The Atlanta Hawks snapped their three-game losing streak with a very impressive victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves, 105-100, in a wild (no pun intended) encounter at Philips Arena on Monday night.
Kent Bazemore led the way 22 points — doing a bit of everything along the way with four rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal — while Dennis Schröder added a double-double with 18 points and 11 assists (though, he did have seven turnovers).
For the Wolves, they were led by Jimmy Butler’s 24 points while Andrew Wiggins added 18 points.
Kent Bazemore’s fourth quarter heroics
This was a tight game coming down the stretch after the Hawks fought their way back from a disappointing start to the second half and an 11 point hole to being tied at 96 apiece with just over two minutes to go.
Enter Kent Bazemore.
Baze’s first action in the clutch was to give the Hawks the lead again with a three-pointer in transition:
This is a tough one for Jeff Teague to deal with because Baze does a good job to sell the ball-fake and this gets Teague to commit to Schröder, freeing up Baze for this shot.
Not long after that, Teague picks off a John Collins pass intended for Schröder and races to the other end. Dennis eventually gives up on the play but Baze does not, and he comes up with the emphatic rejection of his former teammate:
“... by far my most favorite play in the game of basketball is to run the chase down block . . . I’ve been doing it for a while...” said Bazemore postgame.
This was actually the second chase-down block for Baze in this game and the second on Teague...
After an issue with the clock was sorted after that play, the Wolves turn the ball over — Towns unable to handle the pass from Butler. The Hawks come in transition with Schröder, who finds a running-mate in Baze, who in turn takes it to the rim for the score and the foul as Teague makes contact:
Teague got himself in the wrong place at the wrong time... Bad foul to commit there, didn’t even get his foul’s worth for that one, though, fortunate Baze would miss the free throw...
From there, two blunders from Teague handed possession back to the Hawks twice in the last minute: an ambitious pass to Butler — which was intercepted by Malcolm Delaney — and a five-second inbounds violation with 14 seconds remaining.
Dennis would nail the free throws to put the Hawks up by three and again to put the Hawks up five to seal the game after Butler missed a tough three to tie the game:
Really good of Butler’s teammates to help him here... A screen would’ve been useful, there was more than enough time to set one. That’s really poor from the Wolves... I know they didn’t have a timeout but you don’t need one to set a screen or to do, I don’t know, anything?
But, alas, the Hawks managed to secure themselves a victory that — before the game — sure would’ve been unlikely.
Postgame, Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer spoke about the individual plays that got the Hawks over the hump.
“A lot of great individual plays,” said Bud in his opening statement postgame. “Collectively, I thought the guys competed. We talked about the size of their wings, the physicality of their bigs. For us to find a way, and hold them to 42 (points) in the second half, win the battle of the boards, make a few more plays. Obviously Malcolm getting the steal late in transition. Baze’s chase-down block in the first half, and then the second half chase-down block. He fuels our team with great competitive spirit and great competitive energy. He’s great for his teammates, he’s there for them. And then he’s doing a lot of things offensively too, hitting big shots. I’m proud of our big guys for battling the way they did. They have a lot of talent on the other team, so for us to battle them and find a way to win is great.”
I think it’s fair to say the Hawks don’t win this game without Kent Bazemore: game-high plus-20, the leading scorer for the team, took over for that stretch as the game wound down and came up with huge momentum plays like those two chase-down blocks.
“He played a wonderful game,” said Tyler Dorsey postgame. “He closed the show for us. He made big plays, winning plays, at the end of the game on the defensive end and the offensive end. We need that from him every night. He closed the show for us tonight and had a wonderful game.”
For Bazemore himself, after a tough game last time out vs. Washington, he wanted to bounce-back, after admitting his last outing against the Wizards wasn’t up to snuff.
“Feeling good tonight,” said Bazemore postgame. “Individually, my effort last game was not where it needed to be, not anywhere close. I just wanted to come out tonight, play hard and that’s the result. You make plays like that...”
