CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Atlanta Hawks’ recent struggles are over, and they are gaining more confidence again with each game.
The Hawks notched their fourth straight win with a 97-83 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday night, rallying from a 10-point first-half deficit by outscoring the Bobcats 51-31 in the second half.
The victory further distanced the Hawks from a dreadful 1-14 stretch that had dropped them all the way to the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference standings, and it allowed them to move to within 1 1/2 games of the Bobcats in the race for seventh.
Forward Paul Millsap led the way with 28 points, including 17 of 19 Atlanta points in one stretch of the second half. He said afterward that the second-half performance was one of the team’s best of the season.
“It feels great,” Millsap said. “I feel like this is one of the better second halves we’ve had all year. The intensity was definitely there. The focus was definitely there. We came out and we executed well. That’s what we need moving forward, to continue to play like this.”
The win moved the Hawks’ record to 30-35. It was also their 11th straight victory over the Bobcats going back the past three seasons.
“This is a big win,” Atlanta guard Kyle Korver said. “We had a tough February but this team kept fighting every day and we were there for each other. We believe in each other. Everyone in this locker room works, and when you watch each other work, you pull for each other. We’ve got a close-knit team here and it is showing.”
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer credited defense for the victory. In addition to holding the Bobcats to 31 second-half points, the Hawks limited Charlotte to 35.3 percent shooting. Charlotte guard Kemba Walker scored 20 points but was 7-of-18 from the field, with only five points in the second half. And Bobcats center Al Jefferson, who was named Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, was held to 16 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
Charlotte, which led 52-46 at halftime, went 11-of-38 from the field in the second half.
“We’ve been talking about improving our defense going down the stretch here,” Budenholzer said. “The activity and the effort and the commitment on the defensive end allowed us to beat a very, very good team tonight. That’s something that we just want to continue to build on and improve as we go down the stretch. That was the challenge tonight. We didn’t want it to become a high-scoring game.”
Millsap’s 28 points came on 12-of-20 shooting and included two 3-pointers. The Hawks also got 11 points and 10 rebounds from center Pero Antic, 11 points, nine assists and six rebounds from guard Jeff Teague, and 10 points each from Korver and forward Mike Scott.
The Bobcats had won four straight and six of their previous seven. They also had an eight-game home winning streak snapped.
They are now 33-35, missing out on a chance to get back to the .500 mark.
“I think we probably caught them on an off-night,” Budenholzer said. “And that helped.”
“We weren’t getting the ball in deep where we needed to,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “We talked about it at halftime and then we went out in the third quarter and just made mistakes, and that got them going. You start making jump shots and everyone starts thinking everything is OK, and once you lose that, it’s hard to regain.”
NOTES: The Hawks entered the game with a 3 1/2-game lead over No. 9 New York in the race for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. … This was Atlanta’s third win of the season over the Bobcats, and the second in Charlotte. The teams will also play in Atlanta on April 4. … The Hawks came into the game leading the NBA in assists at 25.3 per game and had 27 assists on 39 made baskets on Monday night. … The Bobcats’ 101-92 win at Milwaukee on Sunday gave them 14 road wins this season, a franchise record. … The Hawks were without C Gustavo Ayon (right shoulder surgery), C Al Horford (right pectoral surgery) and G John Jenkins (lower back surgery). … Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said that C Brendan Haywood (stress fracture, left foot) will not return this season. F Jeffery Taylor (ruptured right Achilles) is also done for the season. … The Hawks will return home to play Toronto on Tuesday. … The Bobcats will play at Brooklyn on Wednesday.
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