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Hawks exact revenge on Bulls, Young controversially ejected

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The Hawks won but that was not the largest talking point of this game

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks were able to avenge their four overtime loss on the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on Sunday afternoon, 123-118.

Alex Len notched a season-high 28 points while the Bulls were led by Lauri Markkanen’s 19 points.

Let’s get into this one.

Young’s ejection

The Hawks won this game (and we’ll get to that) but the controversial talking point of this game was the ejection of Trae Young early in the third quarter.

Young’s first technical came when he and Kris Dunn were issued double techs after Young, kind of, brushes off Dunn before Dunn goes to shove Young:

Pretty soft technicals to issue from the refs — you can clearly see that that was a bunch of nothing.

Anyways, the third quarter arrives and the Hawks go up by 16 points after Trae Young notches his 18th point of the night with a three-pointer, looks toward the Bulls bench and is deemed to have taunted the Bulls and, thus, was issued a second technical foul and was ejected from the game:

“I hit a shot and looked ... I just looked. I didn’t really say anything,” said Young of the decision postgame, via Fox Sports Southeast.

Young didn’t have a ton to say about the decision at the time but took to social media after the game to add a few more thoughts.

The officials explained the decision to eject Young after the game.

So, there’s the viewpoint of the officials for both of the techs — it’s pretty weak, you have to say.

We’ll play devil advocate for a second here. The one thing you could say for the second technical is that Young probably spends too long looking at the bench with his hands on his hips, that’s probably the thing that’s stood out to the officials here — the fact he has both his hands on his hips and the duration of the stare. Gary Payton made a similar point too, saying that if Young hadn’t been still standing there with his hands on his hips by the time the officials turn around again, he wouldn’t have gotten a tech — which I think is a fair comment.

When you have technical foul already, you’re playing with fire and sometimes you get burned, sometimes you don’t.

Both locally and nationally, this became a big deal and I think everyone is in agreement that Young should not have been ejected from the game — even Kris Dunn.

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce — who, in the past, hasn’t minded when things have got chatty out on the court (the recent game against Detroit a good example of that) — didn’t think there was a lot in it.

“Just talking,” said Pierce on what he was told about the ejection. “He said he was talking, and it’s bothersome because it’s the NBA and guys talk. I didn’t think there was anything malicious that occurred, I don’t know if there was a warning that was given. It’s tough when the double tech occurred early and he gets a tech for, I guess, talking — I don’t know what was said, I don’t know who it was said to, I don’t know if there was something was said to him...”

As always, Pierce drew a learning experience from the situation for Young.

“I think it’s a great lesson for Trae,” continued Pierce. “Just the understanding of ‘These things are going to happen’. As well as you’re playing, you don’t want to bring attention to yourself. (If) You’re playing that well, your game is speaking for itself and sometimes you just have to let that occur. You want to have that balance, you want that swagger, you want that confidence and you want to be able to play the way he’s been playing. We don’t need to bring additional noise but I don’t mind. I don’t mind guys talking. It’s sport. I played, I know what it’s like. If you’re rolling, you want to let everyone know about it.”

Holding on

I think nearly everyone agrees that Young shouldn’t have been ejected but that wasn’t changing the officials’ minds and Young was gone. The game had to go on and it was a game the Hawks were leading by 15 points after Markkanen makes the technical free throw with a lot of time — basically the entire second half — left to play.

You wondered, ‘Could the Hawks get it done without Young?’

Things didn’t look great for the Hawks as the Bulls quickly dug into the lead, cutting it down to five points. The Hawks then responded to take the lead back up to 11 but a 6-0 run by the Bulls took the lead back down to five points to end the third quarter.

Then came one of the most important runs of the game — the run to begin the fourth quarter.

Having had their lead cut to five points to end the third quarter, without Young and down on bodies (more on that later) you just had the feeling that the Bulls would be able to close this out. But the Hawks opened the fourth quarter with a 8-2 run to push the lead back to 11 points to swing the matter back into their favor.

This forced the Bulls to battle uphill with another double-digit deficit lead to overcome. They spent a good chunk of the fourth quarter trying to do just that, to really no avail for a while (the Hawks keeping the gap, generally speaking, between 7-10 points) but that was until Antonio Blakeney was able to string a few buckets together and the Bulls were able to string a few stops and cut the lead to three points with a Robin Lopez bucket.

After a pair of Markkanen free throws cut the Hawks’ lead to one point, what was arguably the biggest basket of the game came via Kevin Huerter, his floater in the lane putting the Hawks up by three points with just under a minute remaining.

The clock ticked on and Kris Dunn — who the Hawks allowed to shoot away when he was open all night — was allowed a three-point attempt with 21 seconds left which misses and the Hawks call a timeout, leading by three.

After the timeout, the Bulls fouled Kevin Huerter, who missed both free throws to ice the game, leaving the door open for the Bulls.

The Bulls use their last timeout and get a pretty decent looking shot with Lauri Markkanen (who had struggled all night with his shot, shooting 6-of-21) but his three-point shot falls short:

The Bulls are forced to foul again and things got a little nervy when Kent Bazemore missed his first free throw but hit the second one to — finally — put the Hawks up by four points.

