History was made on Friday night at Philips Arena. The Atlanta Hawks, once again, played out-of-this world basketball, and an incredibly strong second half showing was enough to provide a franchise record-setting 15th consecutive win by a final score of 103-93 over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The game began in somewhat ominous fashion for the Hawks, as Russell Westbrook found Serge Ibaka for a dunk on the opening possession. Positively, that would not be the overriding theme of the opening moments, as the Hawks actually built a 12-6 lead before quickly surrendering it thanks to a 10-0 run by the visiting Thunder. Kevin Durant knocked down back-to-back threes in the course of that spurt, and the home crowd was quickly reminded that this opponent was more than worthy.
Atlanta trailed 30-23 at the end of the first quarter, and although it was a fairly even game to that point, Oklahoma City made 4 of their 5 shots from beyond the arc in that time period. In addition, Westbrook and Durant combined for 21 first quarter points, but any sort of offensive success was quickly halted by both teams in the second quarter.
In the first three minutes of the second, only two points were scored by both teams combined. Thankfully, that ineptitude ceased with the two teams trading spurs, but Oklahoma City led by as many as nine points.
The Hawks scratched and clawed, led by a boost of energy from Kent Bazemore and the bench, and after a 6-0 run that was capped by Bazemore himself with a big-time dunk, Atlanta reclaimed the lead at 46-45 at the 1:44 mark. The most raucous moment of the half was still to come, though, as Kyle Korver punctuated the half with a two-handed, powerful dunk at the halftime buzzer, and with that, the Hawks held a 1-point lead after 24 minutes.
Durant and Westbrook scored 25 points between them in the first half, but as usual, the home team was keyed by balance. DeMarre Carroll led all Atlanta scorers with 10 points, but each of the 10 players who saw time scratched on the scoreboard, and that was in the midst of a somewhat mediocre offensive half in totality. It felt as if the Hawks are a bit "lucky" to hold the lead, but as we've tried to communicate, one of the marks of a good team is the ability to stay close when everything isn't clicking.
After the break, the third quarter was played to a virtual standstill. Atlanta built a 7-lead after Paul Millsap finished off a 6-0 run in the early going, but Oklahoma City continued to rally back, never allowing the lead to rise above eight points. It looked as if the Hawks would take momentum into the closing period after an Al Horford three-point play in the waning seconds, but OKC's Reggie Jackson countered with a buzzer-beating three to slash the lead to 79-75. Still, it was a productive quarter, especially on offense with 31 points (on 12-19 FG, 4-5 3-PT) and the intensity was building toward a strong finish.
Atlanta continued its red-hot offensive execution to begin the fourth, scoring the first eight points and jumping out to a 87-76 advantage in short order. Dennis Schröder (13 points, 5 assists) provided speed, energy and passing, and with the defense clamping down, things were rolling a bit. Paul Millsap continued the onslaught near the midway point of the quarter as well, swishing a three that gave the Hawks their largest lead of the night to that point at 92-79 and forcing an Oklahoma City timeout with 6:24 on the clock.
The Thunder would climb within 11 points from there, on a Durant free throw with 4:13 remaining, but when Millsap (there's that man again) converted a beautiful, left-handed pass from Jeff Teague into a lay-up more than a minute later, the lead appeared fully safe at 98-85. The visitors never again threatened in a serious manner, and the victory cigar came when Al Horford connected on a corner three with 2:05 left for a 13-point lead. The final seconds were celebrated by the capacity crowd (especially as Bazemore threw down a fiery dunk in the closing moments), and the Hawks made history with a franchise record win.
Paul Millsap set the pace for the Hawks, finishing with 22 points on 9 of 17 shooting, to go along with 10 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. He was flanked by Al Horford's 14 points and 12 rebounds, a fantastic night from Dennis Schröder and a dominant team effort on the glass, out-rebounding the much larger Thunder front line. There were many heroes on this night, but that is the norm, and the Atlanta coaching staff would have it no other way.
The 2014-2015 Atlanta Hawks are real, and with this win, this year's edition will live on in the franchise record book. We'll see you on Sunday evening.