The Atlanta Hawks came through in the clutch to win a thriller against the San Antonio Spurs on MLK Day, 102-99. The win marks the second consecutive win against the Spurs in Atlanta (the Hawks won an OT thriller last year at Philips), the first time that’s happened since 2002-04, per Hawks PR.
Dennis Schröder led the Hawks with 26 points, seven assists, five rebounds and a steal (as well as five turnovers) while Ersan Ilyasova added 20 points and five rebounds.
For the Spurs — playing without Kawhi Leonard in this one — they were led by LaMarcus Aldridge’s 25 points and 11 rebounds. Kyle Anderson and Patty Mills both added 13 points.
MLK Day pre-game disappointments
Before the actual game, there are a few things to address.
It was MLK Day yesterday. For the last few years the Hawks have had a special pre-game programme for MLK Day (or the game closest as the case was last season): they’ll have a choir announce the starting lineups and there’ll be a special court projection celebrating MLK Day.
Choir intro 2015:
And the MLK court projection from 2016:
But this year there was none of that. No choir intros and no MLK inspired court projection. It’s possible there may have been a technical issue at Philips for the court projection (I don’t know for sure) but it was disappointing that there was, in the end, no choir intros and no MLK court projection for MLK Day.
MLK Day is a huge deal Atlanta, with Martin Luther King Jr. obviously having a major impact on/ties with the city and the Hawks usually go all out for it. Sure, there were a few in-arena videos covering the day during the game, but in general it was disappointing that there wasn’t that same attention that has been given in the pre-game than in the past.
This win is pretty significant, because it now means the Hawks no longer hold possession for the worst record in the league, they now share that spot with the Orlando Magic at 12-31 with both teams having played 43 games.
With rumors circling that the Magic are shopping some of their players, it’ll be interesting which teams puts themselves in the better position to have a crack at the best odds for the number one pick in this year’s star-studded draft as the trade deadline approaches.
Dennis’, Dedmon’s big baskets and the free throw game
For the game itself, it was tight. The Hawks led for most of the fourth quarter and when they looked like they were about to get away from the Spurs, San Antonio would respond — they just wouldn’t go away.
And so with just 1:30 remaining it’s just a two point Atlanta lead. As the shotclock ticks at 10, Dennis Schröder is faced with Danny Green, a formidable defender. Ersan Ilyasova comes over to set a screen, Dennis fakes left to right and this gets the better of Green, and Schröder now heads to the rim. Dennis is crowded by three Spurs, and Green recovers to block it from behind. Green is initially the one who gathers the ball as it comes down but has it ripped away from Dedmon who goes up, scores the layup and draws the foul for one of the most important plays of the game:
Huge play by Dedmon there, great display of determination to rip that ball and go up strong with it. He would convert the three-point play.
You would’ve been forgiven at that point for thinking the Hawks were on the brink of victory after that play, but no. The Spurs were resilient and they stuck around as LaMarcus Aldridge made this tough basket as well as drawing the foul from Dedmon:
That’s a great fake from Aldridge to get Dedmon off of his feet and a tough make after that. LMA would also convert the three-point play, so it’s ‘as-you-were’: Spurs down two points with just 56 seconds left.
Coming the other way, the Hawks get themselves a favorable switch as Davis Bertans switches onto Schröder. Dennis takes full advantage and Bertans simply can’t keep up with Dennis’ ability to change directions in a hurry. Dennis sinks the jumper from just above the free throw line and it’s a four point game with 38 seconds remaining:
Dennis is always going to look to exploit a switch like this and the Spurs paid the price for allowing it to happen. This forces San Antonio into a timeout...
Again, you begin to think that the Hawks are just about home and dry but the Spurs respond again. Out of the timeout, Danny Green and Aldridge work a two-man game, ending with Green coming off the Aldridge handoff and hits the contested three-pointer to bring the Spurs back within one point:
Again, not much you can do here: that’s a good contest from Kent Bazemore, just a better shot from Green.
The Hawks come the other way and, again, Dennis gets the favorable switch onto Bertans. Bertans does a better job sticking with Schröder on the drive but is eventually beaten. LaMarcus comes over to help and Dennis flips a left-handed layup high off the glass and in:
That is some layup: left hand, high-glass... Full credit to Dennis there, that’s a fantastic shot, and it puts the Hawks up by three points with 10 seconds remaining.
Then the free throw game began...
