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Hawks finish strong in 106-95 win over Kings

That was closer than it should have been for three-plus quarters, but it is another win.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks breezed through the first two games of the 2016-2017 NBA season, picking up lopsided victories while earning the league’s best net rating. On Monday evening, the terrain was a bit rougher, but in the end, the team improved to 3-0 with a 106-95 victory over the visiting Sacramento Kings.

In direct contrast to the first few minutes in Philadelphia on Saturday, the Hawks zoomed to an early lead with a 9-2 start. The defense was flying around for Atlanta, holding the visiting Kings to 1-for-8 shooting with four turnovers in the first handful of minutes. Paul Millsap was also quite active on both ends, posting six points and seven rebounds in the first nine minutes, and the result was a 22-15 lead for the home team after the first quarter.

Sacramento’s offensive struggles were evident in the opening frame, as the visitors made just 30 percent of their shots with six turnovers and, early in the second, that continued as the Hawks pushed to a 12-point lead. Atlanta was also quite active on the offensive glass with nine offensive rebounds in the first 18 minutes of play (thanks in large part to Millsap and Dwight Howard) and the Hawks looked to be in complete control.

The Kings would respond, though, as Dave Joerger’s team strung together a 15-4 run to slash the advantage to just two points at 38-36 after a DeMarcus Cousins dunk. That prompted a timeout from Mike Budenholzr and, following that stoppage, Kyle Korver and Mike Muscala combined for seven straight points as order was restored. Still, Sacramento would battle back, partially as a result of Dwight Howard’s poor free throw shooting (3 of 12 in the first half), to cut into the lead and the Hawks needed a late push to take a 53-44 lead into the locker room.

Coming out of the break, the Hawks did not put forth their best effort, as the Kings stormed to an 11-2 run after Howard opened the half with two converted (!) free throws. That spurt brought Sacramento within two points at 57-55 before Budenholzer snapped a timeout, and the onslaught didn’t stop there. Eventually, the Kings took a 66-60 lead and, at that point, it was a 20-5 overall run from the visiting team that completely flipped the game.

On cue, however, Atlanta turned it on to the tune of a 9-1 run to reclaim the lead at 69-67, and in short order, Kris Humphries drained a three (after some phenomenal ball movement) to reinstall the Hawks with a 74-69 advantage late in the third. Still, the Kings kept coming, as Matt Barnes and Anthony Tolliver converted back-to-back threes to tie the game at 78 each, and Sacramento actually pushed ahead to take an 81-79 lead after three quarters.

The Hawks struggled mightily on the defensive end in the third quarter, allowing 37 points and 6-for-9 from beyond the three-point arc. In the same breath, Atlanta kept things manageable with relatively solid offensive production, and that set the stage for what would be a much more encouraging closing period.

After a jumper from Ben McLemore to begin the fourth, the Hawks sped to 11 consecutive points, including threes from both Kent Bazemore and Malcolm Delaney. That stretch gave Atlanta a seven-point lead, but it was short-lived, as the Kings responded with five consecutive points to remove any comfort level from the proceedings.

Fortunately, that was the end of the threat from the Kings, as Atlanta mounted an 8-0 run that was capped by a (long) Kyle Korver three with 3:59 remaining. That shot gave the Hawks a 10-point lead and, from there, it was relatively smooth sailing to the final 11-point margin of victory.

As usual, Paul Millsap was the best player on the court for the Hawks, battling through a rough shooting night (5-for-14 from the floor) to finish with 13 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals in 31 minutes. In support, Dwight Howard added 18 points and 11 rebounds despite 8-for-20 from the line, Dennis Schröder produced 17 points, and Kyle Korver continued his red-hot shooting with 17 points, including a sparkling 5-for-8 from beyond the arc.

The Hawks will remain in Atlanta for their next contest, as the Los Angeles Lakers come to Philips Arena on Wednesday evening for their first visit in the post-Kobe Bryant era. Stay tuned.