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Hawks triumph over Bucks behind stellar clutch performance

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The Hawks were up against it and pulled off a win over the Bucks on a Sunday afternoon.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks triumphed over the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday afternoon as they topped the Eastern Conference’s — and NBA’s — No. 1 team in a 136-135 victory at State Farm Arena

Trae Young will grab the headlines with his late heroics (more on that later) but three Hawks players scored 20 or more points as Justin Anderson poured out a season-high of 24 points to go with 12 rebounds, John Collins and Alex Len both added 23 points.

For the Bucks, seven of their eight available players (more on that later) scored in double-digits with Sterling Brown leading a career-high 27 points.

The stretch and overtime — Young pulls through

Straight off the bat: this was a super weird game.

The Bucks were down on bodies but ran out to a 29-9 lead and scored 43 points in the first period, leading 43-26 after one quarter.

The Bucks hit 10 three-pointers in the first quarter and assisted on 13 of their 14 field goals and this, as you would imagine, helped create significant separation between themselves and the Hawks, who struggled from behind the arc to begin this one, shooting 5-of-15 from behind the arc in the opening period.

The Hawks showed some signs of life to end the first quarter and that continued into the second quarter, as the two sides basically reversed fortunes — the Bucks struggled from three (3-of-11) and the Hawks ignited (8-of-17) and clawed their way back (DeAndre’ Bembry playing a key role in the Hawks’ comeback in the quarter as he scored five points, three assists, a block and a steal in the quarter) and, somehow, found themselves only trailing by three points at the break.

“You have to stay on an even keel. Can’t get too high, can’t get too low,” said Justin Anderson. “It’s the NBA. It’s a game of runs. They came out burning hot. Coach (Lloyd Pierce) emphasized at the beginning of the game that we only had around 20 assists the last few games. He said we have to get back to playing like when we had 30. We had (36) tonight. We listened to the game plan in that sense and we moved the ball. Once we started to settle in, we started to hit shots.”

Fast forward to the final quarter and the Bucks looks as though they’re in control, leading by 10 points with 6:54 remaining but the Hawks respond with an immediate 7-0 run to pull within three points.

This was a key stretch of the game where if the Hawks don’t make this immediate response, they probably don’t win this game.

Kevin Huerter responds instantly to the double-digit deficit with a nice three-pointer in the corner after the fake to shed the defender:

The Hawks turn defense to offense as Deyonta Davis blocks George Hill’s jumpshot and the Hawks come the other way, and Young finds Davis to reward the defensive play, Davis finishes at the rim:

And to cap off that 7-0 run, John Collins may or may not have called bank on this jumper from the foul line:

Nothing earth shattering by any means but a vital run to get the Hawks back into this game.

But despite that, the Bucks looked like they had seized control back for themselves when they took a five point lead with just over a minute to go, leading to a Hawks timeout.

Out of the timeout, Len scores a quick two for the Hawks as the opportunity to drive opens up for him and takes it to Brook Lopez for the runner off of glass:

Both Len and Lopez took it to each other at times, I think both enjoyed the physicality.

From the inbounds pass after that bucket, Justin Anderson tails around to poke the ball loose from Sterling Brown and the Hawks regain possession, with the play eventually leading to Bembry earning and shooting two free throws:

After Bembry made both free throws, Pat Connaughton restored Milwaukee’s three point lead with a big put-back dunk with 30 seconds to go, leading to a Hawks timeout.

Out of which, John Collins misses a corner three, the Bucks are unable to secure the rebound, Young finds Len behind the arc for a three, which he duly shoots over Hill to tie the game:

Big shot from Len there — no overtime period and no Young heroics if that three doesn’t go down. It’s a completely different narrative on Young’s game if this shot doesn’t go down. Instead of hitting the game-winner, it’s a 3-of-15 night for Young.

With two timeouts in pocket, the Bucks elect not to call one and push with Sterling Brown, whose shot is short, the Hawks gather the rebound and time expires — overtime:

Not the best play and the obvious question is ‘Why didn’t Budenholzer call a timeout’, which is fair, but sometimes teams like to play straight on and try and catch the defense out as they get back, rather than give them a chance to set up coming out of a timeout. So, you can understand why the Bucks didn’t use a timeout in that instance.

Hindsight is 20-20.

Overtime arrives and, again, it’s the Bucks who look as though they have done enough — taking a five point lead with 1:16 remaining.

