ATLANTA — Banged up and bruised, the Atlanta Hawks survived their first test as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
They were just good enough against the Brooklyn Nets.
Leading nearly the entire game but struggling to put the No. 8 seed away, the Hawks got 21 points from Kyle Korver and shook off another injury to beat Brooklyn 99-92 in Game 1 of the opening-round playoff series April 19.
All-Star center Al Horford dislocated his right pinkie finger going for a rebound early in the fourth quarter. X-rays were negative and he finished the game with his shooting hand heavily taped, giving Atlanta another concern on top of forward Paul Millsap, who looked out of sorts after missing five games late in the season with a sprained right shoulder. He managed just six points on 2-of-11 shooting.
“It’s going to be tough to just blow teams out,” Millsap said. “It’s the playoffs. You expect them to hang in there and fight hard.”
The Hawks led for all but the first 39 seconds and pushed the margin as high as 16 points, but the Nets kept coming back.
Korver hit five 3-pointers, the last of them with just over 3 minutes remaining after the Nets cut it to 88-83. Brooklyn got as close as 93-89 before Jeff Teague banked in a floater coming off the left wing with 1:19 to go.
Teague and DeMarre Carroll scored 17 points apiece for the Hawks.
Brooklyn finished 22 games behind the Hawks and slipped into the playoffs on the final day. But, with Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez each scoring 17 points, they didn’t look overmatched by a team that won the season series 4-0 and earned a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1994.
Afterward, coach Lionel Hollins told his players, “If you don’t believe you can play in this series, you should believe it now.”
Atlanta didn’t have much to play for over the final month of the season, seizing control in the East with a 19-game winning streak.
Looking well rested, the Hawks started with the quick pace they wanted against the Nets, who would’ve preferred more of a half-court game.
Atlanta pushed out to a double-digit lead before the game was 7 minutes old and looked on the verge of turning it into a blowout before settling for a 55-45 edge at the half.
In striking contrast to the opening quarter, Atlanta came out of the halftime break looking sluggish. Brooklyn opened with a 9-2 run that cut it to 57-54, prompting Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer to angrily call a timeout.
Each time the Hawks looked ready to cruise, Brooklyn responded. Even though they fell behind in the best-of-seven series, this was an encouraging start for a highly paid team that underachieved most of the season. They lost the four regular-season meetings to Atlanta by an average of more than 17 points.
“This is going to be a tough series,” Johnson said. “This is one game. We’ve got to put it behind us.” Game 2 is April 22 in Atlanta before the series shifts to Brooklyn.
(PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer)