The Atlanta Hawks lost a tightly contested game against the Chicago Bulls in the Windy City on Saturday evening, 104-106. The Bulls were led by Jimmy Butler’s 33 points that included two game-winning free throws that put the Bulls in front with 3 seconds left. Rajon Rondo added a season-high 25 points and 11 rebounds. For the Hawks, they were led by Dennis Schröder’s 29 points.
With this loss, the Hawks now occupy the 6-seed in the Eastern Conference, just a game behind the Milwaukee Bucks. Meanwhile behind the Hawks, there’s now a three-way tie for the 7-seed with Indiana, Miami and Chicago all knotted up at 37-39.
The Hawks have six games remaining.
The first half of this game was a bit of a snoozer. the point guard battle of Rajon Rondo and Dennis Schroder proved to be the only real entertaining aspect of this game. Neither team was playing particularly well. That all changed in the third quarter.
The Bulls ran out to a 10 point lead before the Hawks, behind some of the best basketball they’ve played this season and scored 38 points in the third quarter which was capped off by this buzzer-beating three from Kent Bazemore.
💥 Buzzer-Beater Alert 💥 pic.twitter.com/5fPqkk139n
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) April 1, 2017
This was part of a 38-18 run that would see the Hawks take a 10 point lead of their own with 9:31 left in the fourth quarter
The Bulls hovered within eight points for the next few minutes but after they came within five, the Hawks reeled off another four unanswered to take a 100-91 lead with 4:54 remaining, leading to a timeout. The Bulls responded with this lovely out-of-the-timeout play that results in a three in the corner from Denzel Valentine that gave the Bulls life.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 1, 2017
Following a missed dunk from Dwight Howard a moment later, the Bulls immediately go down the other end with Valentine, who pulls up in transition and nails another three, forcing the Hawks into a timeout, their lead cut from nine to three in a matter of a minute.
Every player has those shots that they normally make 9 times out of 10 and this was just that one other time for Dwight. It happens to the best of them, heck, look at Tim Duncan Game 7 2013. He’s made a 1,000 of those shots but the one he needed to keep the Spurs in the Finals escaped him. That said, Dwight should’ve made that dunk. If he does, the Hawks go up eight with just over three minutes left. Instead, they’re only up by three with the home crowd back into the game.
Following that timeout, the Hawks miss with Kent Bazemore from three-point range (it was a good look, he just couldn’t connect) before Jimmy Butler converted this layup to bring the Bulls within a point.
Dwight Howard doesn’t cover himself in glory here. Robin Lopez, though a player I like a lot, isn’t a player you need to stick tight to away from the rim. As the help defender, Dwight does little to actually help Bazemore and this is a very easy layup for Butler.
Dennis Schröder would respond with a layup to put the Hawks up by three again but the Bulls weren’t done. Enter, Jimmy Butler…
That’s just a great shot. There’s nothing more that Baze could do in this situation. He’s there, he contests the shot…you just have to live with that. That’s what Jimmy G. Buckets does. He gets buckets.
After a missed shot from Ersan Ilyasova, the Bulls come the other way. Butler goes one-on-one with Baze, who does an excellent job staying in front of Jimmy, whose step-back jump shot is well contested and misses. Following that miss the Hawks come in transition. Dennis uses a Dwight screen, goes to his left and hoists a contested three-point shot that misses.
Great defense by Baze but a crap shot from Dennis. To shoot a contested three at this stage of the game without any other sort of offense run just isn’t good offense and gives the Bulls another chance to take the lead.
Following that play, the Bulls come again and some good defense from the Hawks puts Butler in an awkward spot with Bazemore right in his grill to contest any shot. With the shot clock winding down, Butler has no choice but to shoot a contested shot which misses badly. The Hawks grab the rebound and push in transition. After a few risky passes, the ball eventually ends up with Dennis and he makes up for the last shot by making the pull-up jumper to put the Hawks up 104-102 with 35 seconds remaining.
Some heart-in-mouth passes there but the ball got to where it needed to go and Dennis does a good job on this occasion.
Out of the resulting timeout, the Bulls advance the ball. A great screen from Robin Lopez frees Jimmy Butler from Kent Bazemore and Butler receives the inbounds pass on the move. Butler lets the recovering Bazemore fly past him before rising up and using glass to convert the game-tying layup with 32 seconds remaining.
