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Hawks use explosive first half to outlast Bulls, 115-107

Three in a row. That’s fun.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Following a seismic victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road, the Atlanta Hawks certainly could have faced a “let down” spot on Wednesday at home against the Chicago Bulls. Mike Budenholzer’s team managed to avoid that fate, however, and the Hawks rolled to a third consecutive victory by a final score of 115-107.

Wednesday’s game began with a blistering pace on both ends of the floor and that was the norm for quite some time. Both teams converted three of their first four attempts from three-point distance and the Hawks continued that onslaught with an offensive flurry in the latter stages of the first quarter.

Thabo Sefolosha, who had a first half for the ages, scored six straight points and after a three from Paul Millsap, Atlanta posted an 11-3 run to close the quarter with an eight-point lead. From there, Sefolosha wasn’t close to finished, as he came out of the gate in the second quarter in unconscious fashion.

Sefolosha scored the first ten (!) points of the period for the Hawks and, all told, the defense-first swingman scored 18 (!) points in his first six minutes of court time. That barrage included 7-for-7 from the field and, as you may expect, the Hawks used that explosion to key a big-time team run that ultimately provided as much as a 17-point cushion midway through the quarter.

After 18 minutes of play, the Hawks were shooting 68% from the field and 70% from three on the way to a nearly impossible 167.2 offensive rating, and that pace was sure to cool. On cue, it did, but the Hawks did manage to (marginally) improve their defensive resistance in accordance, and the pace slowed considerably.

Still, the Bulls were able to slash the margin considerably, punctuated by a Jimmy Butler three to send the two teams to the locker room with the score at 68-61. The 68 first-half points were a season-high for the Hawks in any half, but on the defensive end, Atlanta was porous, allowing 55% shooting and 58% from three, leaving the door cracked for the Bulls in a situation where they probably should not have been the case.

The beginning of the third quarter wasn’t especially kind either, as the Hawks immediately coughed up the lead. Chicago opened on a 13-5 lead to take a 74-73 advantage and, from there, it was a back and forth affair throughout the third quarter. Atlanta’s defense did improve from the first half, but the offense sputtered until Tim Hardaway Jr. and Malcolm Delaney inspired a late push to reclaim a 94-88 lead at the end of 36 minutes.

In addition to that late spurt, the Hawks would continue to build their lead, rolling through Chicago on the way to an 18-3 run across the two quarters. The result of that was a 98-88 lead and, for a brief moment, it looked as if Atlanta would run away and hide.

However, the Bulls weren’t quite done and Chicago would soon score nine straight points to climb within a 103-101 margin with less than five minutes to play. Not to be deterred, though, the Hawks responded with six straight of their own, using a Millsap-to-Howard lob play, yet another bucket from Sefolosha and a fast-break dunk from Kent Bazemore to reclaim a comfortable, eight-point edge.

Chicago would, essentially, wave the white flag from there, as Schröder put things away with a bucket on the first possession following a timeout and the Bulls weren’t able to threaten in the closing seconds. In short, Wednesday’s contest was a hard-fought one that Atlanta was eventually forced to earn down the stretch and the team was able to do just that in front of the home fans.

There were many heroes on this night, as seven members of the Hawks reached double-figures in scoring with Delaney trailing close behind with eight points on just six shots. Thabo Sefolosha exceeded his previous best as a member of the Hawks with 20 points (on nine shots), while both Dwight Howard (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Paul Millsap (16 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) added double-doubles in support. It was also a highly efficient night from Kyle Korver (11 points on just five shots) while Tim Hardaway Jr. (11 points on 5-for-9 shooting) and Mike Muscala (11 points, six rebounds) contributed off the bench.

With the win, the Hawks now sit at a lofty 6-2 on the season, with a well-earned break at home before taking on the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday at Philips Arena. Stay tuned.