Sometimes, there are wins in the NBA that are both pretty and easy. Friday night’s 101-99 overtime victory for the Atlanta Hawks qualified as neither pretty nor easy, but in the end, it was a buzzer-beating escape that pushed the Hawks back over the .500 mark.
Al Horford was (easily) the player of the game for Atlanta, but he saved his best work for last. The Hawks were inbounding with just over 1 second remaining in overtime, and head coach Mike Budenholzer elected to go with a “big” lineup, featuring Pero Antic, Elton Brand, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, and Horford. The play drawn up by Coach Bud was later described by Horford as one with 3 different options (himself, Millsap, or Korver), but this time, Antic lofted a lob pass to Horford, and Al caught it, squared his body and swished home a game-winning 11-footer with no time remaining on the clock.
Horford’s buzzer-beater capped his best statistical game of the season, as the big man scored 34 points (on 15 of 23 shooting) and grabbed 15 rebounds on the night. Al’s effort was his 2nd career 30-point, 15-rebound performance, but even aside from the stats, he was Atlanta’s best player on both ends of the court, providing a steadying influence offensively while locking down the paint on defense.
Prior to the game-ending play, it was a back-and-forth struggle down the stretch. Atlanta led comfortably for the better part of 3 quarters, and held what looked to be a decisive 80-65 lead with 8:06 remaining in the 4th quarter. From there, however, Washington blitzed Atlanta with a 21-4 run over about 6 minutes of clock time, and John Wall gave the Wizards their first lead in what seemed like an eternity at 86-84 with 1:39 to play.
From there, though, the Hawks didn’t roll over and collapse, as the teams traded empty possessions before the aforementioned star of the night in Al Horford went to the line for 2 shots with the Hawks still trailing by 2. Al calmly knocked down both attempts from the charity stripe, and Coach Bud inserted DeMarre Carroll for defense, just before Washington’s final attempt to win the game in regulation. Carroll did a lock-down job on John Wall on the last possession, forcing a 20-foot, fadeaway airball from the Wizards point guard, and that set the stage for the overtime run.
In the overtime, it wasn’t all smooth-sailing, as evidenced by the tight score. The highlight of the extra period (aside from the game-winner) was a quick stretch with just under 2 minutes, when the Hawks vaulted from 1-point deficit after a Trevor Ariza 3, to a 4-point lead at 97-93 with 1:23 remaining. Kyle Korver iced an enormous 3, and followed it up with a gorgeous pass to a cutting Jeff Teague to give the Hawks that final edge, and only 3 straight buckets from Trevor Booker (who was fantastic for Washington with 24 points and 14 rebounds) kept Atlanta from a pull-away. From there, you know what happened, as Horford’s game-winner splashed through the net to secure a victory.
In addition to Horford’s pure excellence (and make no mistake, that’s what it was), his frontcourt partner Paul Millsap also had a productive night. Paul fought through a rough shooting night (to say the least) with 16 points (on 6 of 17 shooting) and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes of court time. It wasn’t always pretty for Paul in this one, but he made some crucial plays when it counted in regulation, and his shear presence takes the focus off of Horford at times.
The backcourt didn’t have a particularly stellar night, but again (this is a recurring theme), they upped their play when it mattered. Jeff Teague finished with a pedestrian line of 12 points (on 4 of 11 shooting) and 7 assists in 40 minutes, but his 3rd quarter work was big, and he saved his best (and most productive) play of the night for overtime. His backup, Shelvin Mack, had a rough night though, as the former Wizard saw his hot streak screech to a halt with a 1-for-9 shooting night. It didn’t matter in the end, however, and Mack was on the court for much of the stretch, reinforcing the trust that Coach Bud has placed in the young guard.
It’s become clockwork to say that Kyle Korver extended his NBA-record streak of a consecutive games with a 3-pointer, but that is exactly what happened at the 2:31 mark of the 1st quarter. Korver took a kick-out pass from Paul Millsap at the top of they key, and drained the streak-continuing jumper in pure fashion. On the night, Korver finished with an efficient 16 points on 13 shots (including 4 of 8 from downtown), but his best short-term stretch of the night came on the aforementioned 5-point run to give the Hawks the lead in overtime.
Normally, NBA games that see both teams shoot less than 43% from the field and less than 34% from beyond the arc aren’t terribly exciting, but this one had all the makings. The late push by the Wizards added some drama (even for those who are invested in the Hawks), and the fact that Washington could fight through a wretched, 6-for-22 shooting from John Wall (despite his 4th quarter heroics) is fairly impressive.
On the Hawks side, it was purely the Al Horford show for much of the night, and that will likely be the major takeaway from this one. The Hawks were forced to overcome a 60-46 rebounding disadvantage in this one, and only the poor shooting from the Wizards (everywhere, including the free throw line) combined with some stellar Atlanta defense outlined the path to victory.
From here, the Hawks will take their above .500 record on the road, for a quick back-to-back against the struggling New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. It’s very hard to predict that Saturday’s action will be quite as entertaining (and exciting) as Friday night’s version, but in the end, the Hawks are 12-11 and Al Horford is on track for an NBA All-Star selection.
What a game.