Here’s something from PTH’s own, Brad Rowland re: Baze that would be good to discuss in the comments:
Not sure if this is a hot take but..— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) January 30, 2018
Kent Bazemore has been the best player for the Atlanta Hawks this season.
I think that’s a fair shout, what do you think?
While you can make arguments for and against, you can’t argue that Kent Bazemore was fantastic in this game and deserves a lot of credit for helping the Hawks emerge Philips with an unlikely victory against a team currently in a home court advantage seed in the Western Conference.
The point guard matchup and where the game was not lost for the Wolves
There was definitely a bit of buzz surrounding the point guard matchup heading into this game with former teammates Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder squaring off for the first time this season.
Sadly, it was a bit of a letdown.
Dennis struggled shooting the ball: 18 points on 5-of-15 from the field (though, he did have 11 assists but seven turnovers and shot 8-of-9 from the free throw line) while Teague struggled even more than that: two points on 1-of-12 shooting, but also had double-digit assists with 10 and just two turnovers.
While coach Bud said it was one of those nights for Teague, he also praised the defense of Schröder on Teague.
“He missed a couple of shots that I think he probably would take again and are good looks,” said Bud of Teague’s tough night. “But I thought Dennis’ activity on him, Dennis’ effort there... Our bigs... a little bit of cat-and-mouse hopefully creating some indecision for him. I think it’s one of those nights but I do think we played well defensively, just in general.”
Let’s get this out there: both point guards played poorly. Yes, Dennis scored 18 points and had 11 assists but that does not mean he played well.
Teague played worse than Schröder, yes, for sure. And both had bad possessions down the stretch: Dennis had that bad airball in the clutch and Teague had two very bad turnovers in the last minute of the game that would’ve been huge for the Wolves. So, yes, Teague’s blunders down the stretch were worse...
But let’s also get this out there: they did not ultimately cost the Wolves the game.
You don’t win or lose games on one/two possessions. Usually, you lose it because you did something poorly/not well enough over the 48 minutes. For example, ff the Hawks had narrowly lost this game, I would’ve been instantly looking at the turnover story and the points scored off of turnovers (21 Hawks TO’s for 24 Minnesota points): that’s the thing they didn’t do well for the 48 minutes. They were fortunate it didn’t come back to haunt them in a loss...
For the Wolves, they didn’t put the Hawks away when they probably should’ve: in the third quarter. Their energy was lacking for a stretch of the game and the Hawks were able to capitalise and come back.
“The last four or five minutes had nothing to do with the game,” said Karl-Anthony Towns postgame. “We did a great job at least giving ourselves a chance to win the game. The game was settled in the early part of the game. But we didn’t close the game out, especially in the third quarter when we were up by 10. We didn’t play with energy. We didn’t play defensively the way we needed to, to come out with a win.”
“...The game was not decided in the last four-to-five minutes,” Towns continued. “Taj (Gibson) getting that rebound, getting the ball back up there and scoring, that gave us such a chance to win. All you can ask for at the end of the game, especially the way we played, is the chance to come out with a winner. We did a great job of being a team, staying together and giving ourselves a chance. But at the end of the day, it’s about what we do in the first three quarters.”
Now, to say the last four/five minutes had nothing to do with the game obviously isn’t 100% correct (because it obviously played a part), but the Wolves had the chance to stretch their advantage in the third quarter and they didn’t do so. As such, the Hawks were able to come back and make a game of it and big plays from Baze helped get this victory.
“Probably the end of the third (quarter),” said Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau when asked when his side’s energy diminished. “We had a 10-point lead, and we didn’t finish the third well. We didn’t start the fourth well. That was part of the game. The rebounding was a problem all night.”
“We went up nine or 10. We had a good lead,” said Wolves forward Taj Gibson. “We had good looks, but they were in-and-out. Once you let guys hang around, that fourth quarter is a different game, no matter how hard you’re playing. You see how they started making shots, how difficult it was, playing with a lot more energy, especially playing at home. That’s a difficult one to get over. But we have another tough one tomorrow.”
