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The anatomy of a 26-point comeback in the Atlanta Hawks home opener

Raise your hand if you saw this comeback coming.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks overturned a 26-point deficit to win in their home opener at State Farm Arena, knocking off the Dallas Mavericks 111-104 on Wednesday night.

A career-best 32 points from Kent Bazemore and 24 points from Taurean Prince (including five three-pointers) led the way, while Wesley Matthews scored 23 points for the Dallas Mavericks.

Coming back from 26 points down

This game did not start well for the Hawks and that’s been an issue this season so far.

The Mavericks did come out pretty hot (behind both Luka Doncic and Wesley Matthews) but the Hawks weren’t ready to match the Mavs to begin this game and they could not buy a defensive stop, Dallas scoring 42 first quarter points on 65% shooting and seven three-pointers.

Having looked back at the Mavericks’ first quarter buckets, the Hawks’ defense wasn’t really that bad — the Mavericks just executed well on offense.

More specifically, their screen setting was very strong and this opened up opportunities for the Mavs.

Just an example, Matthews make a run for the ball, Prince is forced to go through the man-mountain that is DeAndre Jordan and Prince can’t get back in time to contest a shot and Matthews hits the three:

The second quarter didn’t start too well for the Hawks and they soon found themselves down by 26 points (51-25) with eight minutes left in the second quarter — it really looked like this game was heading for a first half 30-point blowout.

But the Hawks responded, closing out the quarter on a 23-7 run and bringing the deficit to 10 points at the half — in other words, it was a game again.

A quick run in the third quarter and the Hawks brought it back to within single digits, eventually taking the lead in the fourth quarter and holding on to win.

We can go through some of the late-game stuff but without that burst in the second quarter, this victory obviously isn’t possible.

So let’s focus on that first.

Part of the reason the Hawks were able to bring down that gap was because they found a lineup that worked defensively — from that eight minute mark, the Mavs shot 1-of-12 from the field, 0-of-6 from three and six turnovers.

The center spot in the lineup rotated between Omari Spellman, Alex Len and Dewayne Dedmon but the four-man lineup of DeAndre’ Bembry, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince and (surprisingly) Vince Carter was huge in that second quarter. In just under eight minutes, that four-man lineup was plus-14, posted an offensive rating of 115, a defensive rating of 47.4 (!!) and an overall net rating of 67.6.

An increase in the intensity on the defensive end helped fuel the Hawks.

On the perimeter, the Mavs look like they have the Hawks on the back-foot as Bembry bites on a shot fake, forcing Bazemore to step in and plug the gap. As the ball is kicked to Bazemore’s defensive assignment, Bazemore closes out, Jayen Brunson drives but Bazemore is able to get a hand in and come up with a steal:

Bembry, in particular, was a hive of defensive activity and he comes from behind to poke the ball away from Doncic before hustling to prevent the ball from going out of bounds:

Again, Bembry displays his defensive motor as he does a fine job guarding Wesley Matthews before blocking his shot inside:

On this possession, the Hawks look as though they’re in trouble as Brunson receives the ball and is open. Dedmon is close but a fake from Brunson gets the big-man off of his feet. As Brunson steps to the left and takes the shot, Dedmon uses his length and manages to get a hand on the ball and the pass from Jordan after collecting the loose-ball is thrown into the backcourt and it results in a Dallas turnover:

Speaking of Dedmon, he was more active in pick-and-roll defense during this run, as exhibited here as he and Bazemore look to extend the pressure:

Dedmon was called for a foul on this play but it was another positive sign of life from the Hawks as they continued to plug away at the 26 point hole.

This defense is all well and good, but obviously the Hawks don’t comeback if they weren’t able to score.

Here, the Hawks combined both defense and offense as Bembry comes up with the steal after a poor pass from Matthews and finds Kent Bazemore, who takes the ball to the cup for the score:

Bazemore stole the second quarter show with 12 points but we’ll focus on the veteran wing a little later.

