It was anything but perfect, but after a 48-minute battle with the Boston Celtics, the Atlanta Hawks emerged with a crucial victory by the final score of 105-97.
The opening moments on Wednesday were the complete opposite of Tuesday's disaster, as the Hawks came out on the offensive, both literally and figuratively. Atlanta converted 5 of their first 6 shots in route to a 12-2 opening run, and after less than 9 minutes of play, the Hawks had 26 points on just 13 field goal attempts on the way to a 14-point lead. The onslaught slowed a bit near the end of the quarter (with some help from a buzzer-beating three by Boston's Chris Johnson), but when the dust settled, it was a 32-point quarter that saw the home team shoot 14 of 18 from the field (78%) with a 9-point advantage.
For a brief moment, it looked as if the Hawks would utterly cruise for the duration, as they built a 14-point lead midway through the 2nd quarter on the strength of a 4-for-4 start from 3-point range (after a dismal 9-for-35 showing on Tuesday). However, the Celtics wouldn't fade away without any sort of a fight, as Boston charged to a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 49-44 with 2:33 remaining. From there, the two teams traded mini-runs (as Rajon Rondo caught fire with 7 points down the stretch), and the Hawks took a 5-point lead into halftime.
Offensively, it was an incredible half for the Hawks, as they finished with 62% shooting and 17 assists despite a relative "slow down" in the second quarter. The defense, however, wasn't as stellar, with Boston shooting 50% from both the floor and from 3-point range, and Atlanta's 5-point lead felt quite hollow considering how lights-out the entire team (seven players with 5+ points in the 1st half) was offensively in the early going.
The post-halftime Hawks were certainly not even as effective as the early Hawks, however, as the Celtics throttled Atlanta in the third quarter. Boston scored the first 5 points of the third to tie the game, and after a back-and-forth segment, the C's went on a 10-0 run to take the lead at 71-66. Rajon Rondo was the catalyst for the visitors, as he accounted for all 10 points (2 field goals, 3 assists), and the Hawks were slow to respond. Even after Atlanta woke up a bit to climb within one, Boston slammed the quarter door with a 6-0 run that ended with a buzzer-beating three to give them an inexplicable 7-point lead with 12 minutes to play.
Atlanta wouldn't go quietly into the night (copyright, Independence Day), though, as the run was coming. After a lackluster 6 minute period to start the 4th quarter, Atlanta trailed 89-80 with just 5:26 to play, but from that point, the team blitzed forward on a 19-3 run that was started by Jeff Teague (three and fast break dunk) and highlighted by Kyle Korver (back-to-back threes). That spurt gave the good guys a 99-92 lead with 1:13 to play, and with the Cletics utterly rudderless on offense down the stretch, the somewhat unlikely victory was sealed.
Wednesday night was a roller coaster ride from beginning to end, but there was plenty on the negative side and we'll start with that. The Celtics shot 12 for 26 from three-point land after being allowed to attempt far too many uncontested threes, and after a first quarter that saw Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley combine for just 2 points, Boston's backcourt duo scored 41 in the final 36 minutes (in addition to Rondo's fantastic passing) to expose the flawed perimeter defense. Fortunately, there were also plenty of positives that arrived at the right time.
The Atlanta offense was spectacular for the great majority of the night (with the glaring exception of the 3rd quarter), and the final numbers were quite good. As a unit, the Hawks shot 53% from the field and a respectable 39% (9 for 23) from three-point land, and that type of efficient offense generated an impressive 30 assists for the game.
Individually, there wasn't a single standout effort, but virtually every member of the active playing roster had a "plus" game offensively. Kyle Korver led the way from an efficiency perspective with 17 points on just 8 shot attempts (4-6 from 3) to go along with 5 rebounds and 4 assists, and his backcourt mate, Jeff Teague, added 19 points and 8 assists including some hugely important, momentum-shifting points in the 4th. Up front, Paul Millsap (14 points, 14 rebounds) and Elton Brand (13 points, 13 rebounds) each put up double-doubles for Atlanta, and even unsung guys like DeMarre Carroll (13 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) and Mike Scott (13 points, 6-9 FG in 20 minutes) were huge at times.
To be fair, this was anything but a flawless victory for the Hawks, and it looked for all the world like they would somehow give this one away (even at home) to an inferior opponent. On the bright side, though, the team emerged at precisely the right time, and with a 2-game lead (with tiebreaker help) over the Knicks with 4 to play, Atlanta sits in very good position heading into Friday night's game in Brooklyn.