The Atlanta Hawks returned to winning ways on Sunday evening, knocking off the New York Knicks (who entered last night’s game on the heels of a four-game winning streak) in a thrilling affair that went the distance — and some— 140-135 in double-overtime.
Trae Young led all scorers with 48 points and 13 assists while John Collins added 32 points and 16 rebounds.
The Knicks — playing on the second night of a back-to-back — were led by Julius Randle’s 35 points and 18 rebounds. Reggie Bullock added 21 points.
Right, let’s break this one down, shall we, starting with the fourth quarter?
Hawks blow big fourth quarter lead
Before we get to the overtime periods, let’s talk about regulation.
The Hawks had done almost everything right heading into the fourth quarter.
They had overcome an early 15-point deficit in the first half, took care of the basketball (committing just two turnovers in the first half, tying a season-best showing for turnovers in a half), and John Collins and Trae Young were rolling. The Hawks had also built a 12-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and ran that up to 16 points inside the first minute of the fourth quarter.
Things were going well, you might say, but this did not last.
The Knicks chipped away at the lead — three three-pointers from Wayne Ellington certainly helped — and just as the half-way point in the final frame crossed, the Knicks had cut it all the way back to four points.
The Knicks mostly made jumpshots to get back into this game and it’s where the majority of their fourth quarter scoring was done. They were allowed shots that you might lean and say were a bit too easy.
Frank Ntilikina handles on this possession, while Wayne Ellington sets the screen on John Collins. Collins tries to get through it and Kevin Huerter decided to stay with Ellington, leaving Bobby Portis open for a three-pointer:
Ellington was probably fortunate not to have an offensive foul called on him for his high forearm but in that situation Huerter has to switch onto Portis if he sees Collins struggling as he is to get through.
Here, Ntilikina operates the pick-and-roll with Randle. Randle’s screen takes Trae Young out of the equation and so it’s up to John Collins to contain Ntilikina, however, the contest (if you could call it that) is half-hearted and Ntilikina gets, effectively, gets a look at an uncontested jumpshot which he hits:
After Wayne Ellington had just hit a contested three, he hits his third three-pointer of the quarter as the Knicks work the ball, and with Trae Young starting this defensive possession on the ground, the Hawks can’t recover from a lack of numbers:
On the out of bounds play, again, the Knicks get a look at an uncontested shot which is converted this time by Randle:
When Portis sets the screen on Collins on that play, Damian Jones has to get out to Randle there, he just has to.
To get the Knicks to four points... Look, Mitchell Robinson is an active player and a threat on the glass, but Jones has to do a better job to boxout in this spot:
Fast-forwarding to the latter stages of the quarter, a Mitchell Robinson dunk cut the lead to two points with 1:06 remaining, giving the Hawks some time to try and push the lead back to a two-possession game.
Trae Young does really well to mis-lead the defense, his head betraying the pass to John Collins out of the pick-and-roll and instead whipping a pass to the corner to Dedmon, who gets a good look at a three but can’t convert:
Dedmon would make up for this by blocking Randle’s shot on the next possession before committing the foul on Randle’s next attempt, sending him to the line where he ties the game at 116-all.
Coming out of the timeout, the Hawks go to their Young-Collins pick-and-roll but Robinson is alert to what is about to happen and slides over to pluck the lob out of the air:
The Knicks elect not to take a timeout and the ball is in Julius Randle’s hands with the chance to win the game for the Knicks. He elects to take John Collins one-on-one and Collins, to his credit, defends the drive and bump well and Randle’s shot is missed:
Now, that view of it would have you believe that was an awful shot from Randle, but he side-stepped and created more space than that angle would have you believe. It was an O.K. shot but it didn’t go down and to overtime we go.
To overtime, and boy the start of the first overtime didn’t go well for the Hawks. At all.
The Knicks went on a 10-2 run to take an eight point lead with under two minutes to go in overtime. The Hawks were just flat and the Knicks brought the energy to begin, and the Hawks committing three turnovers in the overtime period certainly didn’t help.
