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Hawks fall short in frantic, season-ending loss to Pacers

A weird way to close out the season...

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks fell short in their season finale against the Indiana Pacers at State Farm Arena, 135-134.

Taurean Prince and Trae Young scored 23 points apiece while John Collins added a 20-20 game to his repertoire with 20 points and 25 rebounds.

“It’s bitter-sweet setting a career-high, but it being in a loss,” said Collins of his new career-high mark for rebounds. “Always nice to set a career-high though.”

For the Pacers — who rested everyone of significance before their playoff tilt against the Boston Celtics, locked into the 5-seed — T.J. Leaf scored 28 points while Tyreke Evans added 27 points.

It was strange game to end the season...and not exactly an interesting nor massively entertaining game as both teams just leaked points — it was a defensive horror show.

The Hawks were feasting on the glass — grabbing 22 offensive rebounds, scoring 33 second chance points — while the Pacers were exploiting the Hawks’ lack of transition defense (22 fastbreak points) and turnovers (scoring 25 points off of the Hawks’ 17 turnovers). Sometimes high scoring games aren’t entertaining, and this was the case with this one.

Though, there was an interesting moment in this game where Kyle O’Quinn was handed a flagrant 2 foul for this whack of the forearm on Trae Young in transition:

Now, I admit this looks bad live-action but I’m still of the opinion that this wasn’t that malicious. If he had decked Young to the ground, sure, I get it. It’s a flagrant foul, absolutely. Just surprised the officials tossed him for it. It seemed to get the struggling Young going somewhat though, scoring some quick baskets after this foul.

“Just seeing the ball go in…my shots weren’t falling tonight,” said Young of the afters of that O’Quinn foul. “Anytime you can get to the line and get easy buckets, you get points and see the ball go through the goal, it’s always good.”

Despite being down double-figures in the fourth quarter, the Hawks made a game of it and were trailing by just a point heading into the final minute where an awful lot happened as both teams went back forth, neither team able to produce consistent defensive stops (fittingly).

Young got things started as he gets to his spot in the paint very easily and rises into a floater to give the Hawks the lead again:

The Pacers, after a timeout, respond as Edmond Sumner drives, collapses the defense and finds T.J. Leaf, who finishes with the dunk to give the Pacers the lead again:

Next, Collins is doubled near the baseline but is somehow able to, somewhat fortuitous, squeeze an over-the-shoulder pass through a gap to Alex Len who finishes with the dunk to give the Hawks the lead again:

T.J. Leaf and Edmond Sumner link up again in the pick-and-roll but this time Sumner rises into a jumpshot and he gets the fortunate bounce to put the Pacers up:

The officials were not having the extravagance from Taurean Prince off of the Leaf screen...

The Hawks looked as though they had one foot firmly on the W after this play coming out of the timeout, Prince finding himself very open upon receiving the ball — freed up by a Collins screen — and taking the deep three-pointer and nailing it with 1.1 seconds remaining to put the Hawks up by two points:

With the Pacers needing a three to win, two to send the game to overtime, the Pacers go to Edmond Sumner in the corner out of the timeout who heaves a three but is clattered by DeAndre’ Bembry and the foul is called and the Pacers have an opportunity to win the game at the line:

“We had two options on that one,” said Pacers head coach Nate McMillan of the final play. “Edmond (Sumner) was the first option and Aaron (Holiday) was the second option, and Davon (Reed) needed to make the read. He got the ball to Ed, Ed came open, and he was able to get behind the line and get that shot off. I thought they were going to say the clock ran down, but he was able to get it off.”

A tough one from Bembry there, that is literally the last thing needed in that situation.

Despite shooting 46% from the line for the season, Sumner knocks all three free throws down and the Hawks, with no timeouts, have 0.4 seconds to go full court and make something happen but can do nothing with it and that was the game — one they had in their hand and, somehow, let slip.

Not the way the Hawks would’ve wanted to finish but for Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce, however, it was perfect, saying that the lesson is there for the Hawks and that there is a lot of work to be done.

“It was a perfect ending. A perfect ending. I can’t do anything but smile,” said Pierce in his opening statement. “It’s kind of the fun you have in sport. I thought our guys wanted to finish on a high note, and sometimes things don’t work out that way. The lesson in it is that we have a lot of work to do. Thirty (wins) is no magical number; it’s still about us being better as a young team and finding ways to win. It doesn’t matter who is on the other side- we have to continue to worry about ourselves.

“We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a long summer that we are going to be committed to. There’s a lot of sacrifice that our players and our staff -- we have to be very sacrificial in terms of committing to each other. We have to commit to getting better. Great first year in a lot of ways, but a long way to go.”

With it being the last game of the season, the focus tended to be a little more towards reflection of the season and looking ahead the summer (or, Sumner, if you will) rather than the game itself.

For Pierce, he wanted to establish an identity in his first season and he wanted his team to do it together.

“I wanted us to have an identity. I wanted to create a culture,” said Pierce of his takeaways from the season. “Those were home runs for us. I think our guys really enjoyed playing in the building and playing for this city and playing with each other. They enjoyed the work with our staff. They feel the support of our ownership and our management. We have an identity.

“We have a young, fabulous point guard, and an unbelievable talent in John (Collins). We have a young, versatile player in Kevin (Huerter). We saw both of our five-men shoot three’s at a high clip - Dewayne (Dedmon) and Alex (Len). We pulled the unthinkable by allowing Vince (Carter) to play in his 21st year and do what he was able to do. Taurean’s (Prince) been great shooting the basketball. DeAndre’ (Bembry) provides the most energy and sometimes that energy gets him in trouble.

“But, we have an identity where when we compete, we play hard. Our guys play for each other; they play with a lot of energy and a lot of passion. That was really the goal. I’m a new coach with a new staff, in a new city, with a lot of new players. We wanted to figure out what this first year was going to be like and the most important thing was for us to do it together. We can tweak and figure out the scheme and all of that, but we wanted to be together. That was the main part of our message from Day One.”

(Nice little friendly dig from Pierce to Bembry about his energy getting him in trouble, as we saw last night)

I think it’s safe to say Pierce and his staff succeeded in his efforts to establish a culture and an identity, and you can’t argue the fact that this Hawks team is tightly knit — they genuinely love playing together and for each other. I think the reflection in that is that despite having, technically, nothing to play for is that this side continued to keep playing hard and continued to revel in each other’s successes.

And it’s not just Pierce who can see the growth.

“Everyone saw the progression from the start of the year to the end of the year,” said John Collins. “The younger guys. The older guys showing us and learning. It takes time as you can see but it’s obviously paying off.”

The Hawks finish with a 29-53 record and while it 30-52 would’ve been a nice round number, it’s still a great way to finish the season despite starting 6-23 on the year. And despite the losing record, for the most part, this team was very fun to watch and they picked up some quality wins this year, including four wins against playoff teams after the All-Star break.

“...Sometimes we don’t see it in the results but for the staff and hearing the fans and some of the media, telling us ‘regardless of your record, it’s just a pleasure to watch’, said Vince Carter. “That’s refreshing for me just to see our growth, to see where we started when we were all over the place and just a mess, and we were able to put it together and be rather competitive against the best teams that we’re going to watch in the playoffs. We can sit at home and feel good about ourselves and the way we were able to play against some of the best.”

The Hawks should’ve added another playoff team to that tally of beaten playoff teams after the break, given the Pacers basically rested everyone but they honestly didn’t deserve to because the defense was just porous — they had conceded 109 points through three quarters, that’s not going to get it done even though, conversely, the Pacers themselves conceded 103 points through three quarters, although, that has more to do with the Pacers literally not being able to secure rebounds and the Hawks just boasted a physical advantage not only on the glass but on drives too.

The Hawks were just physically stronger.

Example, Bembry drives towards the rim and just bounces off of Edmond Sumner:

Another example, as Justin Anderson is able to have similar success, using his body to his advantage:

Alas... Not this time for the Hawks.

Still, the future is bright and this season, despite the record, can be considered a success — no one is going to remember this game in the grand scheme of things. Just a means to an end and the start of the beginning.

The Hawks (29-53) hold the fifth-worst odds in the league ahead of the draft lottery on May 14th. Chaos can only ensue from here...

Until next time...