On a night that featured the hanging of a division championship banner, the Atlanta Hawks took care of business. After an ugly first half, the Hawks took over following the halftime break, and when all was said and done, the franchise won its 60th game of the year by a final score of 104-80.
In the recent past, the Hawks have been able to jump out to large leads to set the tone in their home building. Friday night's game did not follow that pattern. In fact, it was a hideous first quarter of basketball on both ends, with Atlanta shooting just 35%, Charlotte shooting just 29% and the two teams combining to make just 1 of their 11 attempts from three-point range. That resulted in an ugly 15-15 score after 12 minutes, but on the bright side, the margin was close.
The second quarter was, unquestionably, more entertaining, though there were some issues for Atlanta. The Hornets were able to get the shots they wanted offensively, making 52% of their attempts, and the home team lost the first half turnover battle 9-to-5.
That was enough to allow the Hornets to hold a 1-point lead despite the fact that the Hawks shot 50% in the half (65% in the second quarter). Kyle Korver led the way with 11 points in the first half, while Mike Muscala added 8 points and 4 rebounds for his trouble.
To say the least, the third quarter was a pleasant change of direction. Al Horford keyed an 8-0 run that included two dunks, and with a 14-3 overall push, the Hawks claimed a 9-point lead at 62-53 by the middle of the period. Atlanta would stretch that lead to as many as 12 points over the next few minutes, and the Hornets were held to just 12 points (4 for 19 from the field) during the third.
Charlotte threatened to hang around for a portion of the fourth quarter, but the knockout blow came on a 9-2 run that gave the Hawks a 90-71 lead with just over five minutes to play. Mike Muscala was instrumental throughout the run with five points (including a three), and the home team was never threatened again on the way to the 24-point victory.
Speaking of Muscala, the second-year big man had himself a game. The Bucknell product scored 17 points on 8 for 9 from the floor while adding 6 rebounds (in 25 minutes), and Muscala has established himself over the past few weeks as a legitimate threat to join the playoff rotation. The Hawks also saw big nights from Al Horford (15 points, 8 rebounds) and Dennis Schröder (14 points, 5 assists in 19 minutes), but it was great to see Muscala going off in a big way.
The Atlanta Hawks have 60 wins and a division title banner hangs in the Philips Arena rafters. The playoffs are near, but this is fun.