By Michael Cunningham
There was a real sense of relief among the Hawks when they got off the road and away from the virus that swept through the team on the four-game trip.
After seven days away, most of them spent trying to fend off the bug, the Hawks figured they’d find a safe haven at Philips Arena tonight. The Hawks were healthier but the effects of that West Coast voyage still lingered.
The Hawks eventually shook off a sluggish start and overcame a lackluster finish to pull out an 81-72 victory against the Magic.
“That was a really tough game for us to play,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “I could tell guys were still weary from the West Coast. We didn’t have our legs early. I could see guys gasping for air in the first four minutes. This game was going to have to fight from beginning to end. This Orlando team plays hard and when they are down they just keep coming. I’m very happy that we gutted it out.”
The Magic (3-7) had lost four of five road games but the Hawks (5-4) didn’t expect an easy game. Orlando has adopted a scrappy, spirited style in the wake of All-Star center Dwight Howard’s departure to the Lakers over the summer.
The Magic engaged Atlanta in their kind of game to stay close in the first half. The Hawks came out of halftime playing at a faster pace with crisper passing.
They opened the third period with an 18-8 run, led 65-49 at the end of the quarter and were up by as many as 24 points in the fourth period.
“We definitely picked up the energy,” Hawks center Zaza Pachulia said. “We were able to get stops and run. Josh [Smith] got involved, Al [Horford] got involved and we got fast-break points.”
But after building the big lead the Hawks couldn’t sustain the effort.
Atlanta’s starters were set to watch the final quarter from the bench until Orlando cut the lead to 78-66. That prompted Drew to send Teague, Horford and Kyle Korver back in to finish off the victory.
Horford had 15 points and nine rebounds, reserve guard Lou Williams had 14 points and Teague added nine points and seven assists. Atlanta shot 38 percent from the field but held Orlando to the same mark while collecting 12 steals and scoring 24 points off 19 turnovers.
In the the third quarter the Hawks made 11 of 21 shots, held Orlando to 27 percent shooting and recorded four steals. Harris had three steals and Teague had three assists during the quarter.
“I thought Jeff and Devin did a really good job picking up the tempo,” Drew said. “I told both of those guys at the start of the third quarter, ‘You guys have got to set the tempo for the rest of the game and get out and run and make the rest of these guys run with you.’”
The Hawks started sluggishly with three turnovers in their first five possessions, setting the tone for the half. Atlanta trailed 23-21 after shooting just 38 percent in the first quarter with four misses close to the basket. The Hawks shot even worse in the second quarter (33 percent) but held Orlando to 14 points in the period to lead 41-37 at halftime.
“It’s always like that after a trip,” Pachulia said. “It’s normal, I think, to be tired. But we did a good job of turning things around. We needed this win. No more excuses.”
The Hawks are not scheduled to practice tomorrow, allowing them extra time to catch up on rest before facing the Wizards on Wednesday at Philips Arena.
“We have the rest of this week to kind of settle back in,” Williams said.