After Robinson split a pair of free throws to push the Knicks’ lead to eight with 1:56 remaining, the Hawks needed to score on this next possession or face the very, very real prospect of defeat.
However, Young’s drive to the rim is challenged, Collins can’t tip-in the rebound and the Knicks come away with possession with about 1:40 remaining:
Perhaps not the best idea rom Young to drive toward the rim where both Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson are in close proximity.
At this point, really, the game feels over — down eight points with 1:40 remaining. The Hawks have, somehow, bottled a 16-point fourth quarter lead and have laid an egg in overtime against a Knicks side that played the day before.
Only... this is the New York Knicks.
The Knicks simply just need to use their clock to their advantage but for some reason Elfrid Payton — who was having a solid OT period — decides that right, after that Collins tip miss, he must take it coast-to-coast and have his layup blocked at the rim by Kevin Huerter. In transition off of the miss, Young sticks the tough floater:
After a horrid turnover for the Knicks, the Hawks again and Young easily gets to rim to further slice into the lead:
The Hawks need another defensive stop and they get one through John Collins, who blocks the driving shot by Randle and, again, the stop leads into a transition opportunity. Young can’t convert his layup but Collins is there to follow and cut the lead to two points with 32 seconds left:
The Knicks still have their chance to save themselves from a complete meltdown but it continues, this time Elfrid Payton travels on his spin move inside, handing the Hawks the opportunity to tie with a two, win with a three:
When the Hawks are on the road and face a situation like this, they usually like to go for the win, go for the three. However, coming out of the timeout on this occasion, they go for two and Young earns two free throws for this drive, fouled by Payton:
Collins is perhaps fortunate not to be called for a push in the back on Randle but alas... Young ties the game at the free throw line and Payton’s three to end the first overtime is no good, and to second overtime we go:
The beginning of the second overtime was largely a free throw show but the game was blown wide open by two big three-pointers, the first of which coming from De’Andre Hunter, now playing power forward after Dewayne Dedmon fouled out in overtime:
Hunter was involved in an important defensive possession right after this bucket, defending Randle, Hunter knocks the ball away for his fifth steal of the night:
In transition (the theme of defense to offense was a big key for the Hawks in the overtime periods), Young’s layup is missed but Kevin Huerter grabs the offensive rebound, passes the ball to Jeff Teague (who had been inserted into the game after Dedmon fouled out) and he swings it to Young in the corner, who knocks down the three-pointer:
Up seven with just over two minutes remaining, the Hawks are in a strong position but would’ve surely been wary seeing how the Knicks just threw away an eight point lead with under two minutes to go.
The Knicks, sure enough, bring it back to a one-possession game with 1:11 to go, and would get a chance to tie the game after Huerter is called for a travel:
The Knicks indeed try for a three-pointer later in the clock but Payton’s effort is off-line:
Young is, rightfully so at times, criticized for his lack of defensive effort but give him full credit here, he played this possession very well — if he was giving that sort of effort, not even every possession, but every other possession, I would imagine people wouldn’t be so quick to criticize him defensively. But give him credit here.
After this, the Knicks’ game management lets them down horribly and the Hawks ice the game at the free throw line to finish a rollercoaster of a game.
The Hawks should’ve never allowed this game to go to overtime and, conversely, the Knicks should never have allowed this game to go into double overtime. No matter which way this swung, this was going to be a bad loss for someone.
In the end, the Hawks ended up on the right side of the result.
“It feels good to win. I don’t know what happened, I don’t know how, but it feels good to win,” said Lloyd Pierce postgame. “I know our guys are gassed. I know they’re going to be tired. We have to play tomorrow, but the only option was to keep the guys on the court at the end of the game, and just ride with them. I thought they did a hell of a job fighting through all the overtimes and making it tough.
