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Clippers firepower too much to handle as Hawks fall, 149-144

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Hawks were back in State Farm Arena once again, this time to finish off a five-game homestand against the Los Angeles Clippers. Both teams’ starting centers were out due to injury — Clint Capela for the Hawks and Ivica Zubac for the Clippers.

Both teams started quickly, with one replacement center, Onyeka Okongwu, opening the score for Atlanta.

The Clippers pulled ahead, however, with an 8-0 run to make it 16-7 and force head coach Quin Snyder to use his first timeout.

The Clippers barely slowed down, however, especially so from deep, where they started 5-for-8 (63%) to surge to a 26-14 lead. The Hawks steadied the ship from there, but they were still unable to slow the Clippers down for the duration of the period.

After one quarter, Los Angeles had a 37-28 edge on the scoreboard.

The barrage from ‘LA’ didn’t slow down from there, however. They opened the game hitting 10-of-14 (71%) from deep. Miraculously, the Hawks hung tough to keep the game manageable with some big ‘Bogi’ threes and a Wes Matthews triple thrown in there as well.

The Hawks worked in a zone defense and slowed the Clippers down enough to mount a comeback. Atlanta was able to close to 60-58 late in the second quarter.

Even better yet, the Hawks forced a couple of turnovers, Trae Young hit a floater with 0.8 left in the half, and Atlanta escaped to the locker room with a 66-66 first half split. In just 11 minutes of play off the bench, De’Andre Hunter led the Hawks with 14 points and three rebounds.

In the second half, both teams picked up where they left off — the Hawks in a zone defense and the Clippers finding space to shoot threes against that defense.

Trae Young hit two deep threes to match the visitors, including this one in logo territory.

Onyeka Okongwu also recorded a made three in his career-high fourth straight game.

Atlanta took a lead in the third quarter for the first time since the opening minutes of the game on a De’Andre Hunter long two. Hunter continued his strong play, hitting 23 points on just 8-for-9 (89%) shooting by the end of the third quarter.

A buzzer beater three from Daniel Theis dampened the mood a bit, but the Hawks were staring at just a one-point deficit entering the final quarter.

Atlanta came out with high energy in the fourth quarter, including a big roll dunk for reserve center Bruno Fernando.

Both teams continued to score at will, so the first team to string together some stops would have a big advantage down the stretch.

The Clippers took a 131-126 lead with 2:38 left to play, and the Hawks aimed to regroup during the mandatory under three minutes timeout window.

Los Angeles, however, had answers for everything the Hawks threw at them. In particular, Kawhi Leonard picked the Hawks apart with his all-around game. Toss in a James Harden deep make as the shot clock ran down, plus the harm, and it all equaled a tightly contested loss for Atlanta, who saw their four-game winning streak snapped.

There was a late scoring gasp for Atlanta — a corner three for Bogdan Bogdanovic to make it a three-point game. But James Harden and the Clippers salted the game away at the free throw line, 149-144.

Trae Young finished the contest with 25 points and 12 assists, and De’Andre Hunter added 27 points and seven rebounds off the bench. But 36 points from Kawhi Leonard and 30 points from James Harden were just too much to overcome. It was a valiant effort for the Hawks, who end their homestand on a bit of a sour note, but hanging tough against a clearly elite team in the Clippers can be taken as a bit of a moral victory.

The Hawks now head to Boston to take on yet another difficult opponent in the Celtics on Wednesday.