A seven-game winning streak went by the wayside Monday night as the Atlanta Hawks suffered an 117-107 home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The score doesn't tell the story, however as Atlanta fell behind by as many as 34 points before embarking on a furious second-half rally to take a one-point lead before faltering yet again down the stretch. The game was a roller coaster ride and a learning experience according to head coach Mike Budenholzer.
"Credit to our guys for the way they played in the second half," Budenholzer said after the game. "We'll have to learn from the first half and try to not put ourselves in that position going forward."
Atlanta trailed 72-42 at the break and had allowed Minnesota to shoot 64 percent from the field in the first half. Coming in a stretch of five games in seven days, credit the Hawks for coming out of the second half at all.
"I told the guys let's give it five great minutes and see what happens," Budenholzer said. Different things happen in our league. Give the starting group a little run and see if they can make some headway. They were obviously able to do that and it just kind of kept going. I thought the starters were great. Really, the whole group was great in the second half. I think to fight back from that kind of deficit shows the resiliency and the character of the group."
The Hawks scored as many points in the third quarter (42) as they did in the entire first half and cut a 30 point lead down to just nine entering the final quarter. They would eventually rally to take a one-point lead before Andrew Wiggins slammed the door shut with seven straight points in the game's final moments.
Two things spurred the Hawks second half comeback. Their defensive activity picked up considerably and they stopped turning the basketball over. Atlanta's defense capitalized on Minnesota mistakes converting 19 turnovers into 35 points. The Hawks turned the ball over just three times in the third quarter but finished with 17 for the game.
"Defense," Budenholzer replied when asked what was the key to the comeback. " I thought we got stops. For the game, they shot 57 percent. I don't know what it was for the third quarter, but I have to believe it was less than 57 percent. That usually can fuel our offense. We got some steals. We got some layups. We got some threes. Everything was happening based off of our defense."
The Hawks under Budenholzer have historically done well after sluggish games like this. It is a veteran group and they typically do a good job of learning from their mistakes. Kyle Korver summed up the difference in the two halves quite well following the game.
"You just get mad," Korver said. "You're down 30 points here and you're embarrassed. It happens. We played seven games in 10 days. We played really hard in that stretch I thought. You come off an off-day. For whatever reason, we just didn't come out with the right sense of urgency and intensity. WE had a little pride and showed it in the second half. I thought we still had a great opportunity to close it out, so it's disappointing we didn't do that."
The difference down the stretch may very well have been Minnesota's second-year guard Andrew Wiggins who scored eight of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter. Wiggins went 15 of 22 from the floor and the Hawks really never had an answer for him on this night.
"Obviously Andrew Wiggins made plays the last two-and-a-half or three minutes after we were able to go up a point," Budenholzer said. He hit tough shots. He got and-ones. He did a little bit of everything."