If you're in search of one of the worst defensive quarters of the season from the Atlanta Hawks, look no further than the first quarter on Tuesday night. Fortunately, the team was able to overcome that disastrous start using a second half comeback against an overmatched opponent, and Atlanta escaped with a 103-90 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
On this night, the Hawks actually started beautifully. Atlanta used a 16-3 run to jump all over the Suns with an 18-9 lead at the 6:56 mark, and that spurt included an explosion of 16 points in a six-possession span. From there, though, the disaster commenced.
Phoenix used a timeout to calm things down, and the visitors responded with a 13-2 run that included three connections from three-point range to retake the lead at 22-20. That was just the beginning of the defensive futility from the Hawks, and the Suns continued to build their unlikely advantage based on red-hot shooting.
Atlanta allowed 38 (!) points in the first 12 minutes of the game, and that included an 8-for-11 mark from beyond the arc. When the dust settled, Phoenix outscored Atlanta by a 29-12 margin at the close of the quarter, and a 59% shooting mark aided in a 10-point deficit for Mike Budenholzer's team.
The second period was, by all accounts, an improvement, but it was nothing to write home about for the Hawks. Atlanta scored seven straight points midway through the period, but a comeback wouldn't fully materialize, and even with Phoenix scoring only 18 points, the home team couldn't close the gap based on ice-cold shooting (1 of 10 from three in the quarter) in their own right.
To be honest, it was borderline incredible that Atlanta allowed "only" 56 points in the first half, and that mitigated the damage of a 12-point deficit. The Suns knocked down 10 threes on only 17 attempts before the halftime break, but fortunately, Budenholzer's halftime message appeared to hit close to home, as the Hawks came out with a new energy in the third quarter and beyond.
Atlanta immediately slashed the lead to seven coming out of the locker room, and even as some questionable officiating allowed Phoenix to push the margin back to 13, the Hawks wouldn't go away. Finally, the home team broke through with an 11-0 run (capped by a Kent Bazemore three) midway through the period to come within a 62-60 score, and Bazemore then tied the game at 66-66 with a layup near the end of the quarter. The Suns would do a nice job of holding on to the lead (73-70) to start the fourth quarter, but that was short-lived.
Using a 9-0 run to begin the closing period, the Hawks took their first lead in a long time, and things progressed favorably from there. Atlanta began the fourth quarter with a 26-6 overall spurt, and that gave the home team a 96-79 lead with less than five minutes remaining. From there, it was purely academic, as the Suns didn't have a final response left, and the Hawks cruised to a 13-point final margin.
On a night where the final score was not indicative of the overall performance, there were still some positive individual showings to praise. Paul Millsap was utterly tremendous, finishing with 13 points, 17 rebounds and 8 assists on the night, while Al Horford (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Kent Bazemore (16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists) put together strong games in support. The defensive mess of the early portion of the night will not soon be forgotten, especially by the coaching staff, but the "wake up call" came early enough for the Hawks to secure a comfortable victory, and wins are never "bad" in the NBA.