After an impressive road win on Friday night, the Atlanta Hawks were seen as a (slight) favorite to topple the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday and, at times, that looked to be a likely outcome. However, the team’s play was too inconsistent on this night and the end result was a 107-99 loss to a division rival.
The first few minutes of Saturday night’s action looked to favor the home team, as the Hawks zoomed to 10 straight points to claim a 15-8 lead midway through the first quarter. At that point, Atlanta had knocked down three of the team’s first four threes while holding Charlotte to 6 of its first 19 from the floor. However, things went south in a hurry.
Charlotte closed the first quarter in strong fashion and carried that momentum over to the start of the second, putting together a 19-3 overall run (including 10 straight) to take a 35-25 lead. After the aforementioned strong start, the Hawks scuffled mightily on the offensive end, making just 10 of 30 shots from the floor and scoring at a clip of only 87.8 points per 100 possessions overall before halftime.
The second half did not begin in glowing fashion, as Mike Budenholzer was whistling for a quick timeout within the first two minutes as the team went down by 15 points. However, Atlanta did awaken in short order, putting together a 15-4 run that included back-to-back threes from Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr., and that closed the gap to just four points.
For the rest of the third quarter, the margin stayed within single-digits, as the Hornets were able to score efficiently on the offensive end while the Hawks kept pace. With 12 minutes left in the game, Charlotte led by six points and there was an uphill battle awaiting Atlanta despite the friendly venue.
The Hawks were not ready to go away, though, and the team scored seven straight points to take an 87-86 lead. From there, an inexplicable technical foul was called on Dwight Howard, prompting a review, and while the call was changed to a double technical (along with Cody Zeller), some positive momentum was quelled. That allowed Charlotte to reclaim the advantage after two threes from Marco Belinelli and Atlanta was back in a hole.
Paul Millsap would give the Hawks the lead back at 95-94, however, with a bucket at the 3:50 mark and that led to a Hornets timeout that saw Philips Arena as lively as it has been in quite some time. Unfortunately, that was followed by five consecutive points from the Hornets and the Hawks would never lead again.
Atlanta did have the ball down two points with less than 90 ticks left, but a Dennis Schröder lay-up (somehow) went begging and Marvin Williams made his old team pay on the other end with a dagger three. From there, things went sideways to the final score of 107-99 and it was a disappointing yet not fully unexpected loss.
In terms of individual performances, Dwight Howard (10 points, 23 rebounds) put together a strong showing, while Tim Hardaway Jr. led the team in scoring (21 points) and Paul Millsap (20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) performed excellently after halftime. Still, the collective defensive performance (109.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) left something to be desired and the Hawks will have plenty to dissect after the fact.
The Hawks will encounter a freight train in the form of Russell Westbrook on Monday night in Oklahoma City and, while difficult, that will provide an opportunity for a bounce-back performance. Stay tuned.