Good times create wins in substandard circumstances, and that was the story of the night for the Atlanta Hawks. The home team scrapped and clawed for 48 minutes, and in the end, it was enough to emerge with a 105-99 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Hawks entered the night short-handed, and things quickly got even more shallow with the rotation. DeMarre Carroll was a late scratch with an Achilles injury, and within the first five minutes of game action, Thabo Sefolosha existed with a calf strain. This forced Kent Bazemore into heavy game action and even unearthed John Jenkins after a lengthy period of inactivity.
Given those injury woes and some hot shooting from Portland, the first half could have gone much, much worse. The Blazers made 71% of their field goals and 83% of their threes in the first quarter, and for the half, those numbers settled at a prolific 55% from the field and 53% from beyond the arc. Fortunately for Atlanta, Portland issued 13 turnovers to allow the Hawks to remain afloat, and a 46% clip from long range helped the Hawks stay close in route to a 51-50 deficit at the break.
The biggest issue defensively in the early going, even with the long-distance barrage, was Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge. The big man exploded for 21 points on 9 for 12 shooting in just 19 minutes of floor time, and frankly, it felt like a miracle that the Hawks were able to stay within one point by halftime.
Portland's blazing-hot shooting would not continue in the early part of the third quarter, but the Hawks were unable to take full advantage. The Blazers missed their first six shots of the third quarter, going scoreless for nearly four minutes, but Atlanta could not build any sort of advantage and Portland quickly knotted the game at 60 apiece midway through the frame.
Overall, the offense sputtered greatly in the third quarter, scoring just 19 points on 5 of 18 shooting. That allowed the Blazers to build a 5-point cushion as the final period approached, and even with yeoman's work from Kent Bazemore and others in somewhat unusual roles, the lack of knockdown shooting proved to be an issue in attempting to separate from (or even stick close to) the Blazers.
Then, "the run" materialized. The Hawks blitzed to a 12-2 spurt to begin the fourth quarter, and with some help from five straight points from Mike Scott and a big three from Kyle Korver, Atlanta built a 81-76 lead. In a flash, Portland crept back into the game, but the crowd was officially ignited from that point forward.
The crowd erupted again in short order, as Paul Millsap drilled a triple to give Atlanta their most comfortable lead in some time at 97-91 with 3:34 to go. From there, it was a wild scene at Philips Arena, with the crowd on their feet and the Hawks trying to hold off the hard-charging Blazers. Perhaps the two biggest possessions came on the defensive end, when Nic Batum missed an open three with just over 20 seconds remaining and Wes Matthews followed suit after an Atlanta turnover with another misfire.
Still, the game was not "secure" until the Hawks controlled a jump ball courtesy of a Steve Blake foul with 9.7 seconds left. Kyle Korver put the game away with two free throws, and thankfully, that was all Atlanta needed to extend the winning streak to 18 games with a final score of 105-99.
Kent Bazemore was the unsung hero of the night for the Hawks, playing 40 (!) minutes off the bench and contributing 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in the game. His performance was huge in the absence of wing depth, and along with 21 points and 8 rebounds from Paul Millsap and a total of six Hawks in double-figures, it was a heroic effort by the entire roster under less than ideal circumstances.
The Atlanta Hawks face a quick turnaround, as the Philadelphia 76ers come to town for the second of a home back-to-back on Saturday night. Stay tuned.