Out of the timeout, John Collins links up with Trae Young in the pick-and-roll for the dunk to cut the lead to two:

After a missed three from Tim Frazier, Young sets up Alex Len for one of his seemingly many baseline dunks, with Ilyasova attempting to take the charge on Young:

The Bucks called for time after this dunk, and after a missed shot from Sterling Brown, Young looked as though he had won the game as he negotiated the traffic to eventually stick home a baseline floater with six seconds remaining:

Sterling Brown missed a few shots in the fourth and in overtime but hit what looked to be a game-winner for the Bucks as he escapes the clutches of DeAndre’ Bembry for the drive to rim for the score with 1.1 seconds remaining:

It was only befitting of this game that there was one more twist to the tale of this mad game and it was delivered by Young, who tips in Lopez’s knock-away at the buzzer as the Hawks attempted to find Collins at the rim:

On the whole, you’d have to say this was pretty poor coming out of the timeout from the Hawks in retrospect — to attempt to find an opportunity at the rim with a seven-footer planted in front of the rim and in front of Collins without any off-ball screens/cuts to free something up going to the rim was strange (and no one will care, obviously) — but what about the finish from Young?

It lands in his left hand and he quickly switches to his right hand and get the shot off before the buzzer...truly a tremendous piece of co-ordination and skill to accomplish that in the time he had...

It was a crazy end to a crazy game, not your normal Sunday matinee.

Of the final play itself, it was really a case of hoping Collins could create something with his athleticism, as Piece described the final play.

“We were just trying to get something at the rim with only one second left on the clock so it’s tough to get a catch and shoot,” said Pierce. “And they (Bucks) did, they disrupted the play and Trae just ends up being a little more alert than everyone else on the court and he gets the tip back and goes in. But we were just trying to get something. John is our best athlete. We were just trying to get him at the rim and see if he could create something with a second on the clock, maybe a tip, a lob, or just be able to catch it and go up.”

Pierce would refer to the finish as a ‘Hail Mary’ and acknowledge that sometimes it’s not what you draw up that ends up working out.

“That was an interesting afternoon game, overtime and kind of a Hail Mary finish by Trae (Young),” said Pierce in his opening statement postgame. “It was a good win, 36 assists, the guys come out and fight and compete. You see Justin Anderson get inserted into Taurean’s role and have an unbelievable game and Alex Len hits a big three to tie it up. It’s not the way we all draw them up but sometimes that’s just kind of how it works and guys step up and make plays.”

When you look at the play, it initially looked like it could’ve been something for Young, with Collins setting a screen on Young’s defender but Sterling Brown was there to cover any open Young catch-and-shoot opportunity that may have occurred. As Pierce said, the play was always for Collins but Young knew that Lopez going to try and tip the ball out and hoped it would fall into his lap — it did that and so much more.

“That last play was drawn up for John,” said Young of the final play. “I knew it was probably going to get tipped because Lopez was right there and I knew he was going to try to tip it out. For me, I just wanted to come back to the ball and hopefully it would come back to me so I could get a shot off really quick.”

“It was another play for me to get it over the top,” said Collins. “You saw Brook hit it away and then Trae was in the right spot, at the right time. Excellent touch, game winner.”

Young had a tough start and didn’t shoot the ball well (shooting 5-of-19 from the field) but the hit the ones that mattered the most.

“It was a little bit funky with him because his shot was off and then at the end, he just started slicing their defense wide open which I felt like he could’ve been doing more all game,” said Collins of Young’s game. “I feel like he found it at the perfect time, which his play has been coming together all at the right time. The way he’s playing…two big time shots. What can I say? He’s clutch.”

For the Bucks and their side of things, they looked like they wanted to throw this game away at times — incredible how they let so many leads and opportunities slip late on, despite their lack of bodies. They were right there to win this game, and they should have despite their lack of depth.

After starting out so hot, things really just fell away after that first quarter...

Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer was proud of the effort of his side but couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed to have lost at the buzzer.

“Really proud of the guys, how they competed today,” said Budenholzer. “We did a lot of things different, a lot of different combinations. It’s tough to lose on a tip-in at the buzzer...”

Budenholzer was obviously involved in the first year of the Hawks’ rebuild and Trae Young came after he had departed for cheesier pastures in Wisconsin but did praise Young postgame and seemed pleased with the defensive job on him from his Bucks side, deploying a zone.

“There is no doubt that Trae is having a great rookie year,” said Budenholzer. “I don’t really watch much of the other teams, regardless of who it is. He made big shots to kind of put an end to the game, but I thought our guys did a nice job on him overall tonight and made it kind of difficult on him out of the zone look. But certainly a good young player and the league is in good hands with young players like him.”

