ATLANTA — The life of an NBA player on a 10-day contract usually consists of scout-team reps in practice and a prime seat on the bench for gameday.
It rarely involves a breakout performance — especially on Day 1 of the temporary deal.
But that wasn’t the case for guard Jannero Pargo, who rolled for 16 bench points and four crucial three-pointers on Monday, while sparking the Hawks to a 104-96 win over the Timberwolves at Philips Arena.
“I take my hat off to (Pargo),” said Hawks head coach Larry Drew of his team’s newest addition. “The way he came in today . . . it was a really gutsy performance. I know he’s not in real ‘basketball shape,’ even though we worked him out (on Sunday). But he passed the test (against the ‘Wolves).”
Prior to Monday, Pargo had only played in seven NBA games this season, scoring a grand total of 21 points for the struggling Wizards. But in his first outing with the Hawks, Pargo connected on six of 11 shots — and four of five triples — while helping Atlanta momentarily absorb the loss of guard Lou Williams, who’s out for the season with a knee injury.
In the postgame scrum, Pargo glowingly discussed how his teammates kept encouraging him to shoot, trusting him to make big shots with fatigued legs. He also happily recalled a hot streak during Monday’s early shootaround, as a group of courtside youngsters watched Pargo rattle off 10 consecutive three-pointers without a miss.
“That’s how I wanted it. If I make one, (the kids) say ‘one.’ If I hit two, say ‘two’ and so on,” said Pargo about the pregame streak. “It’s my job to have fun. It’s also my job to keep my teammates loose and try to take the pressure off.”
Pargo’s heroics were certainly a welcome sight for Hawks veterans Al Horford (team-high 28 points, 10 rebounds) and Josh Smith (10 points, six assists), as the pair successfully wore down the smaller ‘Wolves in the second half. This down-low superiority eventually led to quality looks from beyond the arc, with Pargo, Kyle Korver (14 points) and Anthony Tolliver accounting for nine of the Hawks’ 10 triples.
Atlanta’s annual home date on MLK Day, celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, didn’t necessarily start with a bang, as the club played from behind for a good chunk of the matinee outing.
“The first half, we couldn’t do anything right,” said Drew. “We couldn’t make a shot. We were sloppy with our passes. We didn’t chase down long rebounds. We didn’t contest shots the way we should. It was a very sloppy half.”
The Timberwolves (17-21) established a frenetic pace early on, racing to a 31-18 lead after 12 minutes. Minnesota shot 50 percent from the field (10-20) and leaned on second-year forward Derrick Williams for nine points.
Horford turned in the best play of the second quarter, spinning baseline on his defender for a thunderous and-one dunk, cutting the Hawks’ deficit to 12. It was the lone major highlight of a sluggish stretch of play.
For the Hawks, the third quarter was an exercise in extremes. On the positive side, they kick-started the second half with a 10-0 run, fueled by back-to-back triples from Korver. And after 36 minutes of play, Atlanta had the overall edge in field-goal percentage, three-pointers made, assists and rebounds (despite trailing).
The quarter produced some rocky moments, too. On consecutive trips with the game tied at 69, Mike Scott (11 points, seven rebounds) and Smith missed a pair of free throws — with Smith air-balling his second attempt. That momentary loss of mojo allowed the Timberwolves to produce an 8-0 spurt and grab a 77-70 lead entering the final stanza.
Atlanta finally seized control of the game around the 5:30 mark of the fourth. A Horford dunk tied the score at 89. Pargo then drilled a three-pointer. After that, Smith got a layup, expanding the Hawks’ lead to five (94-89).
Then, after a four-point play from Minnesota’s Andrei Kirilenko, a Pargo three-pointer, two Jeff Teague free throws and then one last Horford dunk essentially sealed Atlanta’s comeback effort. All told, the Hawks topped the Wolves 34-19 in the final quarter.
“We really needed to fight (back from a deficit), they got to us early,” said Horford, whose club shot 74 percent from the field in the second half. “It feels really good to win.”
Drew felt great about Horford’s play, as well. In recent weeks, his All-Star big man has had greater success getting quicker into his post moves — while finishing with more authority.
“That’s the Al of old,” said Drew.
The Hawks (23-18) will next play two of three games on the road this week, with trips to Charlotte and New York (Knicks) sandwiched between another home date with the Celtics on Friday night. Just 16 days ago (Jan. 5), Boston rallied from a sizable first-half deficit to win in Atlanta.