There was very little in the way of expectation when the Atlanta Hawks took the floor against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night, but the team fought valiantly despite falling by a final score of 109-108.
The first half in Los Angeles was, frankly, one of the most entertaining experiences of Hawks basketball in quite some time. Atlanta took a 58-57 lead after the first 24 minutes on the strength of some incredible shooting, opportunistic defense, and always impressive ball movement. As a team, the Hawks shot 54% from the floor and knocked down 6 threes on 16 attempts, while assisting on 16 of their 22 field goals in the opening half.
Defensively, the defense did allow 57 points and several high-flying lob dunks to the high-powered Clippers offense, but 9 takeaways and a dead-even rebounding split helped to propel Atlanta to the 1-point lead. It wasn't all roses, including some very hot shooting from LA, but there was some intensity on defense that was encouraging.
After the break, the Clippers seized control fairly quickly with an 18-5 run over a 5-minute stretch that gave the home team an 81-72 lead with 3:46 to play in the frame. From there, the Hawks battled to stay within 10 as the game went to the 4th quarter in order to set the stage for a late comeback bid, and they were wildly impressive in scratching and clawing their way back into the game. Atlanta climbed within 2 after a Kyle Korver 4-point play midway through the period, and after a back-and-forth sequence, Jeff Teague tied the game at 107-107 with 1:35 remaining.
Unfortunately, Chris Paul immediately answered with a driving lay-up on the other end, and after several empty possessions on both ends, Jeff Teague slashed through the lane as the clock was set to expire. The Atlanta point guard was fouled by DeAndre Jordan as the clock stood at 1.2 seconds, but he came up short on the opening attempt and then "accidentally" made the second (off the glass) to basically ensure defeat.
Six players scored in double-figures for Atlanta (with 2 more scoring 8 or more points) and Paul Millsap put together a stat-stuffing effort in his second game back. Millsap finished with 14 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals, and a block in the game, while Kyle Korver had a tremendous night with 17 points (6-7 FG, 3-3 3-PT), 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals.
As a team, Atlanta shot 50% from the floor and nearly 43% from 3-point distance, and to be honest, that is normally enough to win in any opponent's building. However, the Clippers scored with ease for much of the night, shooting more than 53% from the floor, and their late-game execution was simply more crisp than Atlanta despite the impressive comeback.
The Hawks have now lost six straight games overall, 10 straight games on the road, and 14 of their last 15 decisions in order to drop to their current 26-35 mark. That record is a far cry from the #3 spot earlier in the season, but there were flashes of high-end play on Saturday night, and there is zero shame in losing to an extremely talented and well-coached Clippers team in their own building.
Atlanta will conclude their lengthy West Coast road trip with a 9:00 pm ET tip-off against the Utah Jazz on Monday night. Stay tuned.