The Hawks decided to intentionally foul the Bulls rather than allow them to attempt a three-pointer, sending Zach LaVine to the free throw line. LaVine hits the first, intentionally misses the second one but Alex Len is able to secure the rebound:

It seemed (very) odd that the Bulls intentionally missed the free throw but didn’t have Robin Lopez in the game to get the rebound but apparently this was due to a misunderstanding between LaVine and Bulls head coach Jim Boylen.

But the Hawks had done enough and survived to exact revenge for the 4OT game on Friday night, doing it without Trae Young for the vast majority of the second half.

It wasn’t pretty at times (especially down the stretch, particularly for the Hawks as the Bulls came back) but it was enough.

“As we saw on Friday, the game doesn’t stop until the last buzzer goes off,” said Pierce postgame. “We missed a bunch of free throws down the stretch and they were able to get a couple of possessions. More importantly, we were able to get the stops after. It’s never going to be pretty. You just want to be able to finish with the W and we did.”

‘Next man up’

It was very much a case of ‘The Walking Wounded’ for the Hawks heading into this game — no John Collins (still out with flu-like symptoms), no Taurean Prince (personal reasons), no Omari Spellman (ruled out for four weeks with that ankle injury) and obviously no Miles Plumlee (though, perhaps everyone can expect to see Plumlee back sooner rather than later).

The Hawks — coming off of the back of a four overtime game on Friday and starting on a Sunday afternoon — entered with just 11 players available, including recent 10-day addition B.J. Johnson.

The pregame message from Pierce was ‘next man up’ and that became the case tenfold when Young was ejected but even before then, the Hawks were stepping up.

It was basically a nine-man rotation in the second half after Young’s ejection and Vince Carter only played four minutes in the second half, 12 minutes in total.

Alex Len — inserted into the starting lineup in place of Collins and Spellman — was one, as he scored a season-high 28 points including nine points in the first quarter and 17 in the first half.

Similarly to Len, Jaylen Adams also enjoyed a very positive first quarter as he hit three three-pointers in the opening frame off of the bench to give the Hawks a boost as they scored 35 first quarter points.

Adams obviously played a key role after Young’s ejection, finishing with a career-high 14 points and four assists, including this lovely set up for Dewayne Dedmon:

“...Jaylen Adams stepped up, made huge plays,” said Trae Young postgame.

“...I know he (Trae Young) is happy for Jaylen (Adams),” said Pierce. “They’ve been together since Day One. He’s our fourth rookie. We didn’t draft him but we brought him on a two-way and he’s been elevated to a rotation spot and had his career-high tonight. He’s part of that class and Trae is excited for him.”

10-day signing B.J. Johnson made his debut and made an instant impact, scoring 11 points, hitting all four of his shots including 3-of-3 on his threes.

All in all, the Hawks received production from everywhere as seven players — including all five starters — scored in double digits, without key contributors like Collins and Prince (and obviously Young for most of the second half). The bench came in and helped the starters, by scoring 51 points. The Hawks moved the ball well (30 assists) and limited their turnovers, committing just 13 on the game.

Unsurprisingly, Lloyd Pierce was happy with his group postgame.

“Excited for our guys,” said Pierce. “Alex Len gets the start, plays 27 minutes, gets 28 points, five threes. Jaylen Adams steps in when Trae goes out and he gets his career-high. DeAndre’ Bembry takes Trae’s role and gets seven assists, so I’m excited for all of those guys in the locker-room. We’re still 5-for-5 on the year with our 10-days (contracts). B.J. Johnson comes in and plays his first ever NBA game and goes 4-for-4. That’s the making of a team that really likes playing together and sharing the basketball and has a great spirit and energy in there — 30 assists with your top two players out. I’m really happy for those guys.”

You can understand why Pierce was elated with his group — coming off of a 4OT game on Friday night, quick turnaround ahead of a Sunday afternoon game against the team you just played with limited bodies.

“It’s tiring,” said Pierce of facing the Bulls again so soon after Friday night. “Mainly because it’s an afternoon game and those are always a little different. But you go into it with a playoff feel. We knew there was going to be attention to Trae in the pick-and-rolls and we were going to pay attention to LaVine in some of the second-side dribble hand-offs that he and Lopez were running late in the overtime periods last game — we had our adjustment ready. It’s good to educate our guys on that feels and looks like.”

Three-point shooting

It goes without saying that without the Hawks’ three-point shooting last night, they don’t win this game, despite the efforts of your Len’s, Adams’, B.J. Johnson’s etc.

The Hawks shot 21-of-42 from distance compared to Chicago’s 8-of-27, outscoring the Bulls 63-24 with the long-ball.

Even in the opening exchanges the difference between the two teams shooting the three-pointer was what kept the Hawks ahead for as long as they were — the Bulls lead briefly in the first quarter and once the Hawks re-took the lead they never lost it again, and the three-pointer was a huge reason as to why they were able to emerge on top.

Alex Len led the way with five threes, Jaylen Adams hit four while B.J. Johnson and Trae Young both hit three three-pointers.

With so many players on the Hawks capable of hitting threes, it makes them tough to guard and Jim Boylen was left to lament that fact postgame.


The Hawks (22-42) are back in action tonight as they take on the Miami Heat at the American Airlines Arena, against a side that are attempting to break into the playoffs and have already lost 3 games to the Hawks this season.

Should be fun.

Until next time...