The Hawks call a timeout at this stage.
Out of the timeout, Dennis turns the ball over, following the pressure from Michael Carter-Williams and gives the Bulls possession of the ball once again with barely any difference between shot and game clock effectively giving the Bulls the last shot of the game should they want it. From the resulting turnover, the Bulls do decide to drain the clock. With 5 seconds left, Jimmy decides it’s go-time and he manages to create the airspace he needs to hoist a shot. It misses but Baze is called for a shooting foul and Butler heads to the free throw line with 2.1 seconds remaining. He would make both.
Though that was only Dennis’ third turnover, it came at the worst time possible and the Hawks were punished for it. Dennis believed he was fouled by MCW.
“I think he fouled me. It happens. It was still tight. It’s just the game.”
— Dennis Schröder
Coach Bud also acknowledged that it was a play that really came back to haunt the Hawks in the end.
“That one hurt. I’ll have to look at it. I think he went to drive it. I don’t know if someone got their hand on it. The spacing might not have been great. They could have put him in a better position. That was where we can all get better.”
— Coach Mike Budenholzer
With regards the foul, it looked like Baze got Butler late but it was a foul.
Out of the resulting timeout, the Hawks run a play to free up Tim Hardaway Jr., who gets a good look and his shot is straight-on but just a little long and it’s game over.
Again, it was a good look and Timmy knew it too. It was just a little long.
“I should have pumped faked. Two seconds left, that’s an easy pump fake, one dribble shot. I think I had time. But it felt great coming off my hand. It was on line. It was just a little long.”
— Tim Hardaway Jr.
This was a game the Hawks should’ve won. The missed Dwight dunk followed by the Valentine three really hurt the Hawks and that turnover was also very costly. Which is a shame, because Kent Bazemore played some excellent defense on Jimmy Butler in the clutch.
This loss certainly hurt the Hawks and they knew it was one that got away from them when it probably shouldn’t have.
“Tough loss. I think we got up nine late in the game and just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch. Denzel Valentine hit some big 3’s. Obviously, Jimmy Butler was huge. Rondo had a great game. I’m happy with the way the guys played. They competed. They put is in a position to win. We’ve got to make a few plays, finish a few plays.”
— Coach Mike Budenholzer
Dwight Howard was definitely of the opinion that this was a game the Hawks should’ve won.
“They hit some tough shots. That’s how they got the win. We should have won that game though. Any game we lose it’s hard to take. Tonight, that was a game we definitely should have won. We went up big and we should have capitalized on it.”
— Dwight Howard
Coach Bud is right though: the Hawks played a good game, particularly in the second half. And that’s something the Hawks need to be encouraged by and carry forward into this Brooklyn game.
Like we briefly mentioned, the point guard battle between Dennis Schröder and Rajon Rondo was a very fun aspect of this game before the level of play was kicked up about five notches in the second half. As did the rest of their teams, so did Rondo and Schröder.
Schröder scored a team-high 29 points while Rajon Rondo scored a season-high 25 points.
Rondo was allowed to shoot a number of open jump shots but, to his credit, he stepped up and hit those shots and made the Hawks think twice.
Rondo also had some decent postgame quotes too.
“We knew this game was the biggest of the season. We had a great win (against Cleveland) a couple of days ago but it means nothing if we laid an egg (Saturday).”
“We’ve been very competitive in practice, more than we’ve been all year, almost a couple of fights. Me personally, I love it. That’s the intensity we need.”
The biggest game of the season…you could sense the urgency from both teams and, for the Bulls, that was spearheaded by Rondo
It was fun to see Rondo step up to the challenge of Schröder, who has been compared to Rondo of which Rondo is probably aware. Great game from Rondo and a solid game from Dennis.
The return of Moose
It’s no secret that Mike Muscala has struggled in the second half of this season. Since February 1st, Moose has been averaging 3.2 PPG and hasn’t seen regular rotation minutes ever since Ehsan Ilyasova was acquired, though the absence of Paul Millsap has opened up a spot for him.
But Saturday night was an oh-so-sweet one for Moose as he canned three three-pointers. As the stats kind of suggest, it has been a struggle for Mike but he has stayed ready and hopefully those made threes can restart his season again.
The Hawks (39-37) wrap up their three game road trip in their final meeting against the Brooklyn Nets later on Sunday afternoon.