Defense has been the calling card of the Atlanta Hawks this season and, on Sunday afternoon, that was on full display. The Hawks clamped down on the visiting Charlotte Hornets in a big way and, in the end, it resulted in a 87-76 victory to close out the homestand with a much-needed victory.
To put things bluntly, the Hornets were wretched in the early going. The Hawks raced to a 20-4 start that included a 16-0 run, and during that time, Charlotte made only 1 of its 18 (!) shot attempts including 16 consecutive misses. That ineptitude provided a nice cushion for Atlanta to work from, and even as the Hornets woke up a bit near the end of the opening period, Tim Hardaway Jr. connected on a running 40-footer at the buzzer to give the Hawks a 25-9 lead.
The 9-point output from the Hornets doubled as the lowest point total allowed by the Hawks in a quarter all season and, frankly, Charlotte was lucky to reach nine. The visitors made only 2 of their 21 shots (9.5%) from the field in the quarter, and even with Atlanta's "leading" scorer sitting with only four points, the Hawks held that 16-point advantage.
In the second quarter, the home team built the lead to as many as 24 points but, on cue, the Hornets would finally respond with something approaching quality play. Charlotte put together a mini-run to slash the margin to just 15 points, and even after a nice retaliation from Atlanta, the Hornets were able to get the lead down to as few as 12 points before the halftime break. Even with the margin settling at 14 after 24 minutes, it was a less than enthralling close to the half, and Atlanta was unable to take full advantage of Charlotte's wretched shooting (22% FG) on the heels of 11 first-half turnovers.
The fears of every Hawks fan were realized as the second half opened, with the Hornets charging to an 11-2 run out of the locker room to create a 48-43 score in the blink of an eye. Atlanta would respond with a 12-0 run that was bookended by two threes from Jeff Teague, but the visiting Hornets simply wouldn't go away, using a nice spurt from Marvin Williams to stay within 11 points at the end of three quarters.
Charlotte's onslaught wouldn't fade away that easily, though, as the Hornets climbed within just a two-point deficit at 70-68 after an 11-0 run. That was, mercifully, as close as Steve Clifford's team would come to taking the lead back, however, with the Hawks utilizing a 15-4 run (including an Al Horford dagger three) from that point forward to establish some additional cushion and effectively put the game away.
Al Horford was, in short, the best player on the court in this particular game, scoring 13 points, pulling down 16 rebounds and dishing out 6 assists while anchoring the team's defense. It wasn't the purest shooting night for Horford (6 for 17 from the floor), but he more than made up for it, and he was flanked by strong showings from Kent Bazemore (14 points on 8 shots) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (11 points off the bench).
From a defensive standpoint, this performance was, again, quite encouraging, and the Atlanta Hawks continue to perform at an obscenely high level on that end. In contrast to Friday night, though, the shots fell at a reasonable clip (49% FG, 47% 3-PT) and that allowed a more comfortable victory that sets the tone for the start of a five-game road trip.
Let's do this again on Tuesday night in Oakland, shall we?