The Atlanta Hawks had very little margin for error on Thursday evening, with the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls picking up victories in an effort to chase them down in the standings. After a 48-minute battle that took more than two and a half hours of real time, Mike Budenholzer’s team emerged victorious over the Boston Celtics by a final score of 123-116 and that victory provided much needed breathing room for the embattled squad.
After a three-day break, the Hawks came out firing and sustained the onslaught for the entirety of the first half. Taurean Prince quickly became the story of the half, scoring the first seven points and that was followed up by a 12-0 run from Atlanta to snatch a 32-18 lead.
Much of that blitz was executed with no point guard on the floor, as Dennis Schröder picked up two quick fouls, but the Hawks executed at a high level regardless. Not even back-to-back threes from Marcus Smart (there’s that man again...) could sink the ship and Atlanta held a 32-24 lead after one quarter.
Boston put together a 17-4 response of their own to slash the deficit to just one at 36-35 but, from there, it was all Hawks until halftime. Atlanta answered with a 10-1 run that included threes from Prince and Kent Bazemore and the Hawks pushed to the close of the half with a 71-55 lead.
Prior to the break, Taurean Prince set his career (!) high in scoring with 18 points and the Hawks were dynamic offensively. The team scored 148.8 points per 100 possessions before halftime and that was accompanied by 55 percent shooting and 50 percent (7 of 14) from beyond the three-point arc.
Within moments in the third quarter, the Hawks had stretched the lead to 20 and it looked to be a breezy evening for the home team. Seemingly on cue, the Celtics rose from the ashes with a 12-3 run over the final 2:24 of the third quarter and, with that, it was a 10-point game again.
Then, Boston went ice cold to start the fourth period, making only 1 of their first 14 shots from the floor and scoring only six points over the first six minutes. Atlanta was unable to fully pull away, though, and the Celtics hung around to the tune of a single-digit deficit at 111-103 with less than four minutes to go.
From there, things were never easy for the Hawks, as Isaiah Thomas knocked down a three to slash the margin to 116-111 with less than a minute remaining. Seconds later, Tim Hardaway Jr. committed an offensive foul and the door was open for the visitors to steal the game. Thankfully for Atlanta, the Celtics came up empty and, on the other end, Hardaway Jr. produced a three-point play to seal the fate with a dagger.
Paul Millsap, in his second game back from injury, led the way for the Hawks with 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes of action off the bench, and he was flanked by Hardaway Jr. (23 points, five rebounds and five assists) and Prince (career-high 20 points, seven rebounds in a career-high 41 minutes) with explosive nights. As a team, Atlanta’s offense put forth one of its best performances of the season and, in the end, it was enough to sustain victory.
The Hawks will immediately head to Cleveland, where they will take on the reigning NBA champion Cavaliers without Paul Millsap on Friday. With the cushion of a victory on Thursday, though, that trip won’t be quite as treacherous in nature. Stay tuned.