The Atlanta Hawks pulled off an improbable comeback and perhaps their signature win of the season Sunday evening defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers 126-125 in overtime at Philips Arena. Atlanta trailed by 26-points entering the fourth quarter but received a spark from several members of the second unit before Paul Millsap pulled off some heroics late.
“Considering the circumstances...I didn’t know what the number was, but to be 26 down and just showing the resiliency of the group, hopefully that shows the fiber and the core of a program,” Mike Budenholzer said after the game. “Give them a lot of credit for how they played the first three quarters. They were unbelievable. So for our group to keep grinding, keep wanting to compete and never giving up, hopefully we can build off this. This is an important time of the year. We want to be getting better going into the playoffs. Tonight in a lot of ways, we did that.”
The Hawks outscored the Cavs 44-18 in the fourth quarter and was 14 of 21 from the field. They committed just one turnover in the period and the bench unit accounted for 26 of their 44 points.
“A fourth quarter like that is hard to explain,” Budenholzer added. “I’m proud of the way the guys kept fighting. We caught, obviously, a heck of a defensive quarter. That really set the tone. We were able to find a way to get them under control a little bit.
Cleveland scored 93 points through the first three quarters of the game and was shooting 47 percent from the field including 15 of 36 from beyond the arc. Atlanta limited them to 41 percent shooting in the fourth and forced them into nine turnovers which was one less than their total from the three previous quarters.
As has been the case for most of the season, that improved play on the defensive end helped spark the Hawks on the offensive end and the comeback was on. Atlanta recorded just 15 assists through the first three quarters of the game. They had 14 in the fourth quarter alone.
“The ball started moving and guys started making some shots, making some plays,” Budenholzer said. Once you cut a big lead and it gets within distance, those are hard games when you’re on the other side. We’ve been on that side. We just feel fortunate tonight. I’m very proud of the way the guys fought and competed, particularly in the fourth quarter.”
It was interesting to note that Budenholzer leaned heavily on his bench in the fourth quarter and overtime. The same group had success in Friday’s win at Cleveland and did so again on Sunday. Millsap eventually joined that group and the Hawks finally found a rhythm at both ends of the court. Neither Dennis Schroder nor Dwight Howard saw the floor in the fourth quarter or overtime. Howard played reasonably well early on with 19 points and five rebounds but was a minus-13 in 24 minutes of playing time.
“A lot of it is just gut feel,” Budenholzer said when asked about going with the reserves in the fourth. “They (Howard and Schroder) kind of got their normal sub at the end of the third quarter. They both played quite a bit in the third quarter. We didn’t finish that quarter great either. But we were able to get a roll going at the start of the fourth. That group was playing well. Malcolm had just played great in Cleveland a couple of nights ago. Just wanted to keep him in the game, keep him involved. So I threw him out there to give Jose a break. We just went with the group. They were playing well.”
Delaney didn’t enter the game until the fourth but ended up playing 13 minutes in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Hawks also got a huge lift from Mike Muscala who scored all 12 of his points in the fourth quarter and overtime including a clutch three-pointer with 35 seconds remaining to give Atlanta the lead for good.
“Probably the biggest shot of the game was the corner three on the kickout from Tim Hardaway Jr. Great drive from Timmy, finds him in the corner,” Budenholzer said of Muscala’s three-pointer. “Muscy has been playing well. Friday in Cleveland and the games leading up to that. He obviously started the season well and hopefully he’s back in a good place. He can do a lot of things for us on both ends when he’s playing well.”
With the win, Atlanta takes the season series from Cleveland and moves a step closer to locking down the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Hawks have two games remaining, at home against Charlotte on Tuesday and at Indiana on Wednesday.