By Timothy Parker
Atlanta United’s championship mojo must have rubbed off on the Hawks.
As the Five Stripes were earning their first MLS championship, the Hawks, the worst team in the East, were taking care of business across the street against the team with the best record in the Western Conference.
They beat the Nuggets, 106-98, on Saturday night at State Farm Arena.
“It’s a great night for Atlanta,” a proud Lloyd Pierce said.
“(It’s) super satisfying,” said John Collins, who had a career-high 30 points. “(To beat a team that’s) number one in the west. I just think we needed this win.”
The Hawks entered the second half trailing 56-51. But they exploded in the third quarter, outscoring Denver 35-21 in the frame.
During that stretch, Deandre Bembry got a huge block, leading to a Vince Carter three on the other end to give the Hawks a 82-72 lead.
“I think the best teams in this league play defense well, and that helps them offensively,” added DeAndre Bembry, who also had a career-high with 18 points.
Pierce had high praise for Bembry, saying, “He’s kind of everything for us. He’s the backup point guard, lock down defender… He just fills in a lot of different gaps and a lot of different holes.”
Things weren’t so happy after the first quarter though. The Hawks had no answer for Nuggets big man, Nikola Jokic. He had 15 points after the opening period, as the Denver got off to a 35-25 lead. Though, Jokic only had nine points the rest of the game. So what changed?
“I don’t know,” Pierce said. “But I’m not gonna complain about it.”
Pierce watched his team lead by as much as 17 in the fourth quarter, but Denver trimmed the lead to 10 with under four minutes left after two easy baskets in transition.
It was another teaching opportunity for a young team.
“I didn’t think we finished very well… just sloppy play,” Pierce added. “That’s part of the education. I brought the group over with about 30 seconds remaining and just reminded them this is why we emphasize finishing.”
Even worse, in the final seconds of the game, Collins was ejected for a puzzling flagrant 2 foul.
“I didn’t know I had a flagrant at all,” Collins said. ” I just knew I had to leave the court… next question.”
Even though there was late drama, the Hawks needed no late heroics to pull out a big upset win.
And for one night in Atlanta, this was a city of winners. Thanks to Atlanta United and their basketball playing neighbors.
This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Voice.