But one thing that did change offensively beginning in the second quarter was that the Hawks’ outside shots finally began to fall, starting with Prince in the corner:

Later, Prince would continue to plug away at the Mavericks’ lead as he spun his way to another two points, doing a nice job creating his own shot stepping back:

The Hawks entered the break down by just 10 points and with the crowd behind them, they continued to plug away. They took the lead in the fourth but the game went to the wire.

With just two minutes remaining, the game was tied at 101 apiece. As he did at times last season, Bazemore was the one to break the deadlock late on as he darts from the corner to come off of an Alex Len screen and rises into a jumper just behind the free throw line:

After a few missed buckets from both teams, the Mavs come with Doncic, who sets up a lob for Jordan on a plate but Jordan blows the dunk:

This turned out to be a very costly miss in the end...

After securing the ball after that dunk attempt, the Hawks call timeout and out of that timeout they turn to Kent Bazemore once again, who drives hard coming off of a Len screen. Bazemore takes off very early and some distance from the basket and, in conjunction with the speed he was carrying, no one was foolish enough to attempt to stop/block the shot at the rim:

That’s one way to set a new career-high.

The game then shifted towards the free throw line, with DeAndre Jordan splitting a pair before Trae Young knocked down two before splitting another trip to the line. Kent Bazemore would put the matter away for good as he split a pair, lifting the Hawks to an unlikely comeback and victory from 26 points down. Similar to the Cleveland game, the Hawks showed spirit despite the early adversity to notch a win in the newly dubbed State Farm Arena.

“What a fun night that was,” reflected Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce postgame. “I thought our guys were resilient. I saw a lot of perseverance from them. To get down 20 at the end of the first quarter, come back and just fight for the last three quarters was fun. I really appreciate the fans being here. We had a great home court for the opener at State Farm Arena. I’m really excited about the way the night turned out.”

‘Resilience’ was the word of the night for the Hawks, and they have certainly embodied that in these last two games.

“Our energy level picked up,” said Kent Bazemore postgame. “When the game gets tight, naturally your sense of urgency heightens. We made just a few more plays than they did down the stretch. Coach used a great word after the game – resilience. For me, it’s (also) a part of my non-profit. So it’s a word that I love. We stayed resilient...”

On the other side, the Mavericks were left to reflect on a very poor loss — up by 26 points at one point and in absolute control.

“They earned a great win and we end up with a very bad loss,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. “It’s just very disappointing.”

Dennis Smith Jr. took his assessment of the game a step further.

“It’s embarrassing to lose on national television, up 26 and lose by eight (seven) points, that’s never good,” said Smith Jr. “They are an NBA team and you know they are going to make a run.”

Complacency was definitely an issue for the Mavericks, who admitted as much afterwards that they let their early success get to them.

“We got going early offensively and thought it was going to be an easy game and that’s not the way you’re going to win in this league,” said guard Wesley Matthews.

The Hawks did well to execute down the stretch but, again, the most important period of this game were those final eight minutes of the second quarter where the Hawks locked down defensively.

“Personal pride,” said Pierce when asked about the second quarter defense. “We challenged our guys at one of the timeouts to just get three stops in a row. I think we finished the second quarter with 12-of-15 stops. It was just personal pride on the defensive end. They knew Dallas was getting whatever they wanted offensively and we just had to turn it up a little bit. Our offense wasn’t the issue. We just couldn’t stop them from scoring.”

“Defensively we started locking in and keying on certain players to make other players take shots, and those defensive plays led us to offense,” added DeAndre’ Bembry. “We got a lot of good shots after those defensive clips, and it gave us some energy. And we finished the game off the right way.”

With this game being televised nationally on ESPN and with the game obviously being the home opener, the Hawks couldn’t have picked a better night to make such a comeback.

What a way to break in the newly renovated State Farm Arena — a 26-point comeback victory.

Kent Bazemore’s career-high

It’s been eluded to already, but Bazemore enjoyed a fantastic game, as he recorded a new career-high with 32 points to go along with seven assists.

