Hawks’ late-game closeout a step in right direction

Dec 28, 2017
David Goldman/AP
Atlanta Hawks' Kent Bazemore, right, celebrates with teammate Ersan Ilyasova, , center, after Ilyasova scored in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards in Atlanta, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Did the Hawks finally turn a corner after one miserable fourth-quarter failure after another this season?


A 113-99 win over the Wizards on Wednesday night was unexpected and represented just one victory in a long NBA season. But it may well have been a step in the right direction for the way the Hawks, at long last, closed out a game. The Hawks (9-25) outscored the Wizards (19-16) in the fourth quarter 35-23, which included a 22-8 run that gave them an 18-point lead with less than two minutes remaining. The Hawks now have nine wins, still the league’s worst record with two less than the Lakers, Grizzlies, Mavericks and Magic.

In the Hawks’ 34 games this season, they have led, been tied or trailed by one possession at some point in the fourth quarter in 25 of the contests. They have little in the win column to show for it.

“It’s tough losing,” Dennis Schroder said after the Hawks recorded their first back-to-back wins of the season. “Everybody hates losing. We just have to find a way to make it happen. Right now, how we are playing, we are doing everything together. Playing for each other. When we play like that, we have fun and we win a couple of games as well.”

Ersan Ilyasova had 11 points in the Hawks’ decisive fourth quarter, making all three field goal attempts with two from 3-point range. Schroder had six points in the period as the Hawks shot 50 percent from the field (11 of 22) and outrebounded the Wizards 14-7.

Of the Hawks’ 25 losses, nine have come by six points, two possessions, or less. Five of those defeats have come in the past 11 games. Just prior to their consecutive home victories over the Mavericks and Wizards, the Hawks lost at the Thunder on Russell Westbrook’s 3-pointer in the final seconds playing without Schroder on Dec. 22. They also lost a home game to the Pacers on Dec. 20, a 10-point loss after they trailed by just two at halftime. That lost was difficult, according to coach Mike Budenholzer.

“I really felt like we’ve been playing better basketball with the exception of the second half against Indiana,” Budenholzer said of the Hawks’ recent play. “We were really disappointed, really frustrated with that second half. But in the first half of that game and in some of the games prior, we’ve been playing better. Our offense has been a little more efficient, a little more dynamic. We are getting guys back healthy and we are playing bigger more.”

While the Hawks go through a rebuild, and many in the fan base hope for a top pick in next year’s draft, there is no denying they have been close late in games. The Hawks have played 19 games that were within five points with five minutes remaining and have a 6-13 record. Their 153-point output is 14th in the league in that clutch situation, scoring 24 points less than their opponents.

The win over the Wizards might have been the second-best of the season, behind a two-point win at the Cavaliers in early November.

Taurean Prince admitted losing late in games has been frustrating.

“Yes, but that’s just life,” Prince said. “We are not even talking about basketball. It’s life and you have to take it for what it is, continue to give 1,000 percent effort and live with the results.”

 The Hawks are on the road to getting healthy in a thinned frontcourt. Starting center Dewayne Dedmon was cleared for on-court activities. He has missed 14 games with a left tibia stress reaction. He is about two weeks away from a return. Forward/center Mike Muscala was assigned to the G League for a second stint as he works toward a return after missing 25 games with a left ankle sprain. The return of the depth and flexibility can only help.