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Vince Carter plays hero as Hawks pull off close-fought win over Cavs

Hawks have won 5 out of 6 after starting the season 6-23.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Atlanta Hawks Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of Kent Bazemore exiting the game with an early second half injury, Vince Carter saved the day with a season high 21 points, including 17 in the second half, leading the Atlanta Hawks to a 111-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. After the Hawks started the season 6-23, they have now won five of their last six games. The win over a short-handed Cavs’ team may be the least impressive win of the bunch in a vacuum, but a young team playing on short rest will certainly take the win however it comes.

After the game, Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce acknowledged it wasn’t the most attractive victory.

“Good win, we’ll take it, wasn’t pretty,” Pierce said. “I just thought it was a gritty back-to-back win” adding “we didn’t play our best basketball but we found a way to win.”

Pierce credited Carter’s vital role in the game. After joking about Carter seeming to turn 25 years old, he added, ‘Season high 21 points, comes up with a big rebound, knocks in two free throws...I have no idea how he does it...but we needed everything that he had tonight.”

Unsurprisingly, Carter downplayed his contributions, saying “I was just doing my job, more so than anything, just glad to do what I’m asked to do.”

“More than anything,” Carter added. “I just wanted to bring the energy. I’m not the youngest guy, but I want to play the hardest. Hopefully, playing that way is contagious for our team.”

Playing at home one night after an overtime victory on the road in Minnesota, the Hawks got off to a sloppy start. Five quick points from Cedi Osman helped Cleveland jump out to a 9-2 lead. In spite of turnovers and poor shooting early in the game, the Hawks attacked the offensive glass to keep the game close. Still, five early offensive rebounds from Alex Len and John Collins weren’t enough to slow down the Cavs’ early momentum.

Pierce inserted Jeremy Lin into the game earlier than usual replacing Trae Young just three and a half minutes into the game. It would be hard to pin the rough start on Young alone though his short rotation resulted in no points on two field goal attempts and a turnover with no assists. Six consecutive points by Larry Nance, Jr. and a layup by Alec Burks forced Pierce to take a timeout with the Hawks trailing 17-8 with 3:40 left in the opening period.

After the timeout, Young returned and John Collins attacked the basket on consecutive possessions drawing fouls on both. On the first, he split a pair of free throws. On the second, he converted and old-fashioned three point play pulling the Hawks within five at 17-12.

A 6-2 Cavs run pushed Cleveland’s lead back to ten before Young found his rhythm using a long two pointer and a layup to get on the board. After two free throws from Jordan Clarkson, the Hawks’ finished the quarter in highlight reel fashion.

Collins followed up a Justin Anderson miss with a monster put-back dunk with 1.8 seconds left. DeAndre’ Bembry then stole the in-bounds pass and made a three pointer at the buzzer to pull the Hawks within three at 26-23.

The Hawks built on the momentum as they opened the second quarter with a 7-2 run. Young found Alex Len for an easy layup giving the Hawks their first lead at 30-28. Cavs’ coach Larry Drew used a timeout hoping to get his team back on track.

After the Cavs’ timeout, the teams traded baskets for several minutes resulting in a 43-41 Hawks’ lead with 5:52 to play in the half. The Hawks then found another gear and turned up the effort on both ends of the floor. Back-to-back alley oops to Len, one from Bazemore and one from Young, were followed by back to back threes, one by Lin and one by Kevin Huerter, and that pair accounted for a 10-0 Hawks run, putting Atlanta up 53-41.

The Cavs used several trips to the free throw line to shave the Hawks’ lead to 57-51 heading to halftime. Osman, Collin Sexton and Nance all reached double figures in the first half scoring 32 of the Cavs’ 51 points.

After making just twelve of their first sixteen field goal attempts, with four turnovers as well, the Hawks’ shot 20/33 with only two turnovers over the final 15:20 minutes of the first half. Len led the Hawks in the first half with twelve points and Collins added eight points and seven rebounds.

After the early timeout by Pierce, the Hawks changed their approach by being much more aggressive and attacking the paint. By the end of the first half, the Hawks outscored Cleveland 34-16 in the paint. In addition, several of the Hawks’ perimeter shots came on kick out passes after getting the ball into the lane.

