The Atlanta Hawks will not cruise into the second round. After a 53-minute battle on Monday night, the Brooklyn Nets emerged victorious in Game 4, and as a result, the series is knotted at 2-2 with the setting shifting to Atlanta for Wednesday night's Game 5.
In a welcome change from Game 3, the offense was cooking in the early stages of the game. The Hawks zoomed to an 8-0 run to take a 21-14 lead in the first quarter, and the club started 4-for-4 from beyond the three-point arc. On the flip side, though, the defense wasn't dominant in the opening frame, as Deron Williams broke out of his prolonged slump with 11 points in the first 10 minutes of action.
Williams and the Nets put together an 11-3 spurt of their own to close the quarter, and Atlanta's bench was largely to blame. It was an ugly effort from Dennis Schröder (-11 in 9 first half minutes), and the Hawks committed six turnovers in an eight-possession stretch to end the quarter. Still, Atlanta was able to trail by only one point after 12 minutes on the strength of 53% shooting and 8 assists, mitigating the negatives to a point.
The early stages of the second quarter, unfortunately, kept the late swoon going from the previous period. Brooklyn scored the first seven points of the quarter to take an eight-point lead (18-3 overall run), and only a 7-0 spurt by Atlanta in response kept things manageable. Atlanta's run was coming, though, as the Hawks knocked down four triples during a 12-2 run to take a six-point lead that doubled as the halftime margin.
DeMarre Carroll was the story of the first half, scoring 15 points and keying the big push toward the end of the second quarter. Carroll began in the game by making his first five shots (including three shots from long range), and that was crucial in the Hawks shooting 9 of 16 from beyond the arc in the first 24 minutes. Atlanta's offense, as previously mentioned, was much better than the previous game, and 15 first-half assists helped to tell the story of a positive first half despite some ugly moments.
The third quarter wasn't quite as explosive as the latter stages of the second, but in totality, it was a productive period for the Hawks. Atlanta garnered its biggest lead to the night at that point with an 8-2 run to make the score 76-64, and the Hawks made 11 of their first 15 shots in the quarter while rebounding each of their four misses. Turnovers kept the Nets within striking distance, but that spurt provided some cushion as the bench entered the game and the visiting team managed to keep an eight-point lead despite abominable end-of-quarter defense on the final possession.
Right on schedule, though, the Nets made their run. Brooklyn flashed to an 11-3 spurt to begin the quarter, knotting the game at 85-85 on the back of three triples. Near the end of the run, Mike Budenholzer inserted the full starting five, capping the night for the likes of Dennis Schröder (-15) and Kent Bazemore (-12), though it proved to be too little, too late.
Coming out of a timeout, Kyle Korver connected on an open three to seemingly break Brooklyn's momentum, but Deron Williams continued to have an out-of-body experience. Williams scored eight straight points on his own to give the Nets a 5-point lead, and the Hawks were certainly contributors in their own demise with consecutive punch-less possessions. When the barrage ceased, the Nets had outscored the Hawks by a 20-6 margin in the first six minutes, and things weren't exactly going well.
The Atlanta Hawks, however, would not go quietly into the night. Jeff Teague led the way with seven points in a three-minute span, Pero Antic connected on an enormous three, and Paul Millsap flashed to the rim for an offensive rebound and put-back. That confluence of events allowed the Hawks to snatch a two-point lead 101-99 with 2:25 remaining, and it felt like a new game.
Deron Williams (again) went supernova, however, hitting one of the more ridiculous threes you'll ever see as the shot clock expired on the next possession. That bucket put the Nets ahead by one point, and after a turnover, Brooklyn extended their lead to three on a Brook Lopez basket at 104-101 with fewer than 90 seconds remaining. After Jeff Teague made one of two free throws and the two teams exchanged empty possessions, Paul Millsap converted an (easy) dunk with 16 seconds remaining to mercifully tie the game.
That set the stage for Williams again, but Brooklyn's red-hot point guard came up begging on the ensuing possession to preserve a chance for Atlanta. The Hawks put together a hideous possession in the final six seconds, but in reality, it was a blessing that Atlanta was alive and kicking as the overtime period began at 104-104.
On this night, though, "alive and kicking" was not enough. The Hawks claimed a two-point lead with 1:44 remaining in the overtime period after a back-and-forth segment, but that was Atlanta's final advantage. Brooklyn closed on a 9-2 run from that point forward, and the biggest offensive "possession" of the evening consisted of three (yes, three) missed three-point attempts from Kyle Korver over a 25-second span. The Nets held serve from the free throw line once that threat was averted, and the Hawks fell by a final score of 120-115 to allow Brooklyn to even the series at 2-2.
Game 4 was not the offensive collapse that took place in Game 3. The Hawks finished the night with 48% from the floor and 39% (13-33) from the three-point line. Each member of the starting lineup scored 16 points or more, and with the exception of 18 turnovers, any qualms with the overall offensive production would be nitpicking. The execution in late-game situations was, at best, questionable, but the starters did their job and the bench was simply blasted during regulation.
Undoubtedly, there will be a great deal of hand-wringing in the aftermath of this loss. The Atlanta Hawks are now in a street fight with the 8th-seeded Brooklyn Nets, and any thought of a quick series and advancement toward a match-up with the Washington Wizards has fully evaporated.