The Atlanta Hawks really needed to topple the Toronto Raptors and they did just that on Thursday. The visitors entered with a 3-0 record on the season against the Hawks, but after a strong 48-minute effort, Atlanta emerged victorious by a final score of 95-87.
After the disastrous start on Tuesday, the Hawks clearly made an effort to rectify that issue in this particular game. Atlanta used a 14-2 run to claim an 8-point lead in the early going of the first quarter, and they rode that wave to a lead of the same margin after 12 full minutes. The Hawks turned the ball over only once in the first quarter, and when combined with 50% shooting and clear effort on the defensive end, the results were highly encouraging.
Mike Scott led the way to begin the second quarter, scoring Atlanta's first seven points of the period and assisting on the next bucket to give the Hawks their largest lead of the half at 37-24. That type of success wasn't sustainable before halftime, as the Raptors clawed back within four points at the break, but on the whole, it was a very nice half of basketball, even with some defensive slippage (15 points allowed in the final five minutes) down the stretch.
Much like the first half, the start of the second was beautiful, and this time it happened immediately. Atlanta scored the first eight points of the third quarter, and during that binge, the Hawks put together a vintage possession that basically acted as the perfect exhibition of ball movement leading to a Kyle Korver three.
The lead went eventually grow to as many as 13 during the quarter, but Atlanta failed to fully separate. The Raptors mounted a run of their own in scoring the final six points of the quarter, and as a team, the Hawks struggled to muster the same offensive cohesion in the latter stages while settling for a 70-63 lead.
The home team looked to put things away early in the closing period, scoring the first seven points, but Toronto simply wouldn't fade, responding with 10 straight on their own volition to bring the Atlanta advantage down to only four. Korver (mercifully) ended that barrage with a crucial three-pointer, but the Raptors kept coming and the Hawks struggled mightily on offense.
The offense produced just two points in more than four minutes of action, and during that time, the dangerous Raptors slashed the margin to just three points. After the two teams traded buckets (and empty possessions, to be fair), Toronto's Jonas Valanciunas made two free throws with 59.6 seconds remaining to bring the lead to just two points (the smallest margin of the half) and it was gut check time for Atlanta.
On cue, Jeff Teague took matters into his own hands, getting to the rim for an old-fashioned three-point play to give the Hawks a five-point cushion with 48 seconds on the clock. From there, it was a game of free throw shooting with a bit of "interesting" officiating sprinkled in. Paul Millsap effectively sealed the result with two huge makes at the 21-second mark to give Atlanta a 6-point lead, and it was smooth sailing from there.
The second half wasn't ideal and there are surely things to focus on in the future, but the Atlanta Hawks knocked off a nemesis in the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night and that was nice to see.