ATLANTA (AP) The Hawks led 19-3 about 3 minutes into the game and appeared headed toward an easy victory over the Magic.
Instead, they had to do it the hard way.
Paul Millsap scored 14 of his 20 points in the first quarter and Atlanta recovered after losing the early 16-point lead to beat Orlando 95-88 on Friday night.
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The Hawks hit their first eight shots – including three 3-pointers from Millsap – before Orlando recovered to lead 45-42 at halftime.
”Maybe sometimes when it comes easy early, you don’t keep the sharpness, the crispness, you need,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Orlando’s Willie Green said the Magic were ”relentless” in the comeback but need to avoid such slow starts.
”I liked the fight that we had but we’ve just got to give ourselves a better chance starting off,” Green said. ”It was definitely amazing, but I think it took a lot out of us trying to climb all the way back into the game.”
Atlanta regained the lead with a strong third quarter, stretched the advantage to 10 points in the final period and then had to withstand a final surge from the Magic.
Nikola Vucevic, who had 21 points, made one of two free throws to cut Atlanta’s lead to 85-81. A 3-pointer by Tobias Harris with 2 minutes remaining pulled Orlando to 87-84.
Jeff Teague’s soft jumper bounced off the rim and through the net for a 91-86 lead. Al Horford’s offensive rebound and jam padded the lead.
Teague had 17 points, all in the second half, for Atlanta, which has won three straight and extended its lead in the Eastern Conference to nine games with second-place Toronto’s loss to Golden State.
Orlando coach James Borrego said the Hawks are ”a great example for our group and for the entire league. … They do it as a team unit. Every guy is a threat. Every guy trusts the next teammate to make the right play.”
After Orlando’s Victor Oladipo, who had 19 points, opened the game with a 3-pointer, the Hawks scored the next 19 points.
A jam by Millsap gave Atlanta a 21-5 lead. Orlando outscored Atlanta 11-7 the remainder of the quarter and dominated the second period. A layup by Oladipo tied the game at 40. Harris scored the last two baskets of the half to give the Magic the lead at the break.
Magic: Harris had 15 points. … G Evan Fournier was held out with a sore right hip. … F Aaron Gordon did not play after suffering a sprained right ankle in Wednesday night’s overtime loss to Miami. … The Magic outscored the Hawks 29-14 in the second period.
Hawks: Horford had 17 points and 13 rebounds. … Millsap had four 3-pointers in the first period to match his season high for 3s in a game. He didn’t make another 3. … Teague said he changed his shoes after going scoreless in the first half.
Budenholzer and Borrego worked together as assistants in San Antonio.
”He and I spent a ton of time together,” Budenholzer said. ”Locked in a video room. I may have spent more time with him than anybody in the NBA. Definitely more time locked in a room than anybody in the NBA.”
Borrego said Budenholzer ”pushed me, forced me to grow. He’s a special friend.”
The two embraced following the game.
The Hawks committed 11 turnovers and made only five of 19 shots in their ugly second quarter. The Hawks regained their shooting touch – and the lead – in the third period, when they had only one turnover.
Budenholzer said Orlando’s pick-and-roll defense ”gave us a lot of trouble,” especially in the second period and added ”we got a little loose with the ball.”