Against a Houston Rockets team that did not have their MVP candidate, the Atlanta Hawks entered Tuesday night as a significant favorite to secure a win. However, they were tested thoroughly and needed a somewhat miraculous second half comeback in order to escape with a 104-96 victory.
It is often said that the NBA is a "game of runs", and the majority of the first half lived up to that billing. The visiting Rockets converted their first four shots to take an 8-2 lead, but that was quickly followed by an 8-0 spurt from the Hawks to reclaim the advantage.
At that point, Houston raced to their largest run of the evening, scoring 16 straight points, and that onslaught helped to create Mike Budenholzer's first technical foul of the season. Atlanta committed a staggering nine turnovers in the first 9:07 of the game, and the Rockets took a 31-17 lead when the damage ceased.
The Hawks did manage to awaken a bit at the end of the first quarter, with Pero Antic connecting on a 26-foot three, and that stretch extended into the second period for a total run of 15-3 by the home team. Not to be outdone, Houston quickly responded with a 10-0 of their own to stretch the lead back to 12 points in the blink of an eye, and the Rockets led by as many as 18 before the halftime margin settled at 14 points.
Quite frankly, the first half effort was subpar on both sides of the floor. The Rockets shot 51% from the field on the strength of fantastic ball movement, but Atlanta allowed far too many open looks to a team capable of making them, and even without James Harden, Kevin McHale's team toyed with the Hawks on that end. On offense, the turnovers settled down in the second quarter, but the execution lacked in a big way, and the crispness that we have come to expect was largely absent.
There was, however, life on the way, as the Hawks quickly sped to a 7-0 run, featuring enormous blocked shots from DeMarre Carroll and Al Horford, near the beginning of the third quarter. The period was largely marked by missed opportunities for Atlanta, but even amid several missed shots, the Hawks held within nine points as the fourth quarter emerged. Of course, it must be mentioned that two former Hawks, Jason Terry and Josh Smith, tortured the home fans throughout the half with multiple jumpers that went in despite several bounces, including an infamous bucket when Smith had the gumption to "shhhh" the home folks.
The fourth quarter began in a less than desirable way for the home team, though, as the Rockets made back to back threes to extend their lead to 17 points. That sent panic through the minds of many, but the Hawks calmly chipped away, closing to within 90-83 on a Mike Scott three with 6:57 remaining. At that point, there was legitimate life both on the bench and in the building, and that was just the beginning.
Following a timeout, the Hawks scored the next three points (aided by a technical foul from Donatas Motiejunas) to climb within just four, and Jeff Teague took it from there. Teague converted a filthy left-handed finish, and that was followed by a three to cap a 13-0 run and vault Atlanta into the lead at 91-90 with less than four and a half minutes remaining.
Houston would not go away quietly, as Motiejunas knocked down another three to knot the score at 93-93 with just over three minutes to play, but this was Atlanta's evening. Al Horford swished a mid-range jumper to give the Hawks a 98-96 lead with 1:46 remaining, and the home team would never trail again.
Paul Millsap converted two free throws with 51.7 seconds left to make the lead more comfortable at 100-96, and after a stop on the other end, Jeff Teague did the same to virtually put the game away at 102-96 with 33.5 seconds left on the clock. The Atlanta Hawks would close on a 32-8 run, and with that, they emerged victorious with a final margin of 104-96.
Jeff Teague led the Atlanta Hawks with 25 points on 7 for 12 shooting and 6 assists, while Paul Millsap (16 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists) and Al Horford (18 points, 8 rebounds) produced big nights in their own right. Dennis Schröder anchored what was a strong bench performance with 16 points and 8 assists in 27 minutes, and it was a hard-fought but gratifying victory for the home team.
Oh, and Josh Smith leaves Atlanta with a loss and a troll-like meltdown. I guess it wasn't a bad night after all.