The Atlanta Hawks’ offense sputtered down the stretch as they dropped another home game to another team below .500, this time to the Minnesota Timberwolves (who were 8-19 heading into this game), 94-82. Karl-Anthony Towns posted a nasty double-double, 17 points and 18 rebounds while Andrew Wiggins scored a team high 19 points. Per Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, Towns is the first NBA player this season to record three consecutive games of at least 15 points and 15 rebounds in a game. The last player to do it was… Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2014.
Offensive woes in final period
Despite a woeful start to this game (the Wolves quickly running out to 12-2 and 15-4 leads respectively), the Hawks — again without Dwight Howard — were in a decent position to win this game, tied at 80 apiece with 5:41 remaining in your own building. Thennnn… the offense broke down, the Hawks only scored four points the rest of the way while the Wolves scored 12 points to take them to victory, only their 10th victory of the season.
So, what happened? The Hawks could have easily won this game… what happened down the stretch? Let’s go through it chronologically.
Firstly, a turnover that leads to a fastbreak score for the Wolves.
This was probably the worst thing that could’ve happened for the Hawks. You not only turn the ball over, thus eliminating the opportunity to score yourself, but give the opposition an easy opportunity to score themselves. And this isn’t a horrible turnover, Korver just fumbles the ball, it can happen to anyone at anytime. Unfortunately for Kyle, Ricky Rubio was in a position to immediately pounce and Zach LaVine was quick to streak down the other end in transition.
On the next offensive trip, Paul Millsap is fouled and he converts two free throws. The trip after that, there was a questionable no-call goaltend that occurred. Karl-Anthony Towns is credited with the block on Mike Muscala, but was it a goaltend?
— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 22, 2016
I’m personally still unsure where I stand on this even with replays. So let’s give the benefit of the doubt to the officials, this is a very hard call to make in real time with just one viewing, I’m not upset that they didn’t call anything here.
Next trip down (the Hawks now trailing with 87-82 with just under four minutes remaining), Kent Bazemore is fouled and heads to the free throw line. However, he misses both free throws, much to the frustration of many fans.
After Towns goes 1-for-2 from the free throw line following a foul, the Hawks try their luck again, now down six and in need of a basket, but to no avail.
Two great looks from behind the arc but the Hawks just couldn’t convert them.
The Hawks, eventually, get the stop on the other end, and now they really need a basket, still down six but with under three minutes to go. Out of the timeout the Hawks run a nice play which ends with a Mike Muscala jump shot, but again it just doesn’t go down.
Now the Hawks are in real trouble. They manage to get the stop on the other end and Dennis Schröder finally gets the Hawks on the board (now trailing 88-84) only for Gorgui Dieng to score on the next possession at the end of the shot clock to put the Timberwolves up 90-84 with 42 seconds remaining, forcing the Hawks to take a timeout.
Out of the resulting timeout the Hawks turn the ball over, ending any slim chances of winning this game.
A summary of the last 5:41 of this game: four points, two turnovers and 1-for-8 shooting.
“…We just weren’t able to execute. When you do get a good look in that kind of situation, in this kind of game, you’ve got to convert those. Good defense and a couple missed opportunities. We end up with 15 (points). That’s a tough fourth quarter.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
“The whole game, we missed some shots that we normally make – layups, wide open three’s.” — Paul Millsap
What a weird stretch it has been. Overcome a 20 point deficit in Milwaukee and win, lose at home to Orlando, win on the road in Toronto, lose at home to Charlotte, win on the road — without Dwight — in OKC and lost at home to Minnesota.
“That’s life in the NBA. You win an emotional game on the road, a big-time game, and then you come home, play a team that you are supposed to beat and you lose. It’s the NBA. Every night you have to bring that same intensity.” — Paul Millsap
It’s this inconsistency that has driven Hawks fans mad. Kyle Korver laid it out there postgame:
“That’s why we’re a .500 team. Until we can figure out to play with consistency and bring the energy and focus every night, execute every night, we’re going to be a .500 team. That’s just our reality.” — Kyle Korver
For this game, down the stretch, the Hawks were both unlucky that decent shots didn’t go down and at fault for turning the ball over when they did. There were positives to take from this game though: the Hawks did play some good defense, breaking their five game streak of allowing 100 or more points:
“Down the stretch, we couldn’t open the basket up. That was really big for us, but I think defensively, we were good.” — Paul Millsap
The right choice of lineup?
Dwight Howard missed his second consecutive game with back tightness, and Coach Bud went with the same lineup that stole the game in OKC: Schröder, Bazemore, Korver, Sefolosha and Millsap at center. But was this the right lineup to roll with against this Minnesota team?
With the Thunder, Steven Adams is more of a defensive center — he’s not going to exploit the smaller Millsap on the offensive end. And Domantas Sabonis, he’s a rookie and he plays more on the perimeter, so he wasn’t going to cause Sefolosha many issues at PF. A front line of Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng (who’s basically a center playing at power forward) however, you might want to start with a big lineup…
The Wolves began the game with a 12-2 run before the Hawks called for a timeout, and they made a change: Mike Muscala checked in for Kyle Korver. Immediately after going big, Hawks were able to make a little run which helped them get back into this game. Muscala played a massive part in this little run, look at this sequence: a three-pointer, a contest in the lane and then the offensive rebound and score.
Muscala joined the starters for the beginning of the third quarter (in place of Kyle Korver) and scored 11 of the Hawks’ first 13 points of the second half.
