Heading into Tuesday night at Philips Arena, expectations were high for the Atlanta Hawks as they hosted the Los Angeles Lakers. After all, the Lakers entered with the second-worst record in the NBA, and the Hawks were undefeated in the friendly confines of Atlanta. Sadly, the home team struggled on defense throughout the night, and in the end, they fell by a score of 114-109 for their first home defeat of the year.
The night began with an ominous tone, as the Lakers soundly outplayed expectations. Paul Millsap did his best to keep Atlanta afloat by scoring 13 of the team's first 15 points (a team-best for any quarter this season), but Los Angeles continued to make plays with a hat-tip to the officiating crew. Kobe and the Lakers flew to a 12-0 run to take a 25-15 lead, and when Nick Young connected on a buzzer-beating three, LA held an 11-point lead after 12 minutes on the strength of 50% shooting and 11 free throw attempts.
Unfortunately, the second quarter was even worse for the home team. The visiting Lakers shot a blistering 71% from the floor in the period, and Los Angeles built their lead to as many as 17 before settling on a 15-point halftime lead. Kobe Bryant led the way with 19 points for LA, but aside from 19 from Paul Millsap in his own right, there was little in the way of positive reinforcement to be had on the Atlanta side.
Then, the home team decided to wake up. Atlanta raced to an 13-0 spurt out of the halftime break (including a fast break dunk from Thabo Sefolosha), slashing the lead to just two, and that was a much-needed infusion of excitement. Still, it wasn't an entirely fantastic quarter for the Hawks, as they allowed the Lakers to rebuild the lead on the strength of some highly questionable defense (11 of 18 shooting for LA). The interior defense and rim protection was woefully lacking while Pero Antic was on the floor, and that certainly wasn't ideal on a night when the Lakers were also making jump shots with regularity.
After the mini-run to close the quarter for LA, the Hawks responded by making it a contest in the fourth. Atlanta raced to a 7-0 spurt in the early going that included a beautiful dunk from Al Horford, and that nearly erased the lead with a 3-point margin. The Lakers responded (once again), lengthening the lead back to eight, but after a dunk from Jeff Teague and a three from Paul Millsap, the margin was three at 103-100 with less than three minutes remaining.
Kobe Bryant was undeterred, extending the lead to five with a beautiful floater in the lane, and that was followed by two free throws (on a clear path foul) by Kyle Korver. Sadly, Al Horford came up empty on an open three on the resulting possession, and when Kobe Bryant connected on a three-point play on the other end, things were bleak.
Jeff Teague converted two free throws to slim the lead to four, but Korver was whistled for a foul on a three against Nick Young, but although "Swaggy P" made one of three, the five-point lead for Los Angeles was safe. The Hawks did manage to climb within three but, once again, Jordan Hill snatched an offensive rebound for a put-back on the other end. Kyle Korver did follow that with a three to come within two, but even after some assistance from a missed free throw by LA, Pero Antic came up empty on a wide-open three that would have tied the game, and the Hawks fell by a final score of 114-109.
Paul Millsap was the biggest postive story of the night for the Atlanta Hawks, leading the way with 29 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks. Jeff Teague also had a big day, scoring 23 points (for his fifth 20+-point effort of the year), and Al Horford performed admirably in finishing with 15 points (on 7-8 FG) and 8 rebounds.
To be clear, this is a brutal defeat for the Atlanta Hawks, who came in as nearly a double-digit favorite against the previously 1-9 Lakers. The schedule continues to be somewhat favorable in the coming days, with the Detroit Pistons on tap for Friday night at Philips Arena, but this one will sting for a few days.