The Atlanta Hawks had just come off winning a game against the Milwaukee Bucks where they dominated from beginning to end. Back-to-backs are not easy, regardless of who the next opponent is. It was the Minnesota Timberwolves the Hawks had to face next, which could be considered an even matchup between both teams.
In the first half of the game, you could tell that the Hawks were just a team that had played the night before. They looked tired and some shots weren't falling, while the opposite happened for the Timberwolves. In fact, if there was ever any game to which you could relate this one, it was the home opener against the New York Knicks where it seemed like they couldn't miss anything. And no matter what the Hawks did, the other team always had an answer.
The culprit of the first half deficit was the hometown star Anthony Edwards, who had a lot of things going for him, and the Hawks just could not stop him. Rudy Gobert had become a problem as well, protecting the rim, controlling the boards, and getting to the free-throw line. The Hawks kept fighting back, but it was one step forward, two steps back. Down by as much as 21 points in the half, things were not looking good — but then Dejounte Murray happened.
Murray had just come off of a game where he held Damian Lillard in check, and probably led him to have to have one of the lowest-scoring games of his career. After the Bucks game, coach Quin Snyder said that both Murray and Trae Young are “unbelievably coachable.” In this game against the Timberwolves Murray had it going on both sides of the ball, but it was the second half where he turned things around for the Hawks and won them the game.
One thing that Murray has made an effort to do this season is get to the rim. With his length and athleticism, it can be easy on any night for Murray to get to his spot. Edwards isn't the best defender, so Murray decided that he was going to take advantage of that matchup whenever he could:
Here's another moment where Murray decides to attack Edwards. The best thing to do is not wait for the defense to get set when in transition. Murray notices that and drives baseline on Edwards before Gobert or any shot blocker could get in the picture:
Another thing the Hawks have been doing to start the season is attacking immediately off the dribble. Murray had already gotten into a rhythm at this point in the quarter, so getting to his bread and butter was a no-brainer:
As the quarter continued to wind down, Murray was able to get to wherever he wanted on the court, and the Timberwolves couldn't stop him. Whether it was at the rim, a mid-range shot, or a three, Murray was cooking. With that, it was only right that he pulled up for the three to tie the game going into the fourth quarter:
“As an individual, I’m trying to be a leader on the defensive end first and foremost, and I’m trying to get my legs underneath myself,” Murray said post-game. Most importantly, I’m trying to take the challenge each and every night to be that leader and that guy to set the tone on defense. I tell the guys, on offense, we’re going to make or miss shots, we can’t control that. We have to move on and do the things that we can control.”
Murray finished with 30 points in the second half, as he shot 12-of-14 from the field and 2-of-3 from the three-point line. As the fourth quarter began, the Hawks did not take their foot off the gas pedal and continued to attack the Timberwolves however they could. Young started to get it going, and Jalen Johnson put on a show for the crowd with his athleticism. When Johnson is in the open court, you already know what’s bound to happen:
This was the one that put the nail in the coffin with less than two minutes left. With Murray on the brink of scoring his career high, he instead let Johnson take it home with this windmill dunk, something we should be getting used to seeing as the season progresses:
“I love the game, I love working, and I believe the work is going to always show no matter what you do in life,” Murray said. “The work you put in is going to show eventually. For me, it's not ‘give me the ball.’ I believe in my teammates. Even if I hit two or three baskets in a row and somebody’s open, I believe that guy should get the ball. That’s just who I am as a man and a basketball player.”
It was truly a tale of two halves, because after scoring 79 points in the first half, the Timberwolves only scored 34 points in the second half. Murray finished the game with 41 points, seven rebounds, and five assists for the game. The Hawks will be back at home on Wednesday to take on the Washington Wizards.