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Hawks hold serve in 111-108 victory over Cavs

A close one but a win nonetheless.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Atlanta Hawks Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks picked up a thrilling win on Friday night, extending the team’s best stretch of the season with yet another positive result. On Saturday, the team faced a quick turnaround against the Cleveland Cavaliers and, for the first time in more than two months, Atlanta entered the game as the betting favorite. When the dust settled, that proved prescient, as the team escaped with a 111-108 victory for its fifth win in six outings.

After arriving at 3:30 am from Minnesota, the Hawks got off to a sluggish start. The Cavs opened with a 9-2 run, keyed by Cedi Osman, and Trae Young struggled to the point where he received a quick hook from Lloyd Pierce at the 8:34 mark. From there, Cleveland zoomed to a 10-point lead at 24-14 and Atlanta started the evening with 4 of 16 shooting and four turnovers in the first eight minutes.

The Hawks did awaken, though, and it came with a flourish. Atlanta chipped away at the lead but the big blow came in the final two seconds of the period, when John Collins threw down a mammoth tip dunk and DeAndre’ Bembry stole the inbounds pass to convert a buzzer-beating three.

Prompted by their end-of-quarter heroics, the Hawks zoomed to a 16-4 run between the end of the first and the beginning of the second. Young, who returned after his early exit, was fantastic in finding Alex Len on three different occasions, and he was able to knock down a (deep) three-point attempt for good measure.

With Atlanta already in control, the team then put together another 13-2 run later in the second quarter, with Jeremy Lin and Kevin Huerter capping the spurt on back-to-back threes. That gave the Hawks a 12-point edge and, after the 24-14 start, the home team outscored the Cavs by a 39-17 margin over an extended run.

The Hawks took a six-point advantage into halftime and they did so on the strength of a near-perfect offense in the second quarter. Atlanta shot 56 percent from the floor and 44 percent from three in the 12-minute period and, perhaps more importantly, the team committed only one turnover on the way.

Cleveland awakened to begin the third period, however, outscoring the Hawks by a 14-5 margin in the early going to reclaim a small advantage on the scoreboard. To make matters worse, Kent Bazemore suffered a right ankle sprain early in the half and was ruled out for the remainder of the evening.

Though the Bazemore injury is certainly one to monitor, the Hawks did awaken shortly thereafter, using a 7-0 run to grab a 7-point lead. That put a punctuation mark on a 16-4 overall response and, after a back-and-forth stretch to end the third, Atlanta suddenly held a 10-point lead again. Some of that credit can be assigned to Vince Carter, who scored 10 points in the period and, alongside Young (8 points), he helped the offense to stay afloat despite a shaky start.

After a third quarter keyed by runs on both sides, the fourth quarter started in harmless fashion, with the Hawks and Cavs largely trading (uncontested) baskets. Cleveland then struck first with a push, scoring seven straight points, and that end of that run left Atlanta with only a four-point cushion and just over six minutes remaining.

Carter then put a stop to Cleveland’s surge, throwing down a dunk at an opportune time.

Moments later, the Hawks dodged a bullet when, with Cleveland trailing only three and threatening to score, old nemesis Matthew Dellavedova uncorked a ghastly turnover in transition. That quickly led to a corner 3 from Carter and a huge swing to give Atlanta a six-point lead again with less than 4:30 remaining.

The Cavs kept coming, eventually slashing the lead to two, but Young was fouled on a three-point attempt and the rookie buried all three free throws at the 3:15 mark. That gave the Hawks a five-point cushion and, after a quick bucket from Cleveland, Young then connected on a 28-foot three to stretch the margin back to six.

After a sequence of traded baskets, the Hawks led by five with less than two minutes remaining, but Cavs big man Larry Nance Jr. finished an unlikely alley-oop to make it a one-possession game. Huerter then missed a three on the other end, and when Osman finished a bucket and the foul, Cleveland had a chance to tie the game.

Osman missed the free throw but, after another miss from Huerter, Cavs rookie Collin Sexton went to the line for two shots with 57.9 ticks remaining. Sexton made one of two to tie the game, which prompted a timeout from Pierce.

Out of the stoppage, Huerter got to the rim for a contested layup attempt that went begging, but Collins came to his aid with an offensive rebound and put-back to put the Hawks back in front. After a missed layup by Sexton (and an official review), Cleveland failed to get the ball inbounds, as Justin Anderson picked up a timely steal to give the ball back to Atlanta.

Pierce then called another timeout with 30.3 seconds remaining and Cleveland elected not to foul. Young missed a deep three-point attempt but DeAndre’ Bembry secured the ball and was fouled with 14.7 seconds on the clock. The third-year wing made only one of two, though, and Cleveland gathered the ball with 12.5 seconds left with a chance to tie.

Jordan Clarkson’s attempt didn’t fall for the Cavs, however, and Carter secured the rebound to preserve the win. He was fouled, converted both attempts, and the Hawks escaped.

Speaking of Carter, it was a memorable performance for the ageless veteran. He finished with 21 points (on 7 of 11 shooting and 4 of 7 from three) and he made big play after big play in crunch time. Elsewhere, Young enjoyed a strong night with 21 points and nine assists, while Collins posted yet another double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

At the conclusion of this back-to-back, the Hawks will have Sunday to travel before taking on the Indiana Pacers in a New Year’s Eve matinee on Monday. Stay tuned.