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Controversial final possession sinks Hawks in Memphis

A close-fought loss to the Grizzlies.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Note: This article has been updated after the release of the NBA official last two minute report.

Two teams desperate for a win fought in a competitive and physical game as the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies matched up on Beale Street Friday night. The visitors entered having just won once of their last five games while the home team had won just once in their last seventeen contests. Memphis would get out with a 96-94 victory but the final Hawks offensive possession included a controversial no call from the officials on a play that could have resulted in Ersan Ilyasova getting three free throw attempts with a chance to tie the game if not give the Hawks a one point lead with less than four seconds remaining in regulation. Kent Bazemore missed on a hurried three point attempt at the buzzer but was not able to connect.

The game had an incredibly sluggish start as both teams shot less than 40 percent from the field and combined for 13 turnovers in the first quarter. The Hawks led 21-17 at the end of the first period. The pace and offensive execution picked up for both teams in the second and third quarters but the game would come down to a competitive fourth quarter and the Hawks, on the second night of back-to-back with travel in between games, came up just short.

Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers carried the Grizzlies offensively during the final period as they combined for 19 of the team’s 24 points. The Hawks had a difficult time keeping Evans from finishing at the rim. Chalmers hit on 4 of his 5 field goal attempts including both of his three point attempts inside the final 4:01 of the game.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer talked about positives the team could take from the game but also frustration with how the final possession unfolded. “Tough loss. I feel like we played well enough for 48 minutes but we weren’t able to come away with the win,” he said. “I feel that the guys were together... the guys competed, their energy was good.. a back to back situation... so there are some definite positives to take away from tonight’s game.”

You may remember when asked last season what he wanted to see more from his team the Hawks head coach would often mention “playing together more.” So those words hold some weight even in the aftermath of a frustrating loss.

When asked about limiting the production of the Grizzlies veteran center Marc Gasol (13 points, 8 turnovers) he said, “I thought the defense on Gasol was good. I thought the guys took the individual challenge, it was Miles Plumlee for a lot of the game, Ersan a lot, John Collins had his opportunities. I thought the defense and activity with the perimeter guys around him was good.”

Regarding the final possession and not being able to come away with a score to tie or or take the lead, Budenholzer indicated, “You know there’s a couple of looks... Taurean slipping to the basket, maybe a look to get Taurean the ball is the first look. The second look is Ersan coming off of the screen, he was able to get the ball and go into his shot, a lot of contact... no call.”

This is the final possession. It looks like the play design is intended to stress Gasol as a defender. Taurean Prince’s cut through the lane was likely intended to occupy the Grizzlies rim protector for a moment as to give Ilyasova a chance to get some separation and leverage the screen of Kent Bazemore to get an open look from the three point line.

The Grizzlies defend the play well and see the primary action the Hawks are trying to execute. Gasol and Evans switch on the play and challenge the shot.

The controversy is centered around whether or not Evans gave Ilyasova space to land in the same spot from where he jumped as to initiate his shot. If he did not, a foul should have been called and these plays are a point of emphasis this season after the Spurs lost there star player Kawhi Leonard to injury in the playoffs last season versus the Warriors on a similar play involving former Hawks player Zaza Pachulia. It seems fairly clear that Coach Budenholzer felt that a call was warranted.

On Saturday the Last 2 Minute (L2M) report was issued by the NBA and did indicate that a foul should have been called on Evans for making contact to Ilyasova’s legs and not giving him room to land on his jump shot attempt.

Tyreke Evans is having a renaissance season in Memphis this year. The former rookie of the year is scoring 18.2 points per game on easily a career best scoring efficiency. He is a long and rangy guard with a lot of craft in his ability to attack the paint. The Hawks were unable to keep him out of the lane on a couple of critical possessions in the fourth quarter.

Isaiah Taylor is unable to keep Evans in front of him on this play and Plumlee is not able to assist at the rim.

Later in the quarter, the Hawks have the defensive match up they want on Evans. Kent Bazemore makes Evans work very hard to get to the paint and he funnels him toward John Collins who challenges the shot at the rim with a vertical effort to contest the shot. Evans has enough craft and strength to convert the shot that would ultimately prove to be the game winner.

Dennis Schroder struggled shooting the ball in this game but continued creating shots for his teammates while limiting his turnovers. He had 11 assists in this game and just three turnovers. In the back-to-back games against the Pistons and Grizzlies, he combined for 21 assists and just four turnovers.

Atlanta’s point guard was just 5 of 18 on his field goal attempts. But his overall scoring efficiency was buoyed by four visits to the free throw line in which he converted 7 of his 8 attempts.

Taurean Prince returned to an impressive level of offensive production after struggling in Friday night’s match up versus Detroit. He had 17 points on 14 shooting possessions including hitting on 5 of his 8 three points attempts. His offensive play was highlighted Friday in Zach Lowe’s weekly article at ESPN “Ten things I like and don’t like.”

The second year wing is shooting 42.5 percent from the three-point line this season which is good for 14th in the league for players with 100 attempts or more.

Coach Budenholzer spoke about what he looking to get from Prince when highlighting some of the positives from which to take from this game. “Yeah, we are really encouraging him to shoot threes, and I think that will open up his drive game, and other things he can do, that’s what we want from him.”

The Hawks will return to action on Monday night when they host the Miami Heat. They play five of their seven remaining December games at home, which might allow for some advantageous practice opportunities before heading out for a Western Conference road trip during the first ten days of the new year.