Young’s shooting wasn’t ideal but did finish with 16 assists on the night with just one turnover to his name and enjoyed what Pierce referred to as a good ‘floor game.’

“You play until the horn sounds,” said Pierce of Young’s baskets in crunch time. “The balance of the numbers always find a way to even out. He (Trae Young) got two looks by just being crafty and being in the right spot and both of them went down. I thought he played a great floor game, he wasn’t making shots... but any mistake they made he was able to find guys. So it doesn’t matter, as long as he’s on the court and the horn hasn’t sounded, he’s going to keep shooting with confidence.”

The win was a bit of a controversial one given that the Hawks and Mavericks are close in the standings, and obviously there’s the connection between the two teams with draft picks etc. but with the Mavericks winning in Oklahoma City, it means the Hawks and the fans can enjoy this one that little bit more.

The Hawks understand the position they’re in with the lottery and draft selections but they’re still going to play hard.

“For us, we know where we stand,” said Young. “We know we have a chance to get a high draft pick, a really good player. But for us, all we’re focused on is playing well and still attacking and being aggressive and playing the right way.”

Obviously, if the Bucks play even one of their rested starters, it’s a different story. So, big picture, they really didn’t care about this game. The big test for them comes in Brooklyn tomorrow at Barclays Center.

The Hawks won’t care, they play who’s in front of them — it’s another playoff team to add their list of wins.

“It just shows the growth of our team and the maturity that we’ve all gone through this year, and how exciting the future is here,” said Trae Young of another win versus a playoff team.

Lineup bonanza

Part of the weirdness to this game was that both teams were pretty banged/resting players, leading to odd combinations and minute loads for both sides.

The Hawks started with Justin Anderson in place of the injured Taurean Prince, who was sidelined in addition to Omari Spellman, Alex Poythress, Miles Plumlee and now Dewayne Dedmon, who it was announced earlier would miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury.

On the Milwaukee side, it was a bit of a tougher going.

In addition to already missing Pau Gasol, Donte DiVincenzo, Nikola Mirotic and Malcolm Brogdon to injury, the Bucks — on the first night of a back-to-back (they play Brooklyn on Monday) decided to rest Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Tony Snell and Eric Bledsoe (though, Bledsoe was technically available to play).

Their starting five was an interesting combination — Tim Frazier, Sterling Brown, D.J. Wilson, Bonzie Colson and Brook Lopez. There will be some people you know in that lineup, some you won’t.

The ‘trap game’ scenario was very real and while the Hawks avoided it, they found it tough to focus coming out of the gate.

“It was a real weird game,” said Collins. “I think they only had seven or eight active guys so it was sort of tough for us to be mentally prepared, we weren’t ready for that zone. But like I said and we saw today, we had a lot of fight today and fought back and pushed it to overtime. And ‘Ice Trae’ did his thing.”

With just eight players featuring the Bucks, minutes were high across the board, with Tim Frazier literally playing every second of this game — the full 53 minutes. No matter what side you’re on, that’s incredible.

According to Pierce postgame, the Bucks’ zone defense (which was a big reason for Young’s struggles and the same reason why Anderson, Collins and Len all thrived) limited their defensive movement physically, allowing for Frazier to do what he did.

“The zone allows them to not move as much defensively and have to chase guys around,” said Pierce. “When you’re playing someone (Tim Frazier) those type of minutes, it allows him to not work as hard. We can’t put him in any action because he’s just going to stay in his area in the zone. The biggest thing we can do is make them work on the offensive end, and I thought our guys were pretty good with switching. They played small most of the game and we had to switch even with our big guys. So, if Tim is trying to guard or trying to go by John or Alex or Deyonta, he’s got to work to do so and it’s the best way we can make him work if he’s going to play 53 minutes.”

Let’s talk some Justin Anderson, seems like a good time.

Anderson started in place of Prince and enjoyed his best game of the season as he scored a season-high 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field, 4-of-8 from three to go along with 12 rebounds, three assists and a steal in 31 minutes of play.

Anderson is obviously capable of bringing the defense, so anything offensively he can bring to the table is huge for the Hawks, especially in place of Prince.

Anderson was able to provide a spark on both ends, coming with big plays like his three-point shooting but also his willingness to put his body on the line and take a charge:

Anderson has not seen a ton of consistent minutes this season but is a very popular locker-room guy and everyone was delighted to see Anderson excel on the court, Pierce crediting Anderson for ‘setting the tone’.

