The best team in the Eastern Conference and the best team in the Western Conference got together on Friday night in Atlanta, and the buzz was real. Fortunately, the game was even better than anticipated, and the end result was fantastic for fans of the home team, as the Atlanta Hawks knocked off the Golden State Warriors by a final score of 124-116.
The hype was evident from the opening tip, even if the game got off to a bit of a slow start. It was a back and forth affair in the early going, but the Warriors took the first significant lead of the night at 16-11 after a 7-0 run with 3:54 left in the first quarter. Atlanta would recover a bit before the 12-minute period was over, but the Hawks shot just 35% from the floor in the quarter and it was a wonder (aided by a 1-for-6 showing from Stephen Curry) that they were able to stick close.
Intensity ratcheted up in the second quarter on both ends, and the play was coming at an extremely high level. The Hawks put together their first strong push of the night, zooming to seven straight points capped by a Dennis Schröder lefty finish and a Kyle Korver three, and with 8:34 left in the half, the game was knotted at 34 each. From there, the teams traded leads, including the Hawks claiming a two-point advantage following a Kent Bazemore steal in the final seconds. Klay Thompson was fouled at the buzzer (for Golden State's first free throw attempts of the night), enabling the Warriors to tie the game, but that was a fitting end to a whirlwind half of basketball.
The aforementioned Kent Bazemore was a huge spark for the home team in the half, scoring 9 points on 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. Kyle Korver also had a big half, leading the way with 11 points, and he was flanked by Paul Millsap (10 points) and Al Horford (4 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists). Atlanta shot just 37% from the field in the first half, but with 7 threes and solid work at the line (11 for 12), they were able to largely overcome both that shooting deficiency and a rebounding disadvantage.
If it was possible, things escalated in the third quarter and it was beautiful to watch. On the Golden State side, Stephen Curry was doing Stephen Curry things, scoring 15 points in the period (including 3 triples) and repeatedly silencing the crowd with big-time shots. However, the Hawks raced to a 12-1 run in the opening minutes to take as much as a 10-point lead, and even with a 14-4 spurt later in quarter from the Dubs (including a trio of threes from Curry and Klay Thompson), Atlanta managed to keep a lead. Mike Scott hit back-to-back threes in the closing seconds to preserve a 4-point advantage, and the crowd was enjoying the action thoroughly.
The Dennis Schröder variety hour began the fourth quarter with a bang. Atlanta's backup point guard accounted for seven straight points, including an assist and back-to-back jumpers, and with that push, the Hawks built a 98-90 lead as Golden State asked for timeout with 9:12 remaining. The home team would run into a bit of resistance, though, as Al Horford was whistled for a technical foul and a personal foul (his fifth) on a would-be three-point play with 6:47 left. That play quickly led to the lead dwindling to just three and there was a bit of fear.
Of course, this team responded, as they seemingly always do. The Hawks sped to a 14-4 run behind the play of Jeff Teague, Mike Scott (who scored 15 points after the halftime break) and others, and when the dust settled on that burst, they led 114-103 with 3:15 to play. Golden State would quickly slash the lead to six on a Klay Thompson bucket with 2:24 to play, but the Hawks kept coming, and DeMarre Carroll stretched that advantage back to eight (at the 1:30 mark) with a beautiful slashing lay-up following an off-ball cut.
From there, the lead would never dwindle below six for the balance of the night. Teague helped to ice the game with six straight free throws in the final 90 seconds, and his final pair with 29.5 seconds virtually ended the game. The entirety of Philips Arena could exhale with a sigh after what was an outstanding basketball game, and the Hawks emerged victorious by a final margin of 124-116.
Fittingly, this was perhaps the most balanced night of the season for the Atlanta Hawks. Seven players scored in double-figures, including both Mike Scott (17 points) and Kent Bazemore (11 points, 5 rebounds) off the bench. Al Horford was everywhere (12 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists), Kyle Korver was prolific (17 points, 5 threes, 7 rebounds) and Jeff Teague reached peak heights at opportune times while finishing with 23 points and 7 assists.
The Atlanta Hawks have the best record in the NBA, and they dethroned the best in the West to claim that honor. Things are cooking in the South.