Hawks nearly come back from 21-point deficit

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

The Hawks nearly completed one of the greatest comebacks in NBA playoff history.


The Hawks were outhustled and outperformed for three and a half quarters of a 103-101 loss to Washington in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series Saturday at the Verizon Center.

It took a buzzer-beater from Paul Pierce to end the remarkable run.

The Hawks trailed the Wizards by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter before a furious reserve-led comeback. The Hawks’ rally was complete when Mike Muscala made a 3-pointer with 14.1 seconds left to tie the score at 101-101.

Pierce then delivered the game-winner on the ensuing possession.

“See how we played in the fourth quarter? We have to play that way the entire 48 minutes, not just 12,” said Mike Scott, one of the key reserves. “If we would have played 24 minutes like that we probably would have won. We just can’t get down. We can’t play like that for three quarters and get in a hole and try to get back.”

The Wizards took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Monday night.

Paul Millsap did not start the game for the Hawks as a late scratch because of flu-like symptoms. He entered 4:51 into the first quarter, but by that point the Hawks already trailed 11-4.

Millsap’s replacement in the starting lineup was Pero Antic, who missed three of the Hawks’ first five shots. Antic also allowed Wizards forward Nene two quick baskets by bulling his way inside.

The Hawks fell behind by double-digits with 2:38 left in the first quarter. They would never get closer than nine until late in the fourth.

Then came the turnaround. And what a turnaround it was.

The Hawks outscored the Wizards 21-3, including a 17-0 run, to pull within three points, 94-91 with 3:12 left. The reserve unit of Dennis Schroder, Shelvin Mack, Scott and Muscala were behind the near-record comeback.

The Hawks got within three points, 99-96, on a three-point play by Schroder with 1:07 left. After forcing a 24-second violation, Schroder made a pair of free throws with 23.8 seconds left, a play set up by an offensive rebound from Scott after a Kyle Korver missed a 3-pointer.

Will Bynum made two free throws for the Wizards with 22.1 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Schroder slipped while driving to the basket. He kept control of the ball and found Muscala, who made the dramatic game-tying 3-pointer.

“Dennis slipped and was able to find me,” Muscala said. “A great look and great composure on his part. I was open, and I let it fly. We were down a 3. We needed to tie the game. I’m a confident shooter.”

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer elected to stay with his reserves responsible for the heroics with the game on the line.

“It just felt right to stick with that group,” Budenholzer said.

It worked until Pierce, guarded by Schroder after a switch, let his 21-footer go with one second remaining. Kent Bazemore, on the floor for defense, made a run to help.

“I was close,” Bazemore said. “I was looking at the (shot) clock on the other end. Once it got under two seconds I tried to get a good contest on it. That’s what he does. He’s a future Hall of Famer. He’s been here before. His favorite thing to say is, ‘That’s why they brought me here.’ He showed us.”

The Wizards played without John Wall, their All-Star point guard, for a second consecutive game with a five non-displaced fractures on his left hand. The Wizards simply didn’t need him for much of the game as the Hawks held leads of just 2-0 and 4-3.

Schroder led the Hawks with 18 points, 16 in the fourth quarter. Jeff Teague added 18 points, nine in the third quarter. DeMarre Carroll finished with 14 points.

Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter all had 17 points for the Wizards.

It was difficult for the Hawks to say after the game whether there was reason for encouragement in the comeback or disappointment in the dreadful start.

“To have a visual of what it takes and how to play is always a positive,” Budenholzer said. “But I think the feeling that was there for the majority of the game is also important. I don’t know which is stronger, which is more important. They’re both real.”

The Wizards led by as many as 12 points in the first quarter and by 18 points in the second quarter. They took a 56-43 lead into intermission.

Teague drew the ire of the Washington crowd with a hard foul on a layup attempt by Beal in the second quarter. The foul was ruled a Flagrant-1 after being reviewed by the officials. Teague took a hard foul from Beal in the third quarter in a similar breakaway. Teague briefly stared down Beal and then walked away, but was assessed a technical foul for an apparent comment.

The Hawks got as close as nine points, 66-57, midway through the third quarter. However, once again, the Wizards answered and took a 19-point advantage into the final quarter with an 85-66 lead.

The Wizards snapped a seven-game losing streak in Eastern Conference semifinals with the win, a drought that began following a win on April 29, 1979, coincidentally against the Hawks.