“He set the tone,” said Pierce of Anderson. “The first basket of the game was him getting it off a rebound. I think he had five for the game. That’s just effort, that’s his effort, his engine. He played with that effort all game and obviously he was able to knock down some three’s on top of it. But that was him stepping up and that’s what you want when you have a guy out and your number gets called... he stepped in and provided a nice opportunity tonight.”

Anderson didn’t get too caught up in his own personal game but spoke of the importance of being ready and the high team spirit.

“It’s very important to stay ready,” said Anderson. “With my position in the league, I just want to be that glue guy, I want to be the guy who plays harder than everyone else and works my butt off every day, coming in and doing my preparation. It’s easy to take the credit on a night like this. I know I’m playing with the rookie of the year in Trae Young, just being able to be out there and be ready to catch-and-shoot, it’s almost like target practice ... The credit goes to my teammates, more than anything. Those guys are encouraging me, on the court, on the bench. It’s no better feeling having a team where everyone likes each other and you’re pushing for each other. This team is trending in the right direction and I’m just glad that we, once again, came out on top.”

Elsewhere in the rotation — just as a quick recap — it was a tough night for Kent Bazemore (2-of-11 shooting), Vince Carter struggled too with his shooting (3-of-11) while Jaylen Adams enjoyed a decent game with eight points and it was a better game of Deyonta Davis.

John Collins had a good night with his double-double but also produced some great blocks too, coming up with three of them on the night — these are worth giving special mention.

Some real bangers in here, like this on the alley-oop denial:

On the recovery as Wilson slips to the basket, Collins is able to retrieve this play and deny a certain two-points:

Here, Collins has to come over as the help defender after the Lopez roll leaves Len out of the play:

Some really good blocks in here from Collins. We (collectively) know that he isn’t a hugely proficient shot-blocker but he has been blocking a few more shots of late (1.7 blocks over his last 10 games, 0.6 blocks per game on the season) but if this trend continues and can continue into next season, this would a big win for the Hawks — he doesn’t have to be a lockdown defender but even to just be able to rotate and block a few more shots in help situations... It’s certainly an area of improvement of late for Collins.

Three-point barrage: Extreme edition

If you don’t like the ‘modern NBA’ then this wasn’t the game for you.

Both sides like to get up a lot of threes (second and third respectively in total threes attempted per game, the Bucks edging the Hawks for second) but this game took it to a new level.

The Bucks ended up attempting 55 three-pointers while the Hawks attempted 61 threes as both combined for an NBA season-high and NBA record of 116, eclipsing the most in a game this season (106 attempts were had between the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets in January). The overtime period helped buff that stat out somewhat but even in regulation both teams laid waste to the previous season-high.

Blame the zone.

Despite hitting 10 threes in the opening period, the Bucks shot 7-of-37 for the remainder of the game and ended up finishing just a hair over 30% from three-point land in the end.

Conversely, the Hawks hit 17 three-pointers after the first quarter and went on to finish with a tied season-high of 22 threes, a total they’ve hit on a number of occasions this season — also serving as a franchise-record.

Barring Deyonta Davis, the minimum number of attempts from three from a Hawk was five, with the majority of the team attempting six three-pointers at the very least.

61 three-pointers isn’t an every-game occurrence but shooting the three is, and the Hawks rank second in the league in attempted threes since the All-Star break, attempting over 42 per game while making just under 37% — not too shabby.

Turnovers

A brief mention about turnovers, the Achilles heel of the 2018-19 Atlanta Hawks, leading the league in turnovers by far, yada yada, we all know the story here — no need to go into too much detail.

But last night was arguably the best night for the Hawks of the season with turnovers as the Hawks tied a season-best effort with just nine turnovers on the night.

Seven of these turnovers came in the first half, leaving just two turnovers for the entire second half and the overtime period. This is a big deal for the Hawks, who not only leak turnovers but leak points off of said turnovers.

The Hawks have seen a big turnaround in turnovers per game since the break, ranking just 21st in the league in turnovers per contest at 14.2. That may not sound amazing but considering this team and where they were, I’d say that’s a big achievement.

Even if you’re against the idea of the Hawks winning games at this point of the season (which is fair), you can’t deny they aren’t ending things on a good note and setting thins up nicely for next season.


The Hawks (28-49) are back in action on Tuesday in San Antonio where they’ll face the Spurs in their last Western Conference road game of the season and their last tilt against a Western Conference opponent.

Should be fun.

Until next time...