The Hawks decided to put the Spurs on the free throw line up three and let them shoot two free throws rather than allowing the Spurs to attempt a three and risk sending the game to overtime. Both sides went back and forth with the free throws (the Spurs, of course, needing to send the Hawks to the line to keep themselves in the game with the shotclock off) — Dedmon and Schröder both made their free throws — and the Hawks eventually prevailed as the Spurs missed their last shot after the Hawks didn’t foul up three points:
Postgame, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer was very happy to come up with a victory against a quality opponent on MLK Day.
“I’m really pleased with the way our guys competed today,” said Bud. “It’s always a great test against a team that’s been together for a long time and does all the things that San Antonio does well. For us to win a fourth quarter and win a close game here at home on MLK Day in front of a great crowd, it’s just a good day for our team (and) for our players. I’m very happy for them and (I’m) just looking forward to getting to practice tomorrow and working some more.”
Bud was also pretty pleased with his side’s defense in the fourth quarter, telling the media postgame that he felt the Spurs had to work hard for what they got and that the score would’ve been a lower had the Hawks not played the foul game.
“I thought our defense was pretty good,” said Bud of the fourth quarter. “I thought we made them work for everything they got. LaMarcus (Aldridge) made a couple buckets that were tough. Danny (Green), the three to cut it to one (point) and things like that, but I thought defensively, I think if we weren’t fouling there at the end of the game, it’s a 20-point quarter/22-point quarter, something like that. I just thought that we were in a pretty good place there. I thought we executed. Dennis (Schröder) made some big plays – the pull-up at the free throw line, the left-handed finish. It was just a lot. Ersan (Ilyasova) – they all played well – Dewayne (Dedmon) making free throws. Dennis making free throws. A lot of guys playing well.”
We looked at clutch shots made by Aldridge and Green: they were tough shots, they had to work for them, so what Bud is saying is bang on.
With this victory coming against the Spurs, there’s always going to be another narrative in the spotlight with coach Bud, who was a member of the Spurs for 19 years as an assistant coach. When he asked if it felt bittersweet beating them, Bud laughed and said, “I’m sure all 29 of us like when we beat San Antonio. I’m not any different.”
“Last year seems like a million years ago,” said Bud when he was asked how this win against the Spurs felt compared to last season. “I think all 29 teams are pleased with a win against the San Antonio Spurs. They’ve won so much, they’re kind of the example that we all follow for consistency and competitiveness and playing the right way. If you can match them and find a way to win, whether it’s us or any of the other 28 teams, it’s a good win.”
Bud’s opposite number, Gregg Popovich, was full of praise for his friend and former assistant coach while also acknowledging that the Hawks did a better job executing than his side.
“(Mike Budenholzer) does a great job,” said Pop postgame. “Their record doesn’t mean anything. They play hard every night. They execute well. They executed better than we did. I thought they attacked the rim better. I thought their aggression on defense and passing lanes was better than ours. That’s all you can ask. If you’re doing that night after night after night, you’re in pretty good shape and coaches sleep well and enjoy it. I think they’ve done a really fine job.”
The free throw thing is interesting, let’s go back and talk about that.
Listening to Ersan Ilyasova (in a really candid postgame interview which is interesting to listen to), the Hawks definitely had previous games in the back of their mind when it came to this game and how it was shaping down the stretch, and made sure it wouldn’t bite them again.
“... The way the game went this evening it was kind of close,” said Ilyasova. “We’ve been in this situation many times. It’s when you’re talking about experience ... At the end of the game we tried to be disciplined, execute well, and when we’re up by three, just decide to foul. We’ve been in many situations - the first thing on my mind is Phoenix, Memphis, those games . . .
“It’s tough.” Ersan went on to say when asked how to forget previous defeats (like Phoenix and Memphis) and how he continues to compete. “Obviously, we have to learn from it and kind of move on because obviously, the season is long. If you focus on the negative things, it’s going to be a long season for us. We have to get something from one of the games, which I think that we did. We executed in this game. I don’t know. They’re really good. They just have a lot of good shooters. The big shot that Green made. We decided to foul right away because two points is not three. Everybody stepped up and we did a really well job of knocking down those free throws. At the end of the game, it was just a free throw game, if we make them, we win.”
It’s always an interesting situation when you’re up three with just seconds left: do you foul or play it out? You’re always playing with a bit of fire if you don’t foul up three and the Hawks, I think, did the right thing by taking no chances and just play the free throw game. It paid off in the end, and having a center who can sink some free throws in Dedmon really helps.
