Professional basketball was back in Atlanta on Saturday night. The Atlanta Hawks managed to navigate the evening in a positive fashion against the Indiana Pacers, and while it wasn't as easy as many forecasted, the team emerged victorious by a final margin of 102-92.
The game began with a great deal of fireworks, as T.I. led the festivities in the pre-game with a mini-concert and player introductions from the great Ryan Cameron. On the floor, the news was just as positive in the early going, as the Hawks jumped out to a 7-2 lead while shooting 3-for-3 on jump shots out of the gate including a three-point field goal from Paul Millsap.
Later in the quarter, the Hawks zoomed to a 9-0 run behind stellar play from Jeff Teague, and after that blitz, Atlanta led 22-11. The margin remained comfortable throughout the remainder of the period, and even with the unfortunate circumstance of Indiana's Solomon Hill converted a buzzer-beating three, the home team led by a 27-18 margin after 12 minutes.
The news wasn't quite as positive in the second quarter, but in the same breath, the lead was never seriously challenged. Atlanta converted just 7 of 17 from the floor in the second quarter, and the previously struggling Pacers began to knock down shots to the tune of a 50% clip. It was a prominent blitz from Pacers swingman Chris Copeland (11 points, 3-for-5 on threes) that allowed Indiana to stay in the game, but in all actuality, Indiana "won" the second quarter by a score of 26-24 in order to cut Atlanta's halftime advantage to just seven points at 51-44.
Jeff Teague led all scorers in the first half with 13 points, including 11 in the first quarter, and Paul Millsap joined him in double figures with 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting. Elsewhere, Pero Antic saw his first action of the season and contributed 7 points in the half, and Al Horford added 6 points on 3-for-4 shooting.
Coming out of the break, it appeared at times as if the Hawks would simply run away and hide, but they could not make that happen in the early going. Both teams scored just 19 points in the third quarter, and despite the fact that Atlanta converted 9 of 17 field goal attempts, they were not able to lengthen the lead due to several second-chance opportunities provided to the visiting Pacers. Al Horford had a strong quarter, making three of his four shot attempts for six points and generally creating havoc, but "bleh" was likely the best word to describe the overall gameplay.
The first six minutes of the fourth quarter, much like the third, were of the back-and-forth variety. Al Horford continued his stellar play with six quick points, but the Pacers continued to hang around, and using threes by the trio of Solomon Hill, Donald Sloan and Chris Copeland, Indiana was within a 6-point margin with less than six minutes to play.
Atlanta's advantage fluctuated in the next few minutes, with the bright spots of a Kyle Korver three (so beautiful) and a strong baseline dunk from Jeff Teague. Still, the Hawks were unable to put away the short-handed Pacers quickly, and Indy trailed by single-digits until Al Horford converted on a wild fast-break on multiple attempts against Roy Hibbert and Luis Scola. That lay-up bumped the Hawks into a 10-point lead with 2:42 to play, but unfortunately, that wasn't enough for real breathing room.
The Pacers battled back, getting within three points with less than a minute remaining after Donald Sloan converted all three free throws on an ill-timed Al Horford foul. Alas, Jeff Teague came up with a bucket on the other end to make it a two-score game, and after a stop on the other end, Teague swished two free throws to effectively end the game with a 7-point advantage, and it was relatively smooth sailing from that point.
Al Horford was one of the best players on the floor on the night for the Hawks, finishing with 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Admittedly, it was not his strongest rebounding effort (4 boards), but Horford was highly efficient and effective offensively, and that is wildly encouraging at this stage. Next to Horford, Jeff Teague had an explosive evening with 25 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals, and as a team, the Hawks shot 50.7% from the floor while assisting on 26 of 35 field goals in the game.
The Atlanta Hawks will return to action on Wednesday, when they travel to Texas to take on the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. Stay tuned.