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Hawks prevail in overtime thriller behind big rookie shots against Minnesota

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When the moment came, the rooks were unafraid.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks won an overtime thriller as they saw their 22-point lead turn into a nine point deficit in the fourth quarter before erasing that lead to come back and win in overtime against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night at the Target Center, 123-120.

Kent Bazemore led the Hawks in scoring with 23 points while John Collins (21 points and 10 rebounds), Dewayne Dedmon (19 points and 13 rebounds) and Trae Young (16 points and 11 assists) all recorded double-doubles on the night.

For the Timberwolves, their starters logged very heavy minutes (shock) and one of those starters, Karl-Anthony Towns, led with 31 points and 19 rebounds as he had his way with the Hawks underneath the basket. Robert Covington also added 28 points.

End of regulation and overtime

Fast-forwarding to the fourth quarter in this one, the Hawks had seen their 22-point lead completely evaporate as the Wolves finally woke up in the second half — they were the much better team in the second half — and built themselves a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter. When this happened, everything pointed to the Hawks falling behind by double-digits and the Wolves running away to victory.

Alas, the Hawks managed to avoid that fate, came back and turned this into a very tight game going down the stretch.

There were a number of key moments in this game, the first major one coming from Robert Covington, blowing this wide open dunk after Towns — faced with a lot of pressure — did a great job to find the cutting Covington:

This would’ve put the Wolves up by five, this coming before Towns went back to the free throw line where he’d shoot 1-for-2. A possible six point lead that certainly wouldn’t have sealed the game by any means but in a game that went to overtime, plays like that are extremely painful.

“Those are big plays,” said Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau via the Star Tribune.

As this was this play, as the Hawks come up with a blunder of their own as this behind-the-back pass from Trae Young to Dedmon results in a backcourt violation:

This was rough to watch live and one of those Young will have to learn from (and, almost equally, Dedmon will have to be ready for in the future).

They cut the lead to two after a John Collins tip but the Wolves were still in control: two points ahead with 20 seconds left and with possession of the ball heading out of a timeout.

The Hawks had to hope for a missed free throw (which the Wolves did plenty of last night) or come up with a steal on the inbounds pass. And that’s exactly what happened as Kent Bazemore intercepted Dario Saric’s inbounds pass, charging down the other end to dunk and tie the game:

Saric had a chance to get this ball in cleanly and his errant pass gave the Hawks this lifeline. But the Wolves still had a chance to win this in regulation but Derrick Rose is thwarted by Justin Anderson, whose block sends the game to overtime:

Throughout the course of the game, Trae Young hadn’t really looked for his shot but looked more active offensively in overtime as he scored the Hawks’ first three points after an ‘and-1’ floater before hitting the go-ahead three-pointer directly after Covington, again, missed at point-blank range:

“He’s dying for that moment,” said Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce postgame with a wry smile, via Fox Sports Southeast. “He’s a home-run hitter, he’s always looking for the big shot. It’s a testament to him, his confidence, his ability. He didn’t take a lot of shots but his ability to get into the game and he sees an opening and step up and take that play...”

What should not be understated here is that this was Young’s first three-point attempt of the night, so to have the confidence to take that shot and that time in the game... That’s a big-time shot from Trae Young.

Then, fellow rookie Kevin Huerter — who didn’t play a ton in this game as Pierce elected to play DeAndre’ Bembry 30 minutes at the expense of Huerter last night — was next to follow as he hit the clutch three-pointer with 43 seconds left on the clock to give the Hawks a four-point lead:

A bit less audacious of a three-point attempt than Young’s but this is a big moment for an NBA rookie and for Huerter to have the confidence to take it and then the ability to knock it down...you have to love it if you’re the Hawks — two rookies hitting two big shots in overtime.

“...We got two rookies making big threes on the road against a very good opponent. Excited for them,” said Pierce of his rookies.

Those two clutch threes from the Hawks’ rookies put the Hawks in a strong position to take this game but nothing is ever straightforward in the NBA.

