The Hawks rebounded from a close loss on Friday with a dramatic 140-135 win over the Knicks in double-overtime Sunday night for their 15 win of the season. Atlanta used a 33-20 third quarter to build up an 11-point lead entering the fourth period before New York stormed back to force overtime by imposing their size on the glass and at the rim. Neither team cared to play much defense until late in the game – each side scored over 1.12 points per possession – and both shot unremarkable percentages from the floor. The Hawks separated themselves by taking care of the ball, getting to the foul line, and riding another astonishing performance from Trae Young.
Young commanded this game from start to finish, first from outside the 3-point line and then, eventually, inside of it. He spent much of the first half pulling up for jumpers and zipping hit-ahead passes to teammates for easy buckets. He settled for a pair of deep, ill-advised pull-up jumpers in transition and committed a handful of risky turnovers, but his opportunism early in the shot clock mostly worked in Atlanta’s favor. Young had 21 points and 11 assists through three quarters, with eight of his 16 shot attempts to that point coming from beyond the arc. His passing and gravity as a shooter greased the wheels of Atlanta’s offense, which scored nearly 1.24 points per possession through the game’s first 36 minutes.
“I always go into the game just trying to find a rhythm, trying to get other guys going, get other guys in rhythm,” Young said. “I don’t necessarily go into the game thinking kick-aheads and all that, I just try to play within the offense and the flow of the game, and everything starts flowing for me.”
Indeed, the game flowed smoothly all night for Young, who finished with 48 points and 13 assists in nearly 48 minutes of action. When New York began to take control of the game and erased a 16-point Atlanta lead, he became more assertive. Rather than forcing hurried jumpers, Young attacked the basket repeatedly, earning layups and free throws as a result of his aggression. He attempted 10 combined free throws in the two extra periods (he made 16-of-16 for the game), and had 11 of Atlanta’s 14 points in the second overtime. Most importantly, he forced the Knicks to alter their defense, which allowed the Hawks to play on their terms late in the game.
“My shots were going in and out,” Young said. “I knew my floater game was gonna come into effect, and getting downhill and finding teammates was gonna help win us the game.” On one of the biggest plays of the night, Young drew two Knick defenders and found De’Andre Hunter for a left-wing 3-pointer to give the Hawks a two-possession lead. Two possessions later, after seeing several shots rattle out in the second half, he struck nothing but cord from the left corner to put Atlanta up seven with just over two minutes to play.
“They’re trying to send a body to Trae and Trae makes a great pass,” Pierce said. “But after that, now you’ve gotta honor it, and that’s what passing does. You punish them with the pass, and now you’ve gotta stay home and be more decisive about when to held and how to help. Trae’s got a lane, he can get downhill, he started getting some free throws, and that was really the difference.”
Another key difference for the Hawks was the presence of Dewayne Dedmon, who had 10 points, eight rebounds, and five blocks in 33 minutes – his second-highest total of the season – in his first game back with the Hawks. Dedmon didn’t shoot particularly well and committed four turnovers, but his presence on the court undeniably gave the Hawks an element they previously lacked. He directed traffic on defense, helped steady the offense, and didn’t seem to miss a beat stepping back into the system in which he thrived the last two seasons. “It felt good,” he said. “I got back into the flow of the system that I’ve been used to the past couple years. Still got some work to do, but it was good to be back.”
Damian Jones started the game, but Dedmon was the backbone of Atlanta’s closing lineup and the center Pierce clearly trusted most. He likely would have eclipsed 35 minutes, but fouled out early in the second overtime. Even in his over-aggression, however, Pierce saw positive signs from Dedmon. “[He’s] not afraid to make mistakes,” Pierce said. “The fact that he fouled out tonight was him trying to make plays, him making it hard for them, him flying all over the place. And some you’re just in a bad spot, but he’s making the effort and he’s not giving them easy plays. And that’s what’s most important.”
With Dedmon unavailable for the final 4:24, the Hawks turned to John Collins at center, and he turned in another terrific performance with 32 points and 16 rebounds on 12-of-19 shooting. (Collins now has 14 straight games with at least 17 points on 50 percent shooting or better, and seven consecutive double-doubles.) He was a force around the rim on both ends of the floor, playing one of his strongest defensive games of the season at both power forward and center. Late in the first overtime period, Collins rotated from the weak side to block Julius Randle’s layup attempt before sprinting the floor and tipping in Young’s miss to cut New York’s lead to two. That was Collins’ only block of the night, but his impact at the rim went beyond that as he helped anchor his team when it most needed him. When isolated against Randle late in regulation, he walled off the forward’s drive and forced a difficult baseline fadeaway to preserve a 116-116 tie and extend Atlanta’s window of opportunity.
Mitchell Robinson had a similar impact for the Knicks with one of his better all-around efforts of the season. He logged 15 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks while shooting 7-of-8 from the field; he helped spark New York’s run in the fourth quarter with his activity on defense and force finishing at the rim. His tenacity on the offensive glass created seven extra opportunities for his team and his length on defense posed issues for the Hawks all over the floor. If Robinson couldn’t get a hand on the Hawks’ shot attempts, he at least lodged himself in the back of their minds.
“Someone once told me that my defense was a little off,” Robinson said after the game. “So I had to show them I can play defense. I have to step it up each night and continue to get better, and hopefully that will bring us some more wins.”
Randle spearheaded the Knicks’ offense with 35 points, 18 rebounds, and three assists, but joined a growing list of players who simply weren’t good enough to match Young. Some nights, having the best player on the floor makes all the difference between two evenly matched teams.