Even with a step up in competition, the Atlanta Hawks proved that their strong early season performance was not a fluke, and they did so against a division rival on Saturday evening. The Hawks played even with the Washington Wizards for three quarters, but in the end, Atlanta raced away down the stretch with a 114-99 victory to improve to 7-1 on the year.
While much of Atlanta watched college football on this November Saturday, the Hawks got off to a brutally slow start offensively. The team missed its first eight shots while starting 1-for-13 from the field, and if not for a woeful offensive showing from the visiting Wizards, things could have gotten out of hand in a hurry. Fortunately, Washington stuck close on the scoreboard, and the Hawks overcame a 4-for-19 shooting start to trail by only two points in the early going.
Later in the first half, the two teams exchanged mini-runs to begin the second quarter, as the lead changed hands on multiple occasions. Washington pushed forward with a 9-2 run to take a 39-32 midway through the period, though, and the Hawks would never reclaim the advantage prior to halftime. While the offense definitely improved (16-for-35 shooting after the slow start), it never felt as if Atlanta was firing on all cylinders, including the fact that the point guard duo of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder combined to make just 2 of their 14 field goal attempts.
The Hawks would, however, play quality defense for the majority of the half, holding Washington to only 45 points and forcing 14 turnovers. That showing was the impetus for holding only a four-point deficit at the break, and the close margin gave Atlanta plenty of opportunity to atone for mistakes made in the first 24 minutes of action.
Following the break, the offense certainly returned to form. The Hawks began the third quarter on a 10-4 run, and the offensive improvements were immediate. All told, Atlanta converted 13 of 21 field goal attempts (62%) in the third quarter, including 4 of 7 from three, and the Hawks scored 34 points in the period. Sadly, the defense wasn't quite as good, allowing 33 points in their own right, and that allowed the Wizards (led by 10 third-quarter points from Otto Porter) to maintain a small advantage.
The deciding period was, well, significantly better defensively for the home team, and that helped to secure the win. Washington racked up turnover after turnover (as they did throughout the night), and when the Hawks put together an 8-0 run capped by an enormous three from Kent Bazemore, the Hawks built a 103-94 lead with 3:35 to play.
Following a timeout, Atlanta would stretch the advantage comfortably into double-digits, and the late push came at the perfect time. The final score wasn't necessarily indicative of the close-fought game, but wins count the same and the Hawks added another one on Saturday night.
The star of the night was Kent Bazemore. Bazemore exploded for 25 points on 10 of 15 shooting, including an impressive 4 for 7 from long range, tying a career-high with the four makes. He was joined by another strong night from Paul Millsap (21 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) and Atlanta's defense was able to aid in the win by creating 26 (!) turnovers from the visiting Wizards.
The Hawks will be back in action on Monday evening at Philips Arena, and when they touch the court again, Atlanta will be sporting the league's longest winning streak at seven games. Things are going well.