On a snowy night in Atlanta it was the Hawks defense that brought the heat as the Hawks won their sixth game of the year, 117-110, over the Orlando Magic. There were a number of clutch moments for Atlanta but none more clutch than the final minute of play by Kent Bazemore.
With the score tied at 108 with less than two minutes remaining against Orlando, Ersan Ilyasova stepped to the free-throw line and missed the second of two free-throws. It would be only the second physical shots he missed the entire game to that point. Tied at 110, Bazemore, who had missed a number of shots during the first half but had a quality fourth quarter, made a steal and dunk to put Atlanta ahead 112-110 before doing the same moments later with two free throws and another dunk that would be enough to secure the win. Bazemore’s six late points were the answer (the Hawks closed the game on a 7-0 run), but defense, especially late in the game, was what Atlanta needed most. “Another tough game with Orlando,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, “but I’m proud of our guys. To do it with our defense is huge. It was very satisfying.”
The Hawks and Magic got another look at each other- they played three days ago in Orlando, a 110-106 win by the Magic- as they met in Atlanta on Saturday night. This time around the Magic were without starting forward Aaron Gordon and starting guard Evan Fournier, a combined 36.8 points per game (and reserve guard Terrence Ross and his 9 points per game) and the Hawks took full advantage of their absences. It was Orlando’s best player Nikola Vucevic who the Hawks wished was sitting on the sidelines in a suit though as he would have a triple-double (31 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists) before night’s end.
Atlanta was also without some of their firepower, with starting center Dewayne Dedmon out with a leg injury and rookie forward John Collins with a left AC joint sprain. That didn’t seem to bother Ilyasova who made his first five shots of the game, including his first three three-point attempts and would not miss a shot from the field (8-8) the entire night en route to a 26-point game. Atlanta would be ahead by 10 points after the first quarter and would maintain a lead, 57-54, at halftime. Along with Ilyasova, Dennis Schroder (seven points) and Taurean Prince (eight points) kept the pressure on the Magic during the second quarter, both players would be in double figures at the half with 11 points and 10 points, respectively. On Prince’s performance -10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and three assists- Budenholzer remarked, “I thought Taurean overall had a very good game.” Prince’s block on a Shelvin Mack three-point attempt late in the game was a game-changer for the Hawks who would convert another free-throw to put the game away for good.
It was the defense during the fourth quarter that was the highlight of the night as the Hawks held Orlando to 23 fourth quarter points -the Magic had previously scored more than 30 points in the second and third quarters. Vucevic only scored two points during the final period of play as Johnathon Simmons led the team with 13 points. The Hawks spread the wealth with three players -Ilyasova, Bazemore (9 points) and Marco Belinelli (8 points) scoring four or more points.
“A lot of credit to Orlando,” said Budenholzer during the postgame press conference. “They did a lot of things tonight to give themselves a chance to win.” They did everything but win, and for the struggling Hawks that’s clutch.
The Hawks (6-19 overall) will be in New York on Sunday to play the Knicks.