The Atlanta Hawks needed a win on Monday evening.
The Atlanta Hawks got a win on Monday evening.
A strong first-half showing gave the road team the cushion that they needed, and despite a "too close for comfort" feel, the Hawks knotted the series at 2-2 with a 106-101 victory in Game 4.
After a lackluster performance for much of Game 3, the Hawks resembled the "January Hawks" in the first half, and it was a pleasure. Atlanta scored its first 12 points of the game from the painted area, and before the Wizards notched a bucket in the lane themselves, the Hawks had tallied 16 points of their own. Unfortunately, the Wizards were scorching hot from long range, making their first four threes (including three from Paul Pierce), but Atlanta weathered that storm with effective offense in their own right.
By the time the second quarter rolled around, the Hawks continued their onslaught while the Wizards cooled a bit. Atlanta stretched their early lead to seven points with a 6-0 run early in the period, and later, a 14-4 spurt gave the road team some cushion with a 58-44 lead. Dennis Schröder was electric in the early going, scoring 9 points and dishing out 3 assists in his first 7 minutes of action, and with the starters firing on all cylinders, it was gorgeous offensive basketball.
The end result of that performance was 65 (!) points in the first half, and a 10-point lead. Atlanta shot 59% from the floor and 56% (5-9) from three in the opening half, and even with Washington cooking a bit in their own right with 51% shooting and a comical 10-15 from three, the Hawks did more than enough (including 20 assists) to sustain that comfortable lead. Paul Millsap (15 points, 6 assists), Jeff Teague (12 points, 5 assists) and Al Horford (10 points, 6 rebounds) posted big halves, and the mojo was quite positive heading into the break.
Of course, nothing comes that easy for this franchise, and the Wizards had a run coming. Washington scored the first nine points of the second half, and in the process, Millsap picked up two quick fouls on "interesting" calls. With the lead at just one point, it was an uncomfortable time for the road team, but the Hawks responded in a big way, spurting to an 11-3 run of their own to reclaim a comfortable lead. From there, the two teams played even basketball to the point where Atlanta led by 10 after 36 minutes, and that was (obviously) a win given how the first handful of minutes unraveled.
The "even" play continued for the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter, as the lead fluctuated between five and ten points. Bradley Beal (who finished with 34 points) continued to do yeoman's work for the Wizards, but even with some unusual lineups (featuring Mike Muscala, for instance), Atlanta managed to remain in control.
At the 2:54 mark, things began trending in the wrong direction. Dennis Schröder missed a pair of free throws, Ramon Sessions finished a lay-up, and after an empty trip by the Hawks, Otto Porter got to the free throw line to close within four points with 1:36 remaining. Fortunately, Jeff Teague was on the case, connecting on a contested three-point attempt with 1:12 to go, and the seven-point advantage alleviated some of the worry for the visiting squad.
The Wizards would (quickly) slash the advantage to five points with a lay-up out of a timeout, and after a Dennis Schröder missed floater, Washington held the ball with that same deficit and 38.8 seconds remaining. In keeping with recent tradition, the Wizards scored and on the other end, Schröder inexplicably dominated the ball for another empty possession (without getting a shot off).
The difference between Game 3 and Game 4, though, was that Paul Pierce came up empty with the game on the line, missing a wide-open three that would have tied the game in the final seconds. That miss proved to be the difference, as Millsap was fouled on the other end, knocking down both free throws to seal the final margin of 106-101.
It wasn't the prettiest effort after the break, but in a virtual must-win spot, the Hawks came up with enough for a victory. Jeff Teague was tremendous, scoring 26 points and dishing out 8 assists. Al Horford (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Paul Millsap (19 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) were equally important, and even with his lackluster performance in crunchtime, it was a positive overall showing from Dennis Schröder.
In the end, the final result is all that matters in the playoffs, and this series is 2-2. The Hawks now hold home-court advantage once again, and the series shifts to Atlanta for what should be a pivotal Game 5 on Wednesday. Stay tuned.