Muscala finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting (having made his first six shots including 3-for-3 from behind the arc) in what was his best performance of late, having averaged 3.5 points per game on 33% shooting over his last four games prior to last night. His impact on this game was undeniable, firstly to spark the Hawks on the run that got them out of an early 11 point deficit and then keeping the Hawks in the game to begin the third quarter.
Should the Hawks have started Muscala from the get-go? You could argue they cost themselves 10 points (two more than the margin they ultimately lost by) just by running the incorrect lineup for the first three-and-a-half minutes of the game. Coach Bud believed that the Hawks’ slow start wasn’t just due to their lineup, but a lack of urgency:
“I don’t think it was just the lineup. There wasn’t an urgency that you need. We went with Muscala and that put us back in our comfort zone, put us back in things that we were more familiar with.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
Kent Bazemore echoed similar sentiments:
“We came out very flat. They are a young and explosive team. They came out like they are supposed to. We just didn’t match their energy early on and it cost us.” — Kent Bazemore
If Dwight is to miss more time in the immediate future, should Mike Muscala start alongside Paul Millsap?
Tim Hardaway Jr. was limited to just over one minute of action following a groin injury that he appeared to suffer following this play:
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) December 22, 2016
Per Chris Vivlamore of the AJC, Hardaway’s injury isn’t too serious but it’s unclear if he’ll be forced to sit out a game or two.
Got a thumbs up from THJ on his way out. Doesn't look like groin injury is serious.
— Chris Vivlamore (@CVivlamoreAJC) December 22, 2016
Without Dwight Howard, the Hawks — again — struggled to contain their opponents on the offensive glass. The Wolves out-rebounded the Hawks 52-35 and snatched 15 offensive rebounds.
“That was a key. We could’ve done a better job on the glass. I felt like they were just tapping the ball everywhere. I don’t think they were being aggressive doing it, but I think a lot of loose balls we normally get, we just didn’t get for whatever reason. That was a big part of the game too.” — Paul Millsap
Thankfully for the Hawks, the Wolves were unable to fully capitalise once they had actually secured those offensive rebounds, only scoring eight second chance points. The Hawks were fortunate in that regard, the margin of defeat could’ve been much larger had the Wolves made the most of their second chance opportunities.
“Karl is a load down there and they were small, so we had to take advantage of it.” — Andrew Wiggins
Who needs a third point guard, right?
The Hawks made the decision, before the season started, that they would run with just two point guards. This was always a risk, leaving the Hawks shorthanded if: one of Schröder or Malcolm Delaney were to suffer an injury, both point guards were to get into foul trouble (as was the case in Phoenix) or if one didn’t play well. Last night, it was scenario three.
Delaney had two bad possessions in the second quarter, back-to-back possessions where he took a bad shot and then followed up with a turnover. Delaney did not feature at all in the second half and played just five minutes in total. The Hawks, as they have done in recent games, have gone with Kent Bazemore as a backup point guard, as such. Delaney was quoted as being “very” disappointed to not play in the second half of this game before tweeting this:
— malcolm delaney (@foe23) December 22, 2016
Keep at it, Malcolm, the season is young.
Millsap vs. Towns
Man, this was fun to watch last night. For a couple of possessions last night we got to see KAT and Paul Millsap just go at each other. You don’t get to see the bigs from opposing teams really go at each other, and Paul was pumped (which is unusual to see, normally he’s emotionally calm and controlled on the court) when he faked Towns and dunked all over Nemanja Bjelica.
Man, that was absolutely beautiful, those were two of Millsap’s 18 points to go along with 10 rebounds and seven assists. Can we have more big man battles?
If not now, when ever?
When your starting and backup centers are sidelined due to injury, you would imagine that backup big, Kris Humphries, would see at least some game time, right? Nope. In these last two games without Dwight, in addition to Tiago Splitter, Kris Humphries has been a DNP-CD. I mean, if he’s not going to play when Dwight and Tiago are injured, when is he ever going to play?
Can we talk about this…?
Alright, it’s time. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and… it’s time to take this skeleton out of the closet. There’s a problem on the Atlanta bench. When players are making layups, we’re seeing guys on the bench raise their hand like this:
Well, not all of them come with this expression (which is pretty good, I’ll admit) but you get the idea. Here’s my beef: if you’re seven feet tall, or a player who’s slow and cumbersome (E.g. Omer Asik), heck even just a big man in general (and by big man, PF/C) and you make a layup, then this kind of celebration where you look at your hand is disbelief is acceptable. But if you’re a guard/slashing forward you’re supposed to make layups, you’ve made thousands of layups and will make thousands more, be it in practice or over the course of your career. So come on, now… Don’t look at your hand like this when Dennis Schröder makes a layup
…Please tell me I’m not the only one who feels this way?
“Something tells me I’m into something good…”
Kent Bazemore had a great dunk to close out the third quarter, but it was his reaction when he knew that he was going to score an easy two points that was golden.
Oh, he knew… He knew he was into something good. For the kids out there who don’t know what that is a reference to:
When you’re supposed to play defense but you see Santa in the crowd…
Something in the crowd or on the sideline must’ve caught the attention of Kyle Korver during the second quarter, because he completely forgot all about the man he was supposed to be guarding, Ricky Rubio. Of course, Rubio — who is also handling the ball — is a smart player so he just runs by the distracted Korver, who eventually realises ‘Oh yea, I’m supposed to know where he is’, loses him and then fouls him trying to get back.
What was Kyle looking at? Was Santa in the crowd? Did he see some Christmas socks that he wanted to take a good long look at? Who knows, but since it’s Christmas we’ll let this one slide…
The Hawks (14-15) will scale to the Mile High City to take on the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. Always a tough place to play, the Hawks will need to be ready.