“I don’t know what that first overtime was for us the first three minutes, but somehow, we managed to get back in and just jumping the game up. And I thought once we did that, we were composed. Trae was good. He really got us organized, but it just feels good to win.”
The Hawks were 0-3 in overtime this season — and were on the cusp of 0-of-4 during that first overtime — and Pierce had fears that this was going to be a repeat of an overtime game against the Miami Heat that got away from the Hawks, and one that Pierce took responsibility for.
“Well to me, that was Miami all over again. I blew a game in Miami earlier this year and took ourselves out of a position that cost us a game, and then we get into overtime and we were just flat,” said Pierce on how his team had grown.
“We had no fight, and that’s what that first overtime felt like for the first two minutes. We were sloppy, we were erratic with everything we were doing offensively, and we just turned it up. We started to double team and hit the basketball and we forced a couple turnovers, had a couple easy baskets. And then it was just basketball all over again. We didn’t have to worry about being in a deficit and our guys just played basketball for the last two quarters, and that’s important. But that first overtime, the first two minutes felt like Miami all over again.”
The Hawks were extremely luck the Knicks were, well, the Knicks in overtime because the Hawks were bad to begin overtime — fouls, turnovers... It was a sloppy affair. Young attributed the flatness of the Hawks to begin overtime to the Knicks taking the momentum as they came back and tied the game.
“When you have that lead late in the game and you feel like you should’ve won in regulation, then they get it and send it to overtime, it kills momentum,” said Young. “That’s what they did, and it took a lot of energy out of us, but we found a way to keep battling, keep making shots and getting stops on defense.”
With another 40+ point game, Trae Young joined some exclusive company:
Young scored 27 points from the beginning of the fourth quarter (10) through to the second overtime (17 combined in the two overtimes) but where he was most damaging was from the free throw line.
Young, for the night, shot 16-of-16 from the line but found himself shooting clutch free throws on a number of occasions in overtime, where he shot 10-of-10 from the line.
“It’s not tough when you practice as hard as I do at free throws,” said Young of his 16-for-16 performance. “I honestly feel like I should be shooting a better free throw percentage this year. It’s just concentration. Free throws are the easiest shots to make in basketball. All it takes is concentration and practice.”
Young’s free throws were a similar focus for Knicks head coach Mike Miller, who found it tougher to live with the free throws as he did the long three-pointers Young takes.
“You know those long ones where he pulls up and shoots it? You live with those. The 16 free throws is what’s difficult,” said Miller postgame. “Really, the big thing is that this is a very effective paint-scoring team, and we didn’t take away the paint enough in the first three and a half quarters. So, we put ourselves in a tough spot. Not only chasing him around and dealing with the different coverages, but we were giving up the stuff at the basket. Our coverages were a little bit loose at times on the backside. We were going to live with everything but the lobs, and we gave up too many of those and had to dig out of it and try to come back.”
Young obviously received help not only through John Collins’ 32-16 performance but also 19 quiet points from De’Andre Hunter (to go along with five steals), 16 points from Kevin Huerter, six assists from Jeff Teague off of the bench with zero turnovers and five blocked shots from the returning Dewayne Dedmon (who was better than his boxscore would have you believe)
Those six players were at the fore of basically everything and Pierce basically ran with those six players for the majority of the second half — Damian Jones only played seven minutes in the second half, four minutes for the returning Bruno Fernando (who did not need a minutes restriction to limit him last night, the fouls did that job well enough), two minutes for Treveon Graham, and Brandon Goodwin did not play at all in the second half. In both overtime periods, only Dedmon and Teague featured off of the bench.
All in all, the Hawks probably deserved to win (and absolutely should have won in regulation) based on the balance of the the first 48 minutes but they sure took the hard (and long) way to do it.
The Hawks (15-39) will be delighted to eventually win that game, it puts them in a tricky position because they are back in action tonight against the Orlando Magic on the road.
Orlando will certainly be favored heading into this one, but it should be an intriguing contest nevertheless.
Until next time...