The Hawks suffered a heart-breaker on Super Bowl Sunday, losing 96-94 to the Magic on a buzzer-beater by Nikola Vucevic. Just a day later, the Hawks would get another shot at Orlando, but this time at home in a game that you would figure would favor the Hawks.
Well, it didn’t.
The Hawks opened the game looking like they were ready to run the Magic out of the building, starting up with a 26-8 run. 3-pointers were falling, the defense was swarming, and Atlanta simply looked like the team that won 60 games in the 2014-15 season. What happened after was a gradual and slow-burn collapse that saw the Magic finally take the lead in the final minutes of regulation, and eventually the victory in overtime.
“I think we’ve got to be better late in games,” said an exasperated Mike Budenholzer. “Myself, the players, everybody; we’ve got to be better.”
The collapse started on the defensive end in the second half, as the Hawks gave up 60 total points in the third and fourth quarters. The Magic particularly killed the Hawks on the inside, with a 12-for-18 shooting performance in the paint for the half. The inside game was compliment with outside shooting, as Vucevic knocked down the mid-range shots, and the rest of the team complemented with timely 3-pointers.
“I know there were several 3s in that run,” said Budenhozler. “Evan Fournier made a couple of 3s… I feel like the 3-point line hurt us when they were making those runs.”
The Atlanta offense was able to keep up with the Magic’s runs in the third quarter, but they simply could not put it together in the fourth quarter and overtime. The normally pass-heavy offense devolved into too much dribbling, with all members of the team acting as culprits. This was most visible on the team’s final possession in regulation; with the game tied and with 1.2 seconds left, Paul Millsap took a dribble and a stepback, hitting the shot attempt… over a second after the buzzer had sounded. The gaffe may look like a one-possession screw up, but it was a great representation of the Hawks dribbling themselves into problems during the final minutes of the game.
“We maybe didn’t move the ball and move the people the way we do early,” said Budenholzer on the late-game offensive problems. “So, it becomes a little more of a pick-and-roll game. I thought we got some good opportunities, but probably not enough.”
There were a few positives from this game, even with the loss. Jeff Teague played like his old self for most of the game, notching 21 points on the night. Kyle Korver finally hit some shots with consistency, going 6-for-8 from the field with 16 points. In fact, for most of the game, the starters played extremely well.
However, the bench was an absolute dumpster fire for the third game in a row. With Tiago Splitter still ailing with a hip injury, the Hawks are forced to give heavy minutes to Mike Scott. Scott — when he is performing well — is a positive, but he is pretty much unplayable when he is not, and tonight was one of those nights. Dennis Schröder was a disaster as a the backup point guard, and Thabo Sefolosha was a very uncharacteristic minus-21 for the game.
There shouldn’t be too much railing on the bench, though, as the starters were the ones who ultimately gave it away in the fourth quarter and overtime. Al Horford couldn’t guard Vucevic late in the game to save his life, racking up four fouls in overtime trying to guard the Magic’s big man. While there was fouling at the end of the period in attempt to extend the game, the Magic were able to live at the line before that, meaning the Hawks could not get a stop when they needed it the most.
“I feel like they were just making plays down the stretch,” said Horford. “We lost our focus there at times, some rebounds slipped out, and we had some turnovers.”
The loss drops the Hawks to 30-24 on the season and fifth-place in the Eastern Conference. They have one more game at Chicago on Wednesday before a much-needed All-star break hits.