The Atlanta Hawks made things closer than they should have been on Sunday evening. However, the home team still managed to prevail in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, outlasting the Brooklyn Nets by a final score of 99-92 to take control of the series.
Sunday evening's festivities got off to a flying start, and to be honest, it was just what the doctor ordered for a raucous home crowd. The Hawks flashed to a 7-0 run, kickstarted by a Kyle Korver three, in the early going and that was quickly followed by another 7-0 spurt that gave Atlanta an 18-9 lead.
While the margin wouldn't grow much larger (Atlanta led 32-20 after one), the first quarter ended without Brooklyn tallying a single assist against six turnovers. The Hawks shot 50% from the floor while holding the Nets to just 38%, and only a flurry of second-chance opportunities (7 offensive rebounds) kept Brooklyn within striking distance.
For a few moments in the second quarter, it appeared as if the Hawks were going to run away with a non-competitive victory. Korver rattled home a three on the opening trip, and Atlanta built a 16-point advantage at 39-23 with 9:37 remaining in the half. At that point, Brooklyn had eight turnovers and one assist, while Atlanta had 10 assists and just two turnovers, and the makings of a rout were visible.
The Nets would respond in kind, however, scoring seven straight points to slash the advantage to nine, and Atlanta couldn't fully pull away in route to a 55-45 halftime lead. The offense stagnated a bit for Mike Budenholzer's team, with the Hawks shooting just 47% from the floor and 33% from deep in the half, and Brook Lopez continued to be an issue, scoring 9 points and grabbing 9 rebounds to help keep the Nets afloat.
Brooklyn didn't stop their resurgence in the second half, either, as the Nets zoomed to a 9-0 run after Teague scored the first basket of the half. That run brought the visiting team within three points at 57-54 and forced a timeout from Budenholzer.
Whatever he said during that timeout... was effective.
The Hawks followed that push from the Nets with a 10-0 run of their own, including back-to-back threes from DeMarre Carroll and Kyle Korver and the lead was back in the "safe" zone. On the whole, Atlanta put together a 15-2 run to bring the advantage to 72-56, and the lead was 12 points at the end of three quarters.
In the midst of what was a fun sequence, one unfortunate event did occur. Al Horford exited the game with 10:50 remaining with what was announced as a dislocated finger, though he returned to action. It would appear as if Horford won't miss any action, but if he was to be absent, that would be suboptimal.
On the floor, the Nets once again staved off any thought that they would fold. Brooklyn went on a 7-0 run to cut the 14-point lead in half midway through the period at 84-77, and that push made it impossible for Budenholzer to "pull the plug" on the starters for the night. The Nets actually sliced the advantage to just five points with fewer than four minutes remaining, but Kyle Korver and company would have no part of allowing Brooklyn to further the onslaught.
Korver connected on a huge three with 3:16 remaining to give the home team an eight-point cushion, and Carroll quickly knocked down two free throws to return the lead to double-figures. Almost on cue, the Nets ran off six straight points to get within four, but Jeff Teague closed things out with four straight points, beginning with a gorgeous runner off the glass to avoid further danger. Brooklyn continued to scare the Philips Arena faithful, but Carroll's game-clinching rebound with 13.1 seconds remaining sealed the 99-92 win.
On a night when the offense wasn't as electric as expected, Kyle Korver was the difference. Korver made 5 of his 11 attempts from long range, scoring 21 points, and he was an all-court factor as well, pulling down 7 rebounds and playing solid defense. In addition, Horford played through his injury with a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) and DeMarre Carroll continued his strong play with 17 points, 8 rebounds and high-end defense.
The final result wasn't quite indicative of the difference between the two teams, but the Atlanta Hawks will take accept the win with open arms. Mike Budenholzer and company will undoubtedly have a few adjustments to make before Game 2, but the "win is a win" principle is in full effect here. The series lead is 1-0.