Two successful free throws for Towns cut the lead to two before Andrew Wiggins also earned his way to the free throw line, going 1-for-2 — one-point Atlanta lead.

Forced to foul with the clock against them, the Wolves sent Dedmon to the line where the 84% free throw shooter duly dispatched both, giving the Hawks a three-point lead.

Time wasn’t on Minnesota’s side but they managed to get the ball to Josh Okogie in the corner, who tries to initiate contact by jumping into Bembry but the officials didn’t call a foul and that was game:

The Hawks broadcast — and I’m sure they weren’t alone — weren’t sure if a foul was called but it turned out to be a no-call, which left the Wolves incensed and the Hawks jubilant.

Jubilant but also relieved, as they had seen a 22-point lead disappear. Lloyd Pierce knew that the Wolves would come back but was proud of the spirit his side showed.

“What a game,” said Pierce postgame. “I told our guys at the end of the third quarter ‘This was going to be our best win of the season’ because they made a hell of a push to get it tied, down 12, 13 at the half, and our guys fought until the end. A lot of late game execution and for a young team that’s really important for me to preach and teach to those guys why it’s important to go over situational basketball.”

“...You get a team that comes into your building and goes up 22 points in the first half... They’ve got pride, there’s a lot of pride over there,” continued Pierce. “We knew they were going to come out and hit us in the mouth and they did but I liked the resiliency of our guys to come back after being hit in the mouth and continue to play and continue to fight and continue to compete and stay together.

“The late game execution stuff was beautiful for our guys. They really bought in, they really communicated well and we made some great plays. Baze with a steal to put us into a tie and send it into overtime and the guys that came in defensively to just get that stop at the end of regulation. Anytime you go up (big) it’s hard, there’s a lot of basketball. 48 minutes is a long time and there’s a lot of basketball to gain a lead and erase a lead as well.”

If you read that quote, you’d be forgiven for thinking that that statement was a little ballsy for Pierce to proclaim that ‘this would be our best win of the season’ at the end of the third quarter after the Wolves had just tied the game, but he did elaborate on that comment.

“...The statement was more about ‘Relax, let’s get through this game and do what we’ve done for, pretty much, 30 minutes’” said Pierce. “Six minutes of (our) bad basketball, competitive basketball on their side is what got them back in but for 30 minutes we’ve been dominant. I just wanted them to relax going into the fourth quarter.”

This victory marked the Hawks’ fourth win in their last five games, the Hawks continuing their fine form but for Pierce it’s about the work that his side are putting in.

“Our statement all year is ‘Good days add up’,” said Pierce. “The wins are a testament to the work that we’re putting in. It’s not just about the wins, it’s about the work that we’re putting in. We’re shooting the ball really well of late and it’s because we’re putting in a lot of work, guys understand where they’re getting their shots and they’re spending time on it.

“As long as we’re competing, as long as we’re sharing the basketball, as long as we’re making multiple efforts, we’ll be fine. The wins and the results will come...win or loss, I feel like our guys have the right mindset right now.”

Fouls and Free throws

Another game, another game with a ton of fouls called and free throws.

In what was a very strangely called game by the officials, free throws were always going to be a factor — make or miss. The Wolves certainly seemed to benefit more from the tight whistle, shooting 38 free throws to Atlanta’s 20.

Fortunately for the Hawks, the Wolves couldn’t take advantage of the late holiday gifts they were receiving, shooting just 21-of-38 from the free throw line — 55%.

“I don’t know how many we missed amongst us,” Covington said of the Wolves’ free throw shooting. “Honestly, that’s the game right there.”

Karl-Anthony Towns got to the line on 15 occasions as the Hawks struggled to guard him at times (more on that later) and he only dispatched 10 of those but it was Andrew Wiggins who had a nightmare night at the line as he shot 5-of-12 from the line, including a stretch of 2-of-6 from the line in the final minute of regulation and the overtime period that followed.

I’m sure there will be plenty of Wolves fans who will pin this loss on Wiggins but the fact is everyone on the Wolves missed free throws at some point, something Towns was quick to point out in defense of his teammate.

