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Hawks pull away late in 114-99 win over Wizards in season opener

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The fourth quarter was fun.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

For three quarters, the Atlanta Hawks played reasonably well but certainly not at the highest level possible. In the fourth, however, the team turned it on considerably and that was the impetus in beginning the 2016-2017 season with a 114-99 win over the visiting Washington Wizards.

Coming out of the gate, Dwight Howard was the focus of everything. The newly acquired big man buoyed Atlanta to an early lead with seven rebounds (including three offensive) in the first five minutes, and the Hawks zoomed ahead with an 8-0 run to 14-8. After that, the momentum slowed considerably as the home team settled in with a 29-27 lead after 12 minutes, but with the Wizards shooting 50% from the floor, there were worse possible results.

From there, things continued to turn in odd fashion, as the Hawks put forward a cumulative effort that was very different from the established norm in recent years. Atlanta took a 57-56 lead into halftime, but the big impetus for that advantage was 15 second-chance points (on 12 offensive rebounds) and the Hawks produced only nine assists against 11 turnovers.

Defensively, it was an uneven effort at best prior to halftime, as the Wizards generally got any shot they wanted on the way to 56 points and 16 assists prior to the break. Individuall, Howard was a bright spot with 9 points and 15 rebounds in 16 minutes, with Paul Millsap adding 14 points and 5 rebounds for good measure.

The early portion of the second half was not terribly encouraging for the home team, as the Wizards stormed to an 11-4 run to push Atlanta into a six-point deficit. Shortly thereafter, Kent Bazemore was whistled for a flagrant foul against John Wall (the right call, mind you), but fortunately, Washington’s star guard was not hurt and the Hawks responded with seven straight points to reclaim the advantage.

When the fourth quarter arrived, the Hawks turned things up and that was a welcome surprised. Atlanta raced to a 20-4 run to begin the closing period, and that included four three-pointers and 12 points from Tim Hardaway Jr. off the bench. When the onslaught ceased, the Hawks held a 17-point advantage and that was more than enough to secure victory.

The remainder of the night was purely academic, as the Hawks stretched the lead to as many as 19 points before settling on the final margin as both Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry made brief debuts. Dwight Howard strung together a strong effort in his first regular season appearance in Atlanta, finishing with 11 points and 19 rebounds (the most for any Hawk since 2013) and inspiring the crowd with a few highlight-reel dunks. Elsewhere, Paul Millsap was the best player on the court, scoring 28 points, pulling down 7 rebounds and dishing out 6 assists.

The accolades were not limited to the two most famous players on the roster, though, as Tim Hardaway Jr. enjoyed a breakout evening. The reserve wing converted 8 of his 13 shots for 21 points in only 23 minutes, and his hot shooting in the second half helped to put the game away. Finally, Thabo Sefolosha contributed a couple of phenomenal dunks to go along with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in his own right.

There are many things to discuss, including the fact that the Hawks went with a no-PG lineup for part of the night, but in the end, Atlanta secured a victory against a quality opponent. The Hawks will continue their slate on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia in a match-up against the 76ers.

Stay tuned.