In a season of one impressive win after another, the Hawks may have recorded the best Saturday night.
The Hawks went into Portland, the team with the second-best record in the NBA and vaunted Western Conference, and came away with a 115-107 victory. At home, the Trail Blazers were 15-2, had won seven straight and were 9-0 against Eastern Conference teams. Not anymore.
The Hawks (25-8) held the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference with their 18th win in the past 20 games.
Paul Millsap led seven double-digit Hawks scorers with 27 points. One of those double-digit scorers was Thabo Sefolosha, who finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Here are my five observations from the game:
1. You would expect a slow start. The Hawks played in Utah Friday night. The Trail Blazers last played Tuesday. Not a good combination. The Hawks trailed 8-0 after failing to score in the opening 3:09. That’s where the Hawks’ sluggishness ended. The Hawks answered with a 29-12 run to end the first quarter. They never trailed again after taking an 18-17 lead.
In addition to the scoring, the Hawks held the Trail Blazers to 37 percent shooting, forced seven turnovers and held an 18-2 points in the paint advantage. That was key. When the outside shots weren’t falling early, the Hawks worked the ball inside.
2. The 3-pointer kept the Trail Blazers in the game early. After the first half, they shot 60 percent (9 of 15) from long range. Wesley Matthews was 3 of 4 and Nicola Batum was 2 of 2. The Hawks shot just 23 percent (3 of 13). Kyle Korver made just 1 of 5 attempts.
It didn’t last. Korver finished 4 of 9 from long range, including two key baskets in the fourth quarter.
3. The Hawks led by as many as 20 points, 81-61 with three minutes left, in the third quarter and appeared in full control. Too much time left. The Trail Blazers closed the quarter on a 14-2 run, punctuated by Damian Lillard’s 31-foot 3 pointer at the buzzer, to trail 83-75. The Hawks held off several other Trail Blazer charges. Portland got to within five points, 106-101 with 1:57 left. Jeff Teague answered with back-to-back drives to give the Hawks the winning cushion. Defensive ruled the night for the Hawks. DeMarre Carroll’s block of a Lillard layup attempt with 26 seconds left was big.
4. We’ve said it here before. We’ll say it again. Millsap is an All-Star. The forward was 11 of 17 from the field en route to his 27 points. He added six rebounds, one steal and one block. He helped the Hawks outrebound the Trail Blazers 46-44 and hold an impressive 64-38 points in the paint advantage.
5. Teague continued his impressive play of late. He finished with 22 points, six assists, three rebounds, two steals and just one turnover. It was the only miscue from Teague in the past two games. In the past four games, Teague is averaging 24 points, eight assists and five rebounds.