With high expectations toward extending their franchise-record winning streak to 16 games, the Atlanta Hawks took the floor in front of a packed house on Sunday evening, and their opponent was the Minnesota Timberwolves. Things were closer than most expected for three quarters, but in the end, the home team extended its historic mark with a 112-100 victory.
Although there were expectations to the contrary, the first quarter was highly competitive. It was the definition of a back-and-forth contest early on, with eight lead changes in the first seven-plus minutes of clock time, and Minnesota held the lead deep into the final minute of the quarter. Dennis Schröder slammed the door on that, though, with a beautiful lay-up to end the period, and the Hawks led by a score of 25-24.
Minnesota was able to hang around based on efficient offense, shooting 50% from the floor in the first 12 minutes, but the Hawks were scorching to the tune of 61% in their own right. Paul Millsap was aggressive from the opening bell, notching seven points by going right at Gorgui Dieng repeatedly, and that was a catalyst for strong early returns.
The onslaught was coming for the good guys, however, and it arrived quickly as the second quarter got underway. The Hawks went on a 14-2 spurt across the end of the first and beginning of the second quarters, and that resulted in a 37-26 lead. The run included a highly volatile technical foul by Wolves head coach Flip Saunders, and when it was over, Minnesota did not feel like a serious threat at any point during the evening.
Atlanta would continue to pour it on a bit, racing to a 12-3 spurt that included back-to-back triples from DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap, and the lead was never smaller than 12 prior to halftime before settling at 61-47. Jeff Teague (11 points), Al Horford (10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) and Paul Millsap (10 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) all put together productive halves for the Hawks, and as a team, 61% shooting and 47% from beyond the arc was nothing to sneeze at.
The third quarter was not a ringing endorsement of the Atlanta defense. The Hawks allowed 30 points, including 11 of 17 from the floor, and Minnesota closed within eight points on multiple occasions in the period. Atlanta's offense continued to hum, especially with the duo of Horford and Millsap leading the way, but spotty defense was the impetus for the Wolves hanging around for the majority of the period, including a 9-point deficit with 12 minutes remaining.
Energy was not a question mark to begin the fourth quarter, though, as Pero Antic gave the building a lift with back-to-back dunks (yes, I said dunks) to open the scoring. Those smashes and a lay-up from Thabo Sefolosha gave the Hawks a 15-point lead in the blink of an eye, and it felt like a runaway was about to occur. Still, a resilient Minnesota team closed the lead to just eight at 94-86 with less than 8 minutes to play, and the margin fell to as few as six points within the final six minutes.
The lead was never 100% safe until DeMarre Carroll and Kyle Korver swished back-to-back threes with less than three minutes remaining, but when Korver's bomb slipped through the net, that was the end of the threat with a 108-96 lead. The final margin settled at 112-100, but the Hawks slammed the door shut in the span of just 31 seconds with a perfect microcosm of this offensive season.
Paul Millsap was, once again, the best player on the court for the majority of this night. The All-Star power forward finished with 20 points on 8 for 12 shooting, and his all-court game was highly effective, including 5 rebounds and 6 assists in 32 minutes. Al Horford (19 points, 6 rebounds. 4 assists) also put together a big-time day for Atlanta, and the Hawks placed six players in double-figures while shooting 56% from the floor as a team.
The Atlanta Hawks have certainly displayed better 48-minute performances during this run, but victories are victories in the NBA, and this one qualifies. The team will host the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night in search of a 17th consecutive win, and we'll be here to bring you full coverage. Stay tuned.