The Spurs were shorthanded without Kawhi Leonard — before losing Manu Ginobili during this game to a thigh injury — but didn’t play a great second half, looking a step or two slow compared to the Hawks. Outside of LaMarcus, it was tough to see who was going to score for the Spurs down in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks played a solid game and did just enough to get this win.
Rebound battle, second chance scoring and Dewayne Dedmon
The rebounding battle, and the subsequent second chance opportunities that came as a result of some offensive rebounds, made a huge difference in this game.
The Hawks beat the Spurs 50-37 when it came to rebounding (including 11 offensive rebounds) and scored 17 second chance points to San Antonio’s seven.
Miles Plumlee and Dewayne Dedmon grabbed three offensive rebounds each while John Collins chipped in for two, and this helped create second chance opportunities with which to score from:
Both sides were quite reflective when it came to rebounding postgame. For coach Bud, having all of his big-men all finally available again has been huge for him.
“I think having all our bigs back is really helping us on the boards,” said Bud postgame about rebounding. “I think Miles Plumlee has been a huge impact on our rebounding and our defense. We’re playing a lot of them (bigs), so I think they’ve got great energy. I thought our guards - there’s a couple examples where our guards were in there. At halftime we looked at a clip with Tyler Dorsey in there mixing it up, coming in and getting hits and getting up. I felt like everybody was part of it but having all our bigs healthy and everyone back certainly makes a big difference.”
For the Spurs, they were almost left to ponder ‘what-if’ they had secured a few more rebounds, knowing that in a tight game these things come back to haunt you.
“It allows them to be in a better position to win,” said Pau Gasol postgame. “We didn’t rebound the ball as well as we usually do against a team, as far as numbers go, they are not in the top of the league at all in that category. It was just one of the aspects of the game that they controlled better and it gave them an advantage. When you talk about possessions in a close game, it makes a difference.”
“Yeah, we got to all five rebound,” added LaMarcus Aldridge. “We had some switches at times. We know him (Dedmon) well and that’s what he loves to do. Guards got to get into his legs and you know other guards got to come sandwich him. He had his impact on the game and you know we still had our opportunity. We have to be better.”
Dewayne Dedmon grabbed 10 rebounds off of the bench as part of his 12-10 double-double, and surely it’s only a matter of time before he’s back in the starting lineup... He made a huge difference in this game with his energy and his rebounding, both defensive and offensive, really helped the Hawks win this game.
“It’s been great to have Dewayne (back),” said Bud postgame of Dedmon. “His play, you guys all see it. It’s fairly obvious to everybody that watches the game. His energy, his voice, his leadership. He bring something to the huddle, he brings something to the locker room that we all appreciate — myself no doubt — appreciate greatly. We didn’t start well and he comes in the game - it wasn’t just him but in general we were able to turn it around and he’s in peoples ears and peoples face and saying the right thing. So, I love the play but I love the voice, I love the leadership, I love the energy that he brings everyday.”
The leadership qualities were something that point guard Dennis Schröder challenged Dedmon with during the game, to be more vocal and to be more of a leader. Judging by Bud’s comments, he has responded.
“I told him during the game that we need him to speak up more – a little bit,” said Schröder of Dedmon. “He’s a veteran. He had a lot of energy tonight of course because he played for San Antonio a couple years ago. I think it’s great that he keeps talking to me and our teammates. I’m just glad that we won it.”
Tyler Dorsey has seen a lot more court time recently and that continued yesterday as he played 13 minutes, scoring five points on 2-of-4 shooting from the field, 1-of-2 from three, three rebounds and three assists, including seven fourth quarter minutes.
Dorsey has spent a considerable amount of time in the G-League this season and it has really paid dividends — he has looked pretty decent of late.
Bud spoke about Dorsey postgame, how Dorsey has embraced the development process and how he has improved.
“When he has gotten an opportunity- including in the G-League. I think it starts with his approach going down and playing for the Erie Bayhawks and playing for (Bayhawks head coach) Josh Longstaff and learning from that experience, learning how to be better defensively,” said Bud of Dorsey. “All of the things that it takes to compete at this level. I think he has embraced it and now when he has come back to us, when he has gotten minutes... Sometimes garbage time can have an impact. He’s played the right way, he’s got an intensity to him now that’s much, much better. He’s helping us no doubt about it.”
Over his last five games, Dorsey is averaging four points per game on 33% shooting from the field and just under 43% from three in just under 11 minutes a game.
The Hawks (12-31) continue their homestand on Wednesday when the Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and the New Orleans Pelicans roll into town.
Should be fun, interesting to see how the Hawks deal with the Boogie-Brow combination. Stay tuned.