“It’s not him,” said Towns of Wiggins’ missed free throws. “Whatever he missed, I missed five, too. It’s all our faults. You hit a free throw here or there, you put the game away.”

I don’t envy the officials’ jobs and it’s a hard, thankless job and I respect what they do but last night was a classic #RefShow and there were some bad, bad calls on both sides and both sides had their foul issues (Kent Bazemore in particular was incensed when he was called for his sixth foul).

Poor officiating aside, the Hawks are a team that commit a lot of fouls regardless, leading the league in fouls per game. Pierce has enjoyed what his side have done on the offensive end of late but wants to see his side commit less fouls.

“...The thing we have to keep focusing on is on the defensive end,” said Pierce. Defending without fouling, (and) we were fortunate that they missed a lot of free throws but we have to be better at defending without fouling, we have to be better of getting those loose rebounds when we do get stops and not giving them second chance opportunities.

“Offensively, I love the way we’re playing. We’ve played well offensively in the last couple games. We’re sharing the basketball, we’re making big shots, we’re creating open shots...”

Not a ton else to say in this spot other than free throws were key last night and the Wolves were not able to take advantage of the opportunities placed in front of them and they arguably lost this game because of it.

The first quarter and Alex Poythress

What was gotten lost in the madness that this game ended up becoming was that the Hawks enjoyed a mega first quarter, scoring a season-best 42 points in the opening quarter (the previous mark was produced against Miami on Nov. 3) as the offense just clicked right away,

The Hawks shot 66% from the field in the first quarter while also hitting six three-pointers as 11 of the Hawks 15 field goals in the first quarter were assisted (going back to what Pierce has said about the Hawks’ ball movement...).

However, with no Alex Len last night for the Hawks — and Omari Spellman notching a DNP-CD — they were short of bodies in the front-court and Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins both found themselves in foul trouble at the hands of Taj Gibson but mostly Karl-Anthony Towns.

Alex Poythress was the man called upon by Lloyd Pierce and he came in and made a great impact as he scored 12 points and was a plus-15 in the first period as the Hawks established their 16 point lead.

In his opening statement, the play of Alex Poythress in the first quarter was the first thing Pierce mentioned, identifying him as a key part of the Hawks’ 42 point quarter.

“I think the guy that deserves a lot of credit for really getting us going, 42 points in the first quarter, was Alex Poythress,” opened Pierce. “Both our bigs with two fouls early, just searching for bodies and he comes in with 12 points, his activity was great.”

Poythress had been playing well before his lengthy injury absence but has seemingly picked up where he left off. When you watch this team play, it’s clear to see that this team is better when Alex Poythress is a part of it and part of the rotation. Not that it will happen due to the nature of it, but Poythress should absolutely be receiving more minutes right now than Omari Spellman.

Alas...

Turnovers

We won’t spend long here but I only mention the Hawks’ 23 turnovers because Pierce had an interesting quote relating to the turnovers postgame that was worth sharing.

“Terrible,” said Pierce of the Hawks’ turnovers. “14 at the half, I think I showed eight of them (to the team) at the half as well...

“The biggest frustration with the turnovers are the repeat: it’s the same guys with the same turnovers. And it’s not just one person. Baze has his turnover issue in the same spot, Trae has his in the same spot, Kevin has his in the same spot. That’s an area we definitely have to mature in and grow in. The sacrificial side of ‘You don’t have to make that play when you get in the crowd, let’s get off of it and get someone else with the basketball to make the play. That’s the area you’re in trouble that we see, we’ve talked about. Let’s see if we can grow.’ That’s the frustrating part...”

Just another night where the Hawks committed 23 turnovers leading to 25 Minnesota points but an interesting quote from Pierce regarding the turnovers, which of course the Hawks lead the league in. Convincingly.


The Hawks (10-24) are back in action tonight at State Farm Arena where they take on the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Will they feel the effects of an overtime game on the second night of a back-to-back?

Probably, but time will tell...

Until then...