For the second straight night, the Atlanta Hawks entered a less than friendly venue without the benefit of a full-strength roster, and on both occasions, those constraints did not cost the team a victory. The East-leading Hawks were tested throughout the night by the Sacramento Kings, but they were able to hold off their late charge on the way to a 110-103 victory.
While the Hawks were playing the same opponent they encountered during a 130-point onslaught a week ago, the Kings came out of the gate with a bit more intensity on Monday evening. Sacramento blitzed to a 7-0 run to claim a 14-12 lead in the early going, and the Kings scored 29 points in the opening frame.
Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll did yeoman's work, scoring eight points each in the first quarter, but Millsap ran into foul trouble and the Hawks needed a buzzer-beating three from Shelvin Mack to cut Sacramento's lead to 29-28 after 12 minutes. Mike Budenholzer was forced to deploy some unusual lineups in the early going due to the roster limitations with Kyle Korver and Al Horford on the shelf, and that even netted some early playing time for Mike Muscala.
Muscala and Pero Antic were deployed together in the early moments of the second quarter, and Atlanta sustained some success with that grouping based on increased defensive activity. The Hawks sped to a 9-2 run that would have been an 11-2 march if not for a Shelvin Mack missed lay-up on the fast break (oops), and the group (including Elton Brand) did their best to contain the behemoth that is DeMarcus Cousins.
The biggest punch of the half came near the end, as Atlanta scored nine straight points to grab their first comfortable lead of the night at 50-41. That margin was cut to 54-47 by the halftime break, but a seven-point cushion was more than satisfactory given the roster constraints and a 14-point, 9-rebound half from the aforementioned Cousins. Jeff Teague led the way with 11 points in the half, while Millsap contributed 10 points and 6 rebounds of his own.
For a brief moment in the third quarter, it looked as if the road team would run away and hide. The Hawks spurted to an 8-2 run to take a 12-point lead with 6:07 left in the quarter, and with DeMarcus Cousins overheating due to referee disagreements, Atlanta held all of the momentum. Then, Sacramento made their run behind Jason Thompson, as the lengthy forward finished a three-point play to slash the lead to 80-76. Mike Muscala capped the quarter with a beautiful follow-up dunk to extend things back to a six-point edge, but the game was very much in doubt at the end of 36 minutes.
The Kings weren't done, either, as they scored the first four points of the final quarter to close within two and the home crowd was invigorated in a big way. From there, the two teams played back and forth basketball for the first nine minutes of the period, including an Andre Miller jumper with three minutes to go to bring Sacramento within one point.
DeMarre Carroll converted a three-pointer out of a timeout at the 2:48 mark to claim a four-point lead, but the Kings quickly narrowed the gap again after back-to-back successful trips. Then, Sacramento saw their best chance to claim the lead go begging on an errant jump shot by Miller, and Kent Bazemore swished through an enormous corner three to provide a four-point cushion for the Hawks with 1:06 remaining in the game.
That triple proved to be the "dagger", as Pero Antic keyed a stop on the defensive end while Jeff Teague finished things off with a beautiful floater to make the score 105-99 with 33 seconds remaining. Things got a bit dicey when Teague fouled Sacramento's Nik Stauskas shooting a three in the final seconds, but the rookie swingman made only two of three at the stripe, and Teague swished two free throws to ice things away on the other end. From there, it was academic on the way to a third straight victory with the final margin of 110-103.
On a night where the roster was limited (again), the Hawks did what the Hawks do, and that is play with incredible balance. Atlanta placed six players in double-figures, led by a double-double from Millsap (19 points, 10 rebounds) and a 23-point night from Teague. The strong play of the frontcourt, namely in the form of Elton Brand, was an enormous factor, and each of the nine players deployed by the Hawks played an integral role in preserving what was a quality road win.
The Atlanta Hawks will continue their West Coast swing on Wednesday, with a nationally televised game against the West-leading Golden State Warriors. Stay tuned for what will surely be an entertaining battle.