The Atlanta Hawks entered Friday night on the heels of a three-game winning streak, and the optimism was real in the building. That positive thinking played out in a big way on the floor as well, as the Hawks cruised to a 114-103 victory over the defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat.
In all honesty, the night could not have started better for the good guys. Al Horford zoomed out of the gate by scoring the first seven points of the night overall, and that explosion included a rare corner three for good measure. The Hawks weren't done there, though, as the rest of the group joined Horford in leaping to a 12-1 advantage before Miami could awaken.
While the rest of the opening quarter wasn't quite as dominant for Atlanta, the early returns were positive. The Hawks assisted on 9 of their 10 field goals in the quarter, and as a team, they shot better than 60% in compiling a 35-23 lead after one.
The goodwill did not necessarily transfer to the whole of second quarter, though, as the Heat mounted a somewhat expected run. Miami closed within four points at 52-48 by stifling the Atlanta offense and little-known forward Shawne Williams was a problem, scoring 12 points in the first half on only seven shots. Fortunately, the home team shook to life in the final moments of the half, as a three by Paul Millsap capped a 10-4 spurt to close the second quarter, and the Hawks took a 62-52 lead into the break.
Early in the second half, it was a back and forth affair. However, the Hawks eclipsed the 20-assist mark with more than 20 minutes remaining in the game, and this was the seventh time this season that Atlanta achieved that feat. The offense was cooking to the tune of 22 assists on the first 26 field goals, and with six minutes left in the third quarter, all five members of the starting lineup had tallied nine points or more.
Despite some questionable defensive performance (to put it mildly) that allowed Miami to shoot 10 for 17 in the third, Atlanta managed to hold on to a 7-point advantage as the clock switched toward the fourth and final period. With that impetus, the Hawks came out swinging, pushing the lead to 14 at 95-81 with a 9-2 run spurred by Mike Scott.
From there, the ball was rolling downhill in a positive way, and the home team stepped on the gas to blow the Heat out of the water. Paul Millsap connected on a corner three to lengthen the lead to 17, and when Dennis Schröder created a steal and finished it on the other end with a behind-the-back dump-off to Jeff Teague, the result was no longer in doubt with a score of 104-85 and less than six minutes to play. The Heat never climbed closer than 10 points for the rest of the evening, and that was that on the way to the final of 114-103.
Balance was the word of the day for the Hawks in this spot, as eight players reached double-figures in scoring (a season-high for Atlanta) while the team shot 56% from the floor, 39% from three and accumulated 33 assists on 42 field goals. Paul Millsap led the way with 19 points and 9 rebounds, while Al Horford had a nice, bounce-back performance with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
On the perimeter, Kyle Korver connected on four threes on the way to 12 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds, and Jeff Teague added 16 points and 9 assists. Dennis Schröder also continued his incredible recent play, posting a 10-point, 6-assist effort in 25 minutes, and further solidifying his place in the regular rotation.
The Atlanta Hawks are back in action on a quick turnaround, traveling to Ohio to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night. Stay tuned.