For the majority of the night, the Atlanta Hawks did not play well, particularly on the defensive end. However, the team managed to perform with resolve down the stretch, and with the help of a monster game from Paul Millsap, the Hawks escaped with a 100-97 victory over the Utah Jazz.
The first quarter was marked by hot shooting on both sides, and the visiting Jazz got off to a blazing start by making 11 of their first 14 field goals to take a 25-20 lead within the first nine minutes. Atlanta would respond, however, as Kyle Korver knocked down two threes in the midst of an 8-0 run to take the lead, and the two teams traded baskets on the way to a 32-32 result at the end of the 12 minutes. The Hawks struggled visibly in containing the Jazz defensively, but the offense was clicking in matching Utah with 64% shooting (14-for-22) on both sides.
Utah came out blazing in the second quarter, posting an 18-5 run over the first six-plus minutes of action. Atlanta's interior defense was virtually non-existent, allowing 28 points in the paint in just over 18 total minutes of play, and each member of the Trevor Booker-Rudy Gobert-Derrick Favors-Trevor Booker quartet seemingly had their way around the rim.
Fortunately, that was the "low point" of the night for the Hawks, as Jeff Teague scored the next six points (including a highlight-worthy dunk) to bring the Hawks within seven at 50-43 while slowing the Utah onslaught. Following that mini-run from Teague, Paul Millsap followed with one of us own, knocking down back-to-back threes to close the gap to just three, and he punctuated that spurt with an absurd dunk in the half-court. Thabo Sefolosha sent things into a frenzy when he converted a lay-up on the next trip, and in a hurry, the Hawks claimed a 57-54 halftime advantage on the strength of a 20-4 overall run that was capped by another Teague dunk in the final moments.
It certainly was not an ideal half from start to finish for the Hawks, but the final push saved the day. Atlanta did out-rebound Utah by a 21-12 margin despite the size advantage for the Jazz, but allowing 54% shooting from the field and 15 first-half assists is never a desirable outcome, and Mike Budenholzer was surely less than enthused with the defensive output.
The start of the second half was not exactly marked with intensity and execution for the home team. Utah scored the first seven points of the third quarter to reclaim the lead at 61-57, and the run included inexplicably going under a scren against Gordon Hayward and an ugly lost ball turnover from Thabo Sefolosha. While things slowed (albeit slightly) throughout the rest of the quarter, the visitors still managed to convert on 16 of 25 shots (64%) in the third quarter, and the Hawks were out-scored by a 34-25 margin despite some great work from Paul Millsap.
After a back and forth that lasted for more than six minutes in the fourth quarter, the Jazz held a 93-89 lead at the official timeout. For a brief moment, it appeared as if the Jazz were going to run away and hide after they built an 8-point lead, but Atlanta stormed back with six straight points to close the gap to 97-95 with less than 2:30 to play.
The Hawks came up empty on a couple of trips, but with under a minute to play, Kyle Korver connected on a bomb of a three to take the lead at 98-97. From there, the two teams traded stops, and after Derrick Favors unloaded an errant pass for a turnover, Jeff Teague converted two free throws to take a 100-97 lead with 5.7 seconds remaining in the game.
Paul Millsap was the story of the night on the positive side, as the All-Star power forward finished with season-highs in both points (30) and rebounds (17) while singlehandedly carrying the offense at times. Millsap connected on four three-pointers in the game (on eight attempts), while making 13 of his 23 shots overall, and on a night where Al Horford was largely a non-factor (to be kind), it was quite encouraging to see Millsap take over the proceedings.
It wasn't all Millsap, however, as Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver both had very solid nights. Teague finished with 20 points (on 7-for-12 shooting) and 8 assists, while Korver made four threes in route to a 17-point, 10-rebound, 6-assist night that should help to alleviate any (public) concern that he is a one-trick pony.
The Hawks will savor this somewhat unlikely victory until Friday night, when they return to action at home against the division rival Miami Heat. Stay tuned.