We’ve discussed Bazemore at length already — he was part of that lineup in the second quarter that was able to secure defensive stops and he was clutch down the stretch. But what he also did was takeover in what turned out to be the pivotal second quarter, scoring 12 of the Hawks’ 26 points as they dug themselves out of their 26 point hole and made this a game again.

All but two of those 12 points came at the rim, starting here as he makes a nice cut to the rim after handing the ball to Alex Len, who finds his teammate:

For the one bucket outside the paint, in a play very similar to his clutch jumper, Bazemore comes off of a screen from Dedmon and rises into a jumper just behind the free throw line:

For something different, Bazemore attacks the offensive glass and stick back the miss from a Dedmon jump shot:

Coming off of a screen, Bazemore again drives hard to the rim, Jordan doesn’t go with him, and the lane is open for Bazemore to throw down another dunk:

Bazemore, by far, had the best fortune at the rim/in the paint for the Hawks as he made seven shots in the paint, scoring 14 of the Hawks’ 36 points in the paint.

This was quite important, as he struggled from the perimeter — shooting 3-of-11.

A new career-high for the longest serving member of the Hawks currently, who has got his season well and truly underway in these last two games, proving once again (until John Collins comes back and proves otherwise) that he is the best player on this Hawks team, certainly the heart and soul of it.

“Baze was great all night,” praised Pierce postgame. “He had a tough matchup with (Wesley) Matthews chasing him around. But I think it ignited him offensively as well. He was able to get downhill and get into the paint. Obviously, five for nine from three, shot got going. I thought his penetration, his mentality offensively of getting into the paint and causing havoc at the rim was really what got him going.”

‘Causing havoc’ is a good way to frame Bazemore’s performance last night — he certainly did just that, both scoring, facilitating (seven assists) and defensively coming up with three steals.

Young vs. Doncic — the battle we never really got

A lot of hype surrounded this game for two reasons. One being the team’s home opener in their newly renovated and named arena (we’ll get to that). The second being the first showdown in the careers of Trae Young and Luka Doncic.

And, as is normally the case with a rookie showdown that doesn’t take place in Summer League, it ended up being a bit disappointing.

Luka Doncic started off hot but eventually slowed down, ending with 22 points on 7-of-18 shooting from the field, 2-of-9 from three, nine rebounds and two assists.

Young struggled for the majority of this game but found some footing in the fourth quarter where he scored 12 of his 17 points, shooting 3-of-12 overall on the game, 1-of-3 from three but shot 10-of-14 from the free throw line, tallied four rebounds and five assists but five turnovers.

Much has obviously been made of Young vs. Doncic (the two, of course, tied together by the draft night trade) and both have tried to play it all down. There’s no animosity between the two, with Young telling The Starters’ Trey Kerby that he and Doncic talked over the summer and that heading into the game Young didn’t want to ‘make it a 1-on-1 thing’.

And that didn’t happen to be fair, but it would’ve been nice to see both players perform well (obviously the matchup was a huge draw for ESPN nationally televising it and it never really got going this matchup, with Young getting into foul trouble in the first half).

Young did get the crowd going though with this amazing play in the fourth quarter where he bamboozles Dennis Smith Jr., gets to the rim and somehow gets the layup to fall:

That’s one way to take the lead again...what a play.

Young attempted a number of unsuccessful floaters that just weren’t great shots but, as he has done this season, created some great looks for his teammates, with his play for Taurean Prince being the pick of the bunch:

Sadly, Doncic vs. Young was a bit of a dud but both had their moments in this game. Both are fun players, and maybe it’s for the best they had the games that they had — had one performed considerably higher than the other, the takes would’ve been on fire this morning...I’m sure they will be regardless.

DeAndre’ Bembry

What a game for Bembry, who registered his first career double-double with 11 points and 16 rebounds (!!), five assists, two steals and a block.

We’ve seen some highlights from Bembry already here, more so coming from the defensive end, but he deserves special mention here because he was arguably the Hawks’ second best player last night (you can make a case for Prince, and you’d probably be right).

