ATLANTA (AP) — Al Horford scored 19 points and Kyle Korver hit two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter after struggling much of the night, leading the Atlanta Hawks to a 106-97 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night in a game could be a preview of what’s to come in the playoffs.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers entered the season as the overwhelming favorite in the Eastern Conference, but the Hawks (49-12) are running away in the standings. They won their sixth in a row and for the 42nd time in the last 48 games.
Clearly inspired on night when Hall of Famer and former Hawks star Dominique Wilkins was honored by the team, Atlanta got plenty of balance and showed again it might be capable of doing something that never happened during No. 21’s brilliant career — win a championship.
James was held to 18 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
After building a 17-point lead with a blistering performance in the first quarter, the Hawks finished strong after leading 81-79 heading to the final period.
Korver, who missed his first five shots — four of them beyond the arc — finally got going with a pair of 3s early in the fourth. The second gave the Hawks a 91-81 lead, prompting Korver to let out a big scream on his way back down the court.
Atlanta was in control the rest of the way. The Hawks had six players in double figures, with Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap both scoring 16.
James was guarded tightly by Hawks defensive stopper DeMarre Carroll, with plenty of help from his teammates, and looked a bit out of sorts. The King spent much of the night trying to create for others, finishing with eight assists. But he also committed nine turnovers, most notably throwing a pass to no one in the corner late in the first half.
Clearly frustrated, James also picked up a technical in the third quarter for arguing about a foul call on Horford.
In what some billed as a possible preview of the Eastern finals, both teams played with postseason-like intensity.
Horford jawed with Timofey Mozgov after one skirmish, before his teammates jumped in to pull the Hawks center away. Carroll sent James tumbling to the court with a hard foul midway through the fourth.
The Hawks, who have been plagued by slow starts, started out in this one as though they were going to blow the Cavaliers out of the building. They made 17 of 24 shots in the opening quarter.
But the Cavaliers controlled play through much of the second and third periods, finally grabbing their first lead, 66-65, on Mozgov’s two free throws.
There was plenty of excitement off the court, as well. The Hawks unveiled a statue of Wilkins outside Philips Arena, wore throwback jerseys from the Dominique era, and honored No. 21 at halftime with a painting and a framed jersey autographed by all the current Hawks players.
“Even though I’m not from Atlanta, I’m from Atlanta,” Wilkins said at center court, holding back tears. “We do play basketball in this city. You keep rooting for our team.”
Cavaliers: Coach David Blatt is hoping that F Shawn Marion (left hip strain) will return to the court during an upcoming road trip. But first, the team will have to see how he responds to on-court activity, which he hasn’t been able to do yet. … Blatt was called for a technical in the second quarter. … Cleveland was outrebounded 38-37.
Hawks: Carroll always wants to be on the other team’s best player, according to coach Mike Budenholzer. “I think it’s understood,” the coach said, chuckling. “One of the things that makes him great is he brings it every night. So he gets the best player every night. It’s a big part of our defensive identity.” … As usual when James is in town, there were plenty of celebrities courtside, including rapper Ludacris and actor Chris Tucker. The latter was wearing one of the Wilkins commemorative T-shirts that every fan received. Tucker tugged at it when shown on the video board, letting everyone know who he was rooting for. … The Hawks took the season series by winning three of four games.
Cavaliers: return home to face Phoenix on Saturday to complete a stretch of four games in five nights.
Hawks: travel to Philadelphia on Saturday to take on the 76ers.
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This article was written by Paul Newberry from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.