Injuries happen in the NBA, but the Atlanta Hawks faced a challenge without two key cogs on Saturday night against the Philadelphia 76ers. In a game that virtually no one thought would be competitive, the Hawks were pushed to the limit, but Atlanta emerged with their 19th consecutive victory by a final score of 91-85.
In the early going, the Hawks were a bit sluggish, and it showed on the scoreboard. Philadelphia played stride for stride for the first six minutes or so, keeping the score knotted at 10-10 despite two threes from Kyle Korver to start the night, and worries festered about the Sixers hanging around for much of the night. However, things went sideways for the visitors in a hurry.
Atlanta raced to a 14-0 spurt over the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second, and it was largely due to incompetent offense from Philadelphia. The Sixers did not score for the final six minutes and 52 seconds of the first quarter, and overall, it was nearly an eight-minute drought while they simply could not connect from the field. Mercifully, the onslaught cooled a bit, but the Hawks put together another 12-3 run (including a three from John Jenkins) later in the second quarter, and that was enough to keep Atlanta safe with a comfortable 15-point halftime lead.
Admittedly, it was a less than ideal performance in the first 24 minutes for the home team, as the Hawks shot just 44% from the field in the half. Paul Millsap (10 points, 5 rebounds) and Kyle Korver (9 points on 3-for-4 from three) were standouts, but the story was the play of John Jenkins, who emerged from the bench for 14 minutes and 9 points on 4 for 5 shooting. It was tough to overlook just how ugly the offense was on the other bench, but 15 point leads don't grow on trees and the Hawks did enough to build one.
Philadelphia did not simply go away, though, as the Sixers mounted a quick charge in the second half. Atlanta fell victim to a 10-4 run out of the break, and the hits kept coming. Every time the Hawks would seem to quell the momentum from the Sixers, Philly would connect on another three-pointer, and the visitors came within a four-point margin at 68-64 before settling with a 5-point deficit at the end of the third quarter. All in all, Philadelphia shot 12 of 24 (and 6 of 12 from three) with 32 points in the quarter, and that felt like 70% given their earlier 34-point output in the first half.
The Sixers weren't done there, unfortunately, and Philadelphia climbed all the way to the lead in the final moments. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute connected on a jumper with 3:19 left to tie the game at 81-81, and in short order, Nerlens Noel follows with a dunk to give the Sixers their first lead of the entire evening. From there, though, the Hawks awakened.
Al Horford finished at the other end to knot the score (on what should have been a three-point play), and Dennis Schröder connected on the biggest shot of the game on the following possession, swishing a three to give Atlanta a 86-83 lead with 1:35 remaining. At that point, it was the Al Horford show. The big man, who finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds on the day, snared a defensive rebound to close a possession, picked up an offensive rebound of a Jeff Teague miss on the other end, and converted an 18-footer that gave the Hawks a 5-point lead with 47 seconds remaining.
It wasn't a given that Atlanta would emerge victorious at that point, as Philadelphia closed within just three at one point, but when Kyle Korver sealed the win with free throws with just 4.7 seconds left, a sigh of relief occurred. The Atlanta Hawks escaped and despite an ugly showing at times, the streak lives.