Though Young struggled and made an early exit in the first quarter, he played much better after he returned. In his second rotation, Young made all three of his field goal attempts scoring seven points with four assists, zero turnovers and a +15 in the box score during that stretch.

Pierce talked about Young’s play after the quick hook in the first quarter specifically addressing how Young is handling the trapping double teams he is facing right now. “It’s a compliment...If their gonna blitz every pick and roll that he is in,

Three minutes into the second half, Bazemore was fouled, made one of two free throws but exited the game with an ankle injury and did not return. The Hawks led 62-58 when Bazemore left but another five quick points from Osman gave the Cavs their first lead since early in the second period. Pierce again used a timeout to get his team reorganized.

Shortly after the timeout, the Carter heroics began as he made a three to tie the game at 65-65 ending a 14-5 Cavs’ run. Two possessions later, he made another three to put the Hawks up 70-67 at the mid-point of the third quarter.

Cleveland hit the skids scoring just seven points on 3/13 shooting over the final six minutes of the quarter as the Hawks built a 84-74 lead by the end of the period. After the Cavs’ 14-5 run, the Hawks outscored Cleveland 22-9 over the final 8:03 of the third quarter including ten points from Carter who made three three’s in the period.

Alex Poythress put the Hawks up 93-82 with a beautiful spin move and layup with 8:53 to play in the game but the Cavs refused to let the game get out of hand. Four different scorers paced a quick 7-0 Cavs’ run to pull Cleveland within four at 93-89 with 6:20 to play. Then Carter struck again.

Carter scored on a dunk assisted by a beautiful bounce pass from Huerter. He then answered a Clarkson three with another three of his own to put the Hawks up 98-92. Back to back scores by the Cavs cut the lead to two but Sexton gave the Hawks a gift by fouling Young on a three point attempt. He made all three foul shots to put the Hawks up by five then made a three on the next possession to put the Hawks up by six.

The Hawks’ shooting then went cold as the Cavs used a 8-2 eventually tying the game on a Sexton free throw, though the Hawks were fortunate the Cavs missed three free throws during that run. As they did all night, the Hawks found production on the offensive glass. Collins made a put-back layup to put the Hawks up 108-106 with 47.9 seconds to play.

One the next Cavs’ possession, the Hawks stole a Cavs’ baseline in-bounds pass then advanced the ball to the front court when Pierce called a timeout with 30.3 second to play and 19 seconds on the shot clock. After the timeout, Young missed a long three but Burks fouled Bembry on the rebound.

At the line, Bembry rattled the first one in but missed the second leaving the Cavs down three with 12.5 seconds remaining. The Cavs used a time out to set a play hoping to tie the game.

After the timeout, Clarkson missed a three that was well defended by Huerter. Carter collected the rebound for the Hawks then hit two free throws to put the Hawks up 111-106 with 6.1 seconds left. A layup by Burks near the buzzer ending the game with the Hawks victorious 111-108.

Carter’s season high of 21 points was the result of 7/11 shooting including 4/7 from behind the arc. Young finished the game with 21 points and 9 assists. Collins added 14 points in 12 rebounds.

Cleveland was passed by Osman with 22 points. Nance was terrific in a losing effort posting 18 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists. Sexton finished with 18 points and six assists while Burks and Clarkson scored 17 and 15 respectively.

One night after having some challenging moments but delivering in the clutch in the win over Minnesota, Young had his early struggles but ultimately delivered again.

“I think I was just going a little too fast early on,” Young said in reflecting on his early exit and subsequent play. “When I came back in, I was doing a way better job of controlling the game and playing at a better pace.”

For the second night in a row, Poythress was a key contributor. The third-year player playing on a two-way contract delivered twelve points and five rebounds on Friday night versus the Timberwolves, most coming in the first quarter when pressed into action by Hawks’ starters getting into early foul trouble.

In the win over Cleveland, with Dewayne Dedmon and Omari Spellman unavailable, Poythress again played a key role off the bench delivering eleven points and three rebounds in 15:48 of action.

“Alex’s activity has been great,” Pierce said of Poythress. “It was obviously great yesterday in the first quarter and he had some moments tonight as well.

The Hawks return to action on Monday afternoon for a New Year’s Eve tilt in Indiana. The game against the Pacers will kick off a three game road trip and a stretch during which the Hawks play seven of eight games on the road, all versus Eastern Conference opponents including the four teams atop the conference standings.