Sometimes, basketball is aesthetically pleasing. Saturday night's game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Miami Heat did not fall into that category, but the Hawks managed to escape with a quality road win despite a shorthanded roster, topping the Heat by a final score of 93-91.
For the second consecutive night, the Hawks came flying out of the gate. Atlanta raced to a 10-2 advantage on the strength of threes from Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore, and that set the pace for a strong opening quarter. Defense was the calling card, however, as the Heat shot just 25% from the floor.
While the offense cooled considerably in the latter stages of the first, that wasn't a problem in the second quarter, serving as the complete opposite of Friday. The Hawks outscored the Heat by a 14-4 margin to begin the period, stretching their lead strongly into double figures, and in the process, Miami missed an absurd 15 consecutive shots.
All in all, the Heat shot just 29% from the field and 23% from three in the half, and Atlanta needed only a solid but unspectacular offensive showing to hold a 10-point lead. The story of the first 24 minutes, aside from Miami's inept offense, was reserve guard John Jenkins, who scored 11 points and snatched 7 (!) rebounds in just 14 minutes of action before halftime.
The good guys exploded for an 8-0 run to begin the second half, and frankly, it felt for a moment as if the Hawks would run away and hide with an 18-point lead. Miami did respond, however, with a 16-5 run of their own to narrow the gap to just seven points midway through the third, and it was a nice recovery from Atlanta to basically post status quo with an 11-point edge at the end of the third.
Things got a little bit tighter than the Atlanta side would have preferred, as the Heat closed to within three points on a couple of occasions, spurred by a 9-1 run to begin the closing period. However, the Hawks would mount their now characteristic late charge, including a 7-2 run capped by a Paul Millsap three to snatch a 10-point lead with 3:40 remaining. The Heat did not formally fade away, closing back within six with under 90 seconds to play, but Kent Bazemore's back-breaking three with 1:02 remaining was enormous, and Miami could not complete an improbable comeback on the way to a 93-91 final margin.
Paul Millsap was the best player on the floor for Atlanta, finishing with 22 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in the game. It should be noted that Miami's Hassan Whiteside put together an incredible performance with 14 points and 24 rebounds, but Millsap and company were just too much in this instance. It wasn't a fantastic offensive effort as a whole, with the Hawks shooting just 43% from the field, but Dennis Schröder (16 points, 10 assists) and Kent Bazemore (15 points, 3 steals) both produced strong nights, and the first-half contributions of John Jenkins were enormous.
The Atlanta Hawks will now take two days off before returning to action, but they face a significant test in the form of the Houston Rockets at Philips Arena on Tuesday. Stay tuned.