
No, second-year backup point guard Dennis Schroder (Best Young German Player, 2013) and forgettably named reserve forward Mike Scott (given first name no less common: James Michael Scott).
The Hawks are 42-9 because their role players are really good and rather consistent, with Kent Bazemore on Friday subbing for injured Thabo Sefolosha and nailing all three of his three-point tries.
The Atlanta victory was sealed when Golden State’s Harrison Barnes, left open in the corner, clanged his three before Carroll’s hard cut to the hoop surprised Thompson and paid off when Millsap found Carroll for the bucket.
When it comes to winning in the playoffs, the depth has to keep mattering for Atlanta. That holds especially true on the road, where stars often have to take over because supporting players get unsteady without backing from the home fans.
The same still applies for Golden State’s role players who fell short Friday night. They are capable, too—Andre Iguodala hit the winning shot just last year when the Warriors visited Atlanta. Golden State coach Steve Kerr knows personally how critical it is to support the stars from his time delivering for the real Dennis and Mike in Chicago.
Yet there’s something else Kerr knows from his own championship runs alongside Dennis, Mike and Scottie Pippen and under Phil Jackson’s tutelage.
Success in the NBA comes down to three things: “Talent, competitiveness, continuity,” Kerr said.
You can see which one Kerr listed first.
Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.