Notice the trend? Notice the period of the game that is being referred to?
Yes, Jeff Teague was terrible in this game and had two very bad turnovers near the end of the game. But he is — and they (the turnovers) were — not the sole reason they lost this game...
The bench battle
Minnesota’s bench hasn’t been something that has helped them much this season: just 26.1 points per game, 27th in the league.
The Hawks, by contrast, have had pretty decent bench productions this season: 40.9 points per game which actually ranks 5th in the league.
That season-long differential between the two sides’ benches shone through last night as the Hawks’ bench outscored the Wolves’ bench 46-24: Dewayne Dedmon led the way there with 10 points.
Malcolm Delaney also added nine points and seven assists. Delaney also started the second half in place of Taurean Prince, partly dude to TP’s foul trouble and partly due to Delaney’s own play.
“He picked up a couple late in the second quarter . . . With their size, just thought we need to save him, need to be sure he’s available for as many minutes as possible,” said Bud postgame about the decision to start Delaney in the second half ahead of Prince. I thought Malcolm was playing well. His energy on both ends of the court, he’s just making a lot of smart plays. He may not be as big but his toughness really stands out even when we’re playing with wings like tonight.”
Malcolm came up with this huge steal after a poor pass from Jeff Teague, one of the biggest possessions down the stretch:
I’d be hugely surprised if Delaney lost the role of backup point guard again this season to Isaiah Taylor, who was a DNP-CD last night. Delaney has just played too well of late...
Elsewhere off the bench, there were solid efforts all around: eight points for Marco Belinelli, John Collins and Tyler Dorsey (who we’ll talk about more soon) and Mike Muscala did some good things defensively, adding two blocks to the party.
A really good night for the bench, they made sure to press that advantage over the Wolves last night and it was big in the end.
Another tough night for TP: three points on 1-of-10 shooting from the field and 1-of-6 from three in 24 minutes.
These have, sadly, become all too common of late and TP was again hindered by foul trouble, which prompted Bud to not start him in the third quarter, going with Delaney instead.
In his last 10 games, Prince is averaging 9 points per game on 36% shooting from the field and 32% from three.
Hopefully TP can bounce-back in the Hawks’ next game against the Charlotte Hornets.
It was another strong outing for rookie Tyler Dorsey last night: eight point on 3-of-6 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 from three.
Both of those threes came in the fourth quarter, both big plays.
This one to give the Hawks their first lead of the fourth quarter:
A quick and confident three there...
And the second three he made was a huge one because it really got the crowd into the game:
Pretty decent contest there by Taj Gibson, so extra credit for Dorsey for nailing this big three-pointer to put the Hawks on top once again.
Postgame, Bud praised Dorsey’s competitiveness and spoke about his improvement.
“I’m liking his competitiveness,” began Bud about Dorsey. “He’s in there scrapping for some loose balls, trying to compete on the defensive end. He’s getting more confident, more aggressive, more comfortable offensively. Coming off of screen situations, attacking the basket and getting a layup, couple of rise-up threes... He’s taking advantage of his opportunities. He’s got a knack offensively. We just got to keep working with him defensively, get him to understand things and understand the toughness and competitiveness that it takes on that end. He’s getting better and better.”
For Dorsey, this is the opportunity he had been waiting for and he’s taking full advantage, his confidence in himself never waning in the build up.
“I’m always going to stay confident in myself,” said Dorsey postgame. “In the beginning of the season I was begging and waiting for this opportunity to come. It’s here now and I’m just gonna stay confident...”
I have to say I didn’t expect Dorsey to really shine as much as he has at this stage of the season — thought he’d take a little longer before cracking the rotation. It’s reached a point where if Marco Belinelli is taking away minutes from Dorsey come later February/March — if, of course, Marco is still with the team — it’s a bad thing.
The Hawks (15-35) are back in action on Wednesday as they take on the Charlotte Hornets in a quick rematch at Philips Arena — the first game in Atlanta for Dwight Howard since his trade from the Hawks in June.
Should be fun. Stay tuned.