The concept of "National TV Hawks" will forever plague long-time supporters of the organization, but the Atlanta Hawks grabbed a nice victory on ESPN's airwaves on Friday night. Al Horford and Paul Millsap put together huge efforts and the Hawks outlasted the Indiana Pacers after a back-and-forth battle that resulted in a 102-96 win .
For a brief moment to begin the night, it looked as if the Hawks could run away from Indiana never to return. Atlanta scored the first six points of the game on (easy) layups, and the Pacers were out of sorts thanks to repeated turnovers. However, Indiana quickly recovered thanks to hot shooting, and the Pacers managed to claim a three-point lead after 12 minutes on the back of 77% shooting. Paul Millsap was key in keeping the Hawks afloat, scoring 14 points in the opening period, but even with 53% shooting from the home team, it was tough to keep things manageable given Indiana's shooting.
The Hawks did respond early in the second quarter, though, racing to a 12-3 run to reclaim the lead at 40-36. For the majority of the period, Atlanta held the advantage, but in the final minutes of the half, the wheels came careening off the wagon. The Hawks did not convert a field goal for more than three minutes, and with several turnovers in the mix as well, the Pacers were able to retake the lead at 51-50 as the halftime break arrived.
It was more of the same seesaw battle after halftime, as the Hawks took a modest lead before ceding control to Indiana after a 12-2 run midway through the third quarter. Then, Al Horford decided to take things over.
Horford keyed a 13-1 spurt for the Hawks between the final two quarters, and during that stretch, he posterized Solomon Jones with an emphatic dunk and followed that up with another slam on the ensuing possession. Horford wasn't the only one doing damage, though, as the Hawks stiffened up defensively, forcing 13 consecutive misses from Indiana, and the momentum was on the side of the home team.
On cue, the Pacers got up off the mat yet again, putting together a 10-3 run to keep things manageable. Paul George capped that binge with a three to cut Atlanta's lead to 86-84 with less than five minutes remaining, and nothing was comfortable from that point forward until the final buzzer. Al Horford (there's that man again) scored five straight points, however, and that would give the Hawks the advantage the rest of the way.
George, again, threatened Atlanta by hitting a rainbow three with 1:01 left that slashed the margin to just two points, but Jeff Teague quickly answered with a jumper and Kent Bazemore extended the lead to six with free throws at the 21.6-second mark.
While the defensive improvement from the entire team after halftime was exceedingly valuable, this game was marked by the individual showings from Al Horford and Paul Millsap. Millsap's strong first half helped to buoy him to a 24-point performance, and when it mattered most, Horford came up huge with a monster second half on the way to 21 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists on the night. It is hard to overstate the luxury of having two All-Star level players up front, and on this night, that proved to be enormous for Atlanta.
With this victory, the Hawks have won three straight and they will put that streak on the line with a back-to-back against the Orlando Magic this weekend. Stay tuned for all the latest.