The Atlanta Hawks did not play particularly well on Friday evening, but the Charlotte Hornets certainly did not perform better. The Hawks led for the great majority of the night, and despite a late charge from the visitors that became all too real, Atlanta managed to improve to 2-1 with a 97-94 victory.
It was a lackluster start on the night for the home team... but it didn't matter much in the first half. Atlanta managed to hold a seven-point lead after one quarter despite making only one three (in five attempts), and much of that had to do with paltry shooting from the Hornets. Charlotte made only 36% of their shots in the opening period, and with the Hawks sleepwalking outside of a 7-point, 5-rebound quarter from Paul Millsap, that was a welcome experience.
The second quarter was not quite as friendly to Atlanta's defense, as the Hornets began to connect on some of their open looks. Charlotte scored 30 points in the period (on 11 for 19 shooting), and despite the fact that the Hawks opened up a 12-point lead early in the quarter, the home team led by only one point at the halftime break. To be frank, it was an uninspiring half from the Hawks, but given that Charlotte put together only a flash of competence, the margin did not reflect that theory.
Following the halftime break, both teams picked things up a bit, but that was more true of the Hawks on the defensive end. Charlotte scored only 17 points in the third quarter thanks to stingier pressure on the outside from Atlanta, and as the Hornets cooled off, the good guys built the lead.
The Hawks raced to a 10-2 run over a two-minute stretch between the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters, and when the dust settled, Atlanta held a double-digit lead at 81-69. While it looked like things would finish in breezy fashion from there, Charlotte was not quite ready to go back to North Carolina with a loss.
Jeremy Lin spearheaded an 8-0 run by the visitors, and within seconds, a 14-point lead for the Hawks would slashed to six with just 4:42 remaining in the game. While Atlanta would stem the tide for nearly two minutes, Marvin Williams would make a three for the Hornets to cut the lead to just three with just over two minutes remaining. Jeff Teague, quite fortunately, scored on the ensuing possession, but Jeremy Lin quickly answered with yet another three, forcing everyone in the arena into panic mode.
It was Paul Millsap to the rescue from there, though, as the All-Star forward converted a tip-in with 36.3 seconds remaining to bring the cushion back to four points. No one could breathe easily, however, as the Hornets used multiple offensive rebounds to get a bucket with 17.7 seconds left, and only two clutch free throws from Jeff Teague on the next trip would ensure victory. Charlotte's ensuing possession went begging with a turnover, and the Hawks eventually escaped in the final seconds with a 97-94 win despite a borderline disastrous turnover with 2.3 seconds to play that led to a Kemba Walker miss as time expired.
From an individual perspective, the starting five on this night was quite productive. All five members reached double-figures in scoring with at least 14 points each, and the duo of Kent Bazemore (19 points, 9 rebounds, 4-5 from three) and Paul Millsap (18 points, 10 rebounds) stood out in a big way. There is plenty to decipher from a rotation standpoint, including Lamar Patterson once again playing 20-plus minutes, including crunch time, and Tim Hardaway Jr. remaining MIA for the third straight night. Still, this was a victory for the home team, and we can take solace in that until the rematch on Sunday afternoon.