Prior to tip-off, the Philips Arena crowd was flummoxed by the news that LeBron James would miss the game with knee soreness, but that did not steal the show for fans of the Atlanta Hawks. The home team did not play at a premium level, but their performance was enough to hold off the hard-charging Cleveland Cavaliers by a final score of 109-101.
Things started in bizarre fashion in a number of ways. In addition to the relatively late announcement concerning LeBron James, Al Horford was a last-minute scratch from the lineup with nausea. On the court, the Hawks scored the first five points of the night while holding Cleveland scoreless for more than three minutes, but that outright success was short-lived.
Cleveland spurted to a 12-0 run once their scoring commenced, but fortunately, the Hawks would soon awaken. It was a back-and-forth quarter for the most part, with lineups on both sides that were comically slapped together, but Thabo Sefolosha knocked down a three in the closing seconds, and that allowed Atlanta to snatch a 1-point lead after 12 minutes.
Sadly, the second quarter did not have nearly the pizzazz of the opening period. Both teams struggled mightily to generate offense, scoring just 41 total points in 12 minutes, and for a five-to-six minute stretch, it was some of the least aesthetically pleasing basketball you will ever see on an NBA court. The Hawks (not the Cavs) did pick things up to close the half, though, as Atlanta raced to a 13-4 spurt in the final moments to claim a 10-point halftime lead. The defense did yeoman's work, holding Cleveland to 35% shooting for the half and 6-for-21 in the second, but Mike Budenholzer had to be pleased with the margin given the performance.
Coming out of the break, the Hawks were simply firing on all cylinders. Kyle Korver knocked down two threes in the first 100 seconds of the half, and when the spurt came to an end for the home team, the lead had grown to 7 at 62-45. Cleveland slashed the lead back to single-digits in short order, and even flashed within four points down the stretch of the period before the margin settled at five.
The fourth quarter was decidedly too close for comfort. Kyle Korver knocked down back-to-back threes that would seem to give Atlanta a little bit of breathing room in the middle of the period, but they were matched by two triples from Kyrie Irving and James Jones, respectively. Still, the home team would never trail through the fourth quarter (with a hat-tip to Paul Millsap), with a basket to match anything Cleveland put forth, and Jeff Teague's circus lay-up with just 1:05 remaining virtually ended the threat. The end result was, finally, a formality when Atlanta secured an offensive rebound with less than 30 seconds remaining, leading to clinching free throws from Teague.
As usual, it was a highly balanced effort from the Atlanta Hawks, but Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap were at the forefront. Teague finished with 23 points and 11 assists, Korver knocked down five triples on the way to 19 points and 8 rebounds, and Millsap led the way with 26 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 blocks. For good measure, both Dennis Schröder (11 points, 4 assists) and Mike Scott (12 points, 5 rebounds) reached double-figures off the bench, and as a team, the Hawks converted 51% of their field goal attempts on the way to their 109 points.
This was not the high-end battle that many desired for most of the 48 minutes, but there were plenty of highlights, and most importantly, the Hawks secured a victory. Many will bemoan the lack of presence for LeBron James, but Atlanta just secured a win over a top-flight Eastern Conference opponent without Al Horford, and that is just fine.