With 4 minutes and 5 seconds left in the 3rd quarter, the Atlanta Hawks looked to be heading toward their fourth consecutive defeat. The Dallas Mavericks held a decisive, 17-point edge on the scoreboard at 70-53, and there was little in the way of life for Atlanta. However, the tide turned in a hurry in Philips Arena, and the team escaped with a wild, 88-87 victory.
By the end of the 3rd quarter, the Hawks had cut the 17-point lead down to just 11, and they were just getting started. Atlanta used a 24-12 outburst in the final quarter to grab the lead, but they waited until their final offensive possession of the night in order to take their first lead since the first quarter.
With the Hawks trailing 87-83 with under 90 seconds remaining, power forward Paul Millsap found himself wide-open at the top of the key, and he was able to convert a crucial 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one at the 1:16 mark. From there, the Hawks generated consecutive defensive stops, setting the stage for the final surge. With 4 seconds remaining, Al Horford knocked down a contested 19-foot jumper to take the lead, and when Vince Carter’s final-second three went begging, Atlanta was victorious.
For Horford, it was a fantastic ending to what was an up and down game. The big man generated a not unusual double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds in just over 37 minutes of game action, but there were a few uncharacteristic decision-making issues for Horford in this spot. Al committed a team-high 6 turnovers on the night, seeing some of his normally reliable passes go begging, but when the chips were in the middle, he came up big with a game-winner.
Jeff Teague led the way in scoring with 25 points (on 8-of-14 shooting), and his ability to get to the free throw line repeatedly was huge for Atlanta. The point guard shot 9-of-11 from the charity stripe in the game, leading the way for what a wholesale change in the second half that saw the Hawks attempt 24 free throws as a unit. With those 24 attempts (and 20 makes), Atlanta was able to climb back into the game on a step-by-step basis, and that type of efficiency was key.
Defensively, the Hawks turned up the energy level in the second half, and Coach Budenholzer was quick to credit that side of the ball as the main impetus toward the win. Dallas began the night by shooting 6-for-6 from three, but from there, the visitors struggled from beyond the arc (they went 3 for their last 18), and the way in which the defense flew around in the second half was noteworthy. Holding a team like Dallas (with a top-10 offense) to just 12 points in the 4th quarter is huge, and that’s a more than encouraging sign for the team moving forward.
On the periphery, several members of the Hawks had solid outputs. Lou Williams, who received his first start of the season, contributed a season-high 12 points in just under 25 minutes, and Paul Millsap added 15 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in addition to his enormous three-pointer in crunch time. The bench struggled a bit for Atlanta, shooting a combined 4 for 17, but Elton Brand was big in his 11 minutes (grabbing 5 rebounds) and Shelvin Mack was a steadying influence throughout his time in the second half.
I would be remiss to not include that an early exit from Jose Calderon (the Mavs’ starting point guard) seemed to help greatly. The veteran left the game as a result of a right ankle injury after just 25 minutes of game action, and his hot shooting (4 for 7 from 3-point land) was a nuisance to the Hawks, especially in the 1st half. In addition, his timely exit was a non-coincidental sea change for Jeff Teague, who was able to roam free against the likes of Monta Ellis, Shane Larkin, and Gal Mekel.
The final shooting numbers for the Hawks (42.5% FG, 20% from 3) leave a lot to be desired, but that is even more encouraging when accepting the fact that the home team was able to steal a victory. After a brutal, 3-game stretch, this was an enormous win for the Hawks, especially given the fact that they will be traveling to Washington for a game with the Wizards on Saturday.
Sometimes, all that matters is the final score.