The 2016-2017 NBA season has been quite kind to the Atlanta Hawks thus far, but Friday night did not fall into that category. Dwight Howard was ejected during the fourth quarter and, despite a relatively strong overall performance, the Hawks went south from there in dropping a 100-96 decision to the Charlotte Hornets.
Early in the game, it was the home team that had the advantage, as Charlotte used a 10-0 run to claim control. That momentum did not last long, though, as the Hawks responded in kind and for the great majority of this game, the two teams were within striking distance of one another in the definition of a back-and-forth battle.
The first quarter was all about offense, with the two teams combining for 57 points, but the second was more of a grind. Neither team reached even 40 percent shooting in the second period, and while the defenses should be credited, there was some aesthetically displeasing offense at times. Still, the Hawks were able to get into the halftime break with just a three-point deficit and that looked to be solid position when considering the third quarter run that was to come.
Atlanta raced to a 10-2 run early in the third to take a nine-point lead and, on the whole, the team was lights-out offensively. The Hawks scored 35 points in the quarter against one of the league’s best defenses, and the visitors had all the momentum and a five-point lead with just 12 minutes remaining.
From there, Mike Budenholzer’s club would push the margin to ten points with 9:48 remaining, but the Hornets would not go away. Charlotte immediately responded with eight consecutive points to climb within two, and the turning point of the night was still to come.
With 5:38 remaining on the clock, Howard was ejected for striking Cody Zeller with an elbow during the course of play and, at that point, the Hawks led 89-86. Zeller calmly knocked down both free throws and, in short order, Charlotte’s Kemba Walker took over with seven consecutive points to thrust the Hornets into a lead they would never relinquish.
Atlanta would claw back to a one-point deficit on a Kyle Korver three with 1:17 left, but on the other end, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist completed a three-point play and that was the end of that. Zeller’s dunk with 38 ticks remaining was the dagger, and the Hawks were forced to settle with a 100-96 loss on the road.
Though Howard was -9 on the night in 31 minutes, there was a clear and dividing line upon his exit in which the Hornets took over the game. Much of that had to do with Walker’s explosion, but Atlanta’s offense also ground to a halt in conjunction and, while there is no shame in losing in Charlotte, it wasn’t a fun decision given the odd circumstances.
Paul Millsap (22 points, 13 rebounds) had an explosive performance, while Howard himself finished with 10 points and 18 rebounds before being forced into early “retirement”. Elsewhere, Mike Muscala keyed another strong bench effort with 11 points and the Hawks held Charlotte to less than a point per possession in their own building. Still, Atlanta’s offense just was not consistent enough to sustain the victory, and the Hawks will be looking to rebound when they visit New York for a matinee on Sunday afternoon.