It wasn't the easiest of rides, but the Atlanta Hawks hold a 3-2 series lead as their first round series with the Brooklyn Nets shifts back to New York. A late charge materialized at the right time, and the Hawks pulled away with a 107-97 victory.
Wednesday's crowd may have been late-arriving (and they were), but the Hawks certainly were not. The home team scored in its first three possessions, including a flawless opening possession with the ball zinging around, and that was a positive sign. Al Horford led the way in the early going with six points, three rebounds, an assist and a steal in the first four minutes, and the offense was fantastic in building a small lead.
Atlanta continued that onslaught with a 9-0 run, capped by a Jeff Teague three, to claim a 21-8 advantage, and the margin kept growing slowly until Atlanta had a 17-point lead after 12 minutes. All in all, the Hawks shot 58% from the floor and 50% in the first quarter, and DeMarre Carroll had 10 points of his own to pace the scoring.
In the playoffs, though, virtually nothing is "cruise control", and the Nets had a response coming. Brooklyn scored the first 11 points (!) of the second quarter, and the Hawks did not score until Paul Millsap finished a put-back at the 8-minute mark. Atlanta would quell that push from the visitors, though, and the remainder of the half was basically a one-on-one battle between Alan Anderson and DeMarre Carroll.
Yes, you read that right.
Anderson scored 14 points (on 5-5 shooting) in the quarter against nine points (on 5 shots) from Carroll, and the two players had 16 and 19 points, respectively, in the half. Fortunately, the Hawks had the cushion of an early lead, and Anderson's flurry could not fully close the gap. The home team led by nine at the break, and the Hawks withstood a 7-for-22 shooting quarter in the second with improved effort on both ends in the final moments.
Coming out of the break, Jeff Teague was influential in allowing the Hawks to build on their lead, flying around with energy, including a dunk by Al Horford created by a Teague assist. Unfortunately, the Hawks were given a scare at the 9:51 mark of the period, as Teague exited straight to the locker room with a right ankle sprain. On the bright side, Teague was not gone long, re-entering midway through the quarter, but that is yet another storyline to follow as the series progresses.
Back on the floor, the home team built as much as a 14-point lead in the quarter, including a flurry of back-to-back threes from Kyle Korver and Pero Antic that electrified the crowd. Taking care of the ball was paramount for Atlanta, as the team committed only six turnovers through three-quarters, and not even the extension of hot shooting from Alan Anderson could keep the lead from a double-digit margin heading to the closing period.
In a move potentially indicative of his (lack of) trust in the bench, Mike Budenholzer turned to his full starting five to begin the fourth. That decision did not pay immediate dividends, though, as Brooklyn scored the first nine points of the quarter (a 11-0 run overall) to slash the one comfortable lead to three points at 82-79 with more than nine minutes to play in the game. The three-point advantage was the smallest since the first quarter, and the building was understandably shaken.
There was a long way to go, however, and Jarrett Jack wasn't going to make it easy for the Hawks. The former Georgia Tech star went supernova in the fourth, scoring 10 straight points to bring the Nets within one at 90-89. Utter disaster was averted thanks to Jeff Teague, who knocked down a three and created another bucket with a steal to restore order at 95-89 with 3:48 to go, but the Jarrett Jack show was... something else.
Predictably (at least in this series), there was even another act to come. Joe Johnson became the next Net (following Anderson and Jack) to get red-hot, knocking down back-to-back threes to bring the Nets within two at 97-95 with 2:11 to play. That, as you may expect, did not sit well with the Philips Arena crowd, but Al Horford and Jeff Teague were up to the task.
Horford shut down Johnson on a famous "iso-Joe" set on one end, and finished things off with an enormous midrange jumper on the other. That, along with a Jeff Teague bucket, gave the Hawks a 101-95 lead with 1:07 remaining and following a stop, Teague put things away for good with a floater in the lane with 42.2 seconds to play. The eight-point lead proved to be enough in this instance, even after Joe Johnson scored quickly, and quality free throw shooting sealed the deal with a 107-97 final result.
This was a night when the Atlanta Hawks needed everyone, but the big guns appeared when it mattered. Al Horford finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks on the night, with Jeff Teague (20 points, 8 assists), DeMarre Carroll (24 points, 7 rebounds) and Kyle Korver (17 points, 5 threes) following closely behind. There will be time for dissection of what was a far-from-perfect effort, but a 3-2 series lead is a 3-2 series lead.
Back to Brooklyn.