With 4:37 left in the 1st quarter on Tuesday night, the Atlanta Hawks trailed by a score of 31-9.
Read that sentence again.
The above notion seems impossible, especially given that 31 points in just over 7 minutes is borderline ridiculous in the NBA, but that is exactly what happened after a crazy spurt that saw the Pacers shoot 13 of their first 14 from the field in annihilating the Hawks in the early going. That small length of time seems to be the largest "takeaway" from the 108-98 loss on Tuesday, but to be candid, there is much more to glean from the final 40+ minutes than first segment.
Yes, NBA games are 48 minutes by nature, and as a result, Atlanta certainly deserved to lose, but in the midst of a now 6-game losing streak, it takes a bit of will to emerge from the depths of what could have been a horrendous defeat. The Hawks closed the first quarter on a 14-4 run that included Kyle Korver's first three that extended his NBA-record streak to 121 games. From there, the team persevered in the second quarter, eventually cutting Indy's lead to 52-49 with just 1:01 to play on the back of another Korver triple.
That 3-point margin was as close as the team would get to prosperity again, and that is unfortunate, simply because I saw a team that played incredibly hard on Tuesday night. By the end of the game and after injuries to DeMarre Carroll (who missed the entire game), Lou Williams, and Gustavo Ayon, the Hawks were down to 8 healthy bodies with none of them being taller than 6-foot-8 against one of the most physical front lines in basketball. It is true that by that point in the 4th quarter, the game was all but wrapped up, but there was no "quit" here amid tough circumstances (and with a back-to-back looming), and the 10-point margin of defeat became utterly respectable.
On a night where the team's best two players, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague, combined to score just 15 points on 6-for-18 shooting, the bench stepped up (yet again) to keep things competitive. Lou Williams had his best game in quite some time with 18 points on 9 shots over 30 minutes of court time, Shelvin Mack was the best point guard on the roster on this night with 11 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds, and the Mike Scott-Elton Brand duo combined for 21 points and 15 rebounds in support of their banged-up teammates.
With the trade deadline approaching on Thursday and the longest losing streak in quite some time (for reference, the Hawks last lost 6 in a row in April 2011 and haven't lost 7 in a row since 2007), it would be easy to pile on with negativity in the near aftermath of this defeat. However, the majority of failures during this 48-minute excursion are explainable (with the possible exception of Jeff Teague's no-show in the the early going) given the dominant opponent, the rough venue, and the "rust" factor, leaving us in a place where analysis of the bigger picture is likely best.
Placing this edition of the Hawks on the court in Indiana without Al Horford, Pero Antic, and DeMarre Carroll is borderline cruel, but when you accept that, this team fought valiantly... for 40 minutes.