The Atlanta Hawks received praise from all corners of the sporting world on Monday. That, of course, sent the diehard members of the fan base into a bit of fear, especially with a tough game against the Los Angeles Clippers on tap. However, the road team played lights-out basketball down the stretch, and in the end, the accolades were backed up by quality play on the way to a 107-98 victory.
Early on, it looked as if the fears could be realized, as the Clippers raced to an 11-2 lead, and for a brief moment, it looked as if Los Angeles could run away and hide. Fortunately, the Hawks would have no part of that, and after an 8-0 run, they crept into the lead at 17-15 before the end of the opening period.
Still, Atlanta did not have anything going offensively for the entirety of the first half, and with 36% shooting in the first 12 minutes, only an active 8 points from DeMarre Carroll could be claimed as a bright spot. The second quarter was more of the same, with the two teams trading empty possessions, but Los Angeles built a small advantage through offensive rebounding and free throws. The road team had a run in them, though, and the Hawks put together eight straight points (capped by threes from Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver) to tie the game before the Clippers edged to a 2-point halftime lead.
Quite honestly, it felt miraculous that the Hawks were within striking distance, but the defense held its own. The Clippers matched Atlanta with 36% shooting in their own right, and only the fact that LA made their free throws (while the Hawks converted just 7 of 13) gave them the slight nod.
The third quarter was marked with vastly improved shooting, albeit on both sides. Atlanta quickly claimed a small lead in the opening moments, but for the most part, it was a back and forth battle. The Clippers scraped back to tie the game with just over three minutes remaining in the third period, but the Hawks had a big run on the way. Atlanta scored eight consecutive points from that point forward, and after the two teams traded baskets, that huge lift brought the visiting team to that same 8-point advantage as the fourth quarter opened.
In short order in the fourth, a Pero Antic three and a beautiful finish by Dennis Schröder gave Atlanta a 10-point lead, and with a hat-tip to TV's Bob Rathbun, this marked the seventh consecutive road game with a double-digit advantage. The onslaught was just beginning, though, as the Hawks would unleash a 13-2 run behind some spectacular passing and opportunistic defense, and that push gave Atlanta a 17-point lead with less than six minutes remaining.
From there, it was an exercise in excitement of you are a fan of the Atlanta Hawks. The Clippers would never again make a threatening run, and when Paul Millsap knocked down a three and Al Horford followed that with a dunk to give the Hawks a 16-point lead, it was academic. Atlanta finished things off by a 9-point margin, and the team improved its winning run to 19 out of 21 games.
There were many heroes in this game. Dennis Schröder scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter, Pero Antic added a season-high 13 points and Al Horford was his uber-consistent self with 16 points and 5 rebounds. Leading the way was Paul Millsap, who finished with 23 points and 8 rebounds, and both DeMarre Carroll (17 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) and Jeff Teague (20 points, 9 assists, 4 steals) were equally tremendous.
Winning on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers is always impressive, but this one was special. The Hawks sweep a three-game road trip with the win, and they did it without the benefit of flawless play, especially in the first half. Believers are beginning to emerge nationally, and the top team in the Eastern Conference, at least for now, appears to be reside in Georgia.