The Atlanta Hawks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 120-118, withstanding a second-half onslaught from Donovan Mitchell who scored 32 of his 44 points after the break. They are back at .500 on the season for what feels like the umpteenth time. But it almost was not to be as they surrendered another double-digit lead in the fourth quarter needing some late-game heroics from Dejounte Murray to seal the deal.
Heroics that Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff questioned after the game.
“They called a foul that wasn’t a fault,” Bickerstaff said in a video on the Cavs’ official YouTube channel after the game on March 28. “That matters. The defensive player should be covered and have a spot to land just like the offensive player. And when you kick your feet forward, that’s not a natural drift in a shot. That’s a huge play.
“There’s a play, they made a three, where the guy stepped out of bounds. They didn’t call that. So, our defense was good enough. It’s tough to overcome those types of mistakes.”
Bickerstaff was not alone in feeling some type of way about the non-call.
Cleveland opened the fourth quarter trailing 96-84 but surged to take a 113-112 lead when Murray came down, probed the perimeter, and pulled up for a three with a little over two minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
He was fouled by Cavs big man Evan Mobley. The play went to review upon Bickerstaff’s challenge only to be upheld sending Murray to the line for three free throws which he knocked down, tying the game. Atlanta outscored Cleveland 5-3 the rest of the way – just enough to come away victorious.
Murray notched five assists, four rebounds, and a pair of steals with his team-high 29 points while snapping out of his shooting slump, hitting 3-of-7 triples. He had gone 10 straight games without making more than one shot from deep.
“Him being aggressive from the three-point line is big for us, and a big thing for him,” said head coach Quin Snyder via the Wepa.Fm YouTube channel. “And then also getting downhill and getting to the rim. When he does those two things, it really puts pressure on the defense.”
He did that in this one and hit the most clutch bucket of the game.
“The ability to make a play and rise up and take a contested shot, that’s where his mid-range game’s so important, during those times,” Snyder said. “Because…he’s able to rise up and use his length.”
The Atlanta Hawks didn’t win the game on Dejounte Murray’s free throws
Even after Murray’s middy put the Hawks up by four points with less than one minute to go, the Cavs got another breath of life from Mitchell who hit his final three (5-of-12) to draw the Cavs back within one point. He had a chance to get the win with a desperation three from halfcourt.
Bickerstaff was not just upset about one play, Murray had three such calls go his way including this one against Cavs forward Caris LeVert from the third quarter, already the second of the day.
The Hawks maintained their lead over the Toronto Raptors, who also won beating the seventh-seeded Miami Heat, to keep their grasp on the eighth spot. Atlanta is just two games out of the seven-seed and 2.5 games back of the six-seeded Brooklyn Nets who have lost six of their last seven outings.
Their next challenge comes against the Nets in Brooklyn on March 31.
Half of their remaining six games are on the road while all but one of them are against a team guaranteed of a playoff spot or fighting for the Play-In.