He was a key member of the defensive unit that got the Hawks back into the game in the second quarter, he was deployed as the point guard at times during this game, he hit a big three-pointer to cut the ever-dwindling Mavericks lead to just two points in the third quarter, he facilitated for his teammates...he was just everywhere in this game — you always knew when he was in the game, he always did something that let you know he was there.

Of course it wasn’t perfect, Bembry didn’t shoot especially well (4-of-11) from the field and had some wild plays at times but don’t let that takeaway from all of the good things he did offensively but more importantly defensively, which Lloyd Pierce spoke about postgame — the importance of Bembry defensively, labeling him as one of their lead defenders.

“The physicality, the size, the defense... DeAndre’ is going to be one of our lead defenders,” said Pierce of Bembry. “We can move him around, we can play him on different guys. We needed that. That was what got us in the hole (that) we couldn’t get stops, and that’s the guy we’re going to go to first (to get stops). The most impressive part of DeAndre’ tonight is the 16 rebounds. Just his size, his athleticism to get out, rebound, ignite our break was huge.”

We looked at this play already, but you see what Pierce means when he eluded to Bembry igniting the break:

Bembry continued to make plays off of his rebounds as he outlets to Kevin Huerter for the dunk:

Bembry has enjoyed a healthy preseason and season so far and now he’s healthy and on the floor, he has shown why the Hawks were enamored with him in 2016 and the signs of development are finally coming through now that Bembry is able to stay on the court (touch wood).

“It feels amazing to come out here and get those type of minutes in this type of arena,” said Bembry postgame. “First game in State Farm Arena was pretty dope. I liked the energy. I was just happy to be out there healthy.”

The return of Dewayne Dedmon, Alex Poythress’ injury

After missing preseason with an avulsion fracture in his left ankle, Dewayne Dedmon made his season debut, scoring three points on 1-of-4 shooting from the field in 14 minutes of action.

“...he sparked us,” said Pierce of Dedmon. “He got out on the floor, he’s the loudest talker in the locker-room and he was the loudest talker on the court today. He hit a big three, he did a lot of good things, just providing energy for us. It’s good to have him back out there.

On the flip side, Alex Poythress (who has played well this season and has helped plug the big-man hole the Hawks have had in the absence of Collins and Dedmon) only played six minutes after appearing to hyper-extend his knee, and will undergo an MRI tomorrow.

Home sweet home

Couldn’t do this without mentioning that this was the first game at home this season, the newly renovated and named State Farm Arena.

Fox Sports Southeast, of course, did a good job covering the various new aspects of the arena, including Killer Mike’s barbershop:


And a look at the new, huge video-board (hello, but no court projection?? What’s up with that??):

If you want to hear Hawks CEO Steve Koonin talk about the arena/home opener before tip, here you go. I’m sure there are some that are interested:

On the court, there wasn’t a ton for the Hawks to cheer early and it took a while for folks to get into the arena but once the Hawks did get going and the game got closer in the second half, it got loud. And the Hawks noticed that and fed off of it.

“...You hear the noise in the fourth quarter and that was fun,” said Pierce. “That was fun to hear the fans get into it. I think Trae hit three (free throws), he got fouled on a three free throws and that was the first time we took the lead, so you get excited now because the fans really took over and they helped us down the stretch.”

Bazemore described the ‘totally different feel’ at State Farm Arena, comparing the atmosphere the glory days of yester-year.

“This was reminiscent of those playoff runs back in 2014-15,” said Kent Bazemore. “The energy was great. The game ops did a great job of keeping the fans attuned. All the players were talking after the game. Every time we scored a bucket, the wristbands would light up. That was really cool. The scoreboard, the lighting is different, it’s just a totally different feel, so 1-0 at State Farm Arena. We had everyone come out tonight. Just a great win.”

The Hawks (2-2) are back in action at State Farm on Saturday, when they take on the Chicago Bulls. They’ll have to find some way to slow down Zach Lavine, who has scored 30+ in the opening four games for the Bulls.

Should be fun.