Hawks show resilience in four-OT victory

It’s something right out of minor-league hockey.

The Hawks played three games in three days over the weekend – two games in Atlanta sandwiched around a game in Washington, D.C. – owing to the necessity of scheduling 66 games in a lockout-shortened season.

As fate – or maybe it should properly be called misfortune – would have it, the Hawks played the longest game in the NBA in almost 15 years on Sunday in the finale of that trio and came up with a 139-133 victory over Utah in four overtimes at Philips Arena.

Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson led the way in numerous categories. He played a team-high 55 minutes, 23 seconds and scored a game-high 37 points on 14-of-28 shooting. After the game, his response about how it felt might sound surprising for someone who has suffered through tendinitis in his left knee, an ailment that has caused him to miss games this season.

“It’s not really that exhausting like people would think,” Johnson said. “I know it’s our third in a row, but winning cures everything. The more you win, everything else takes care of itself. You tend not to hurt as much.”

The game took 3 hours, 16 minutes to play – a full 1 hour, 11 minutes longer than the Hawks’ win over the Wizards the day before. It was the third-longest in league history and the ninth to go to four overtimes, according to The Associated Press. The last time a game went to four overtimes had been Nov. 14, 1997, when Phoenix and Portland did it.

As long games go, it’s not quite like the Class AAA baseball game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings that lasted 33 innings, more than eight hours and was played over parts of three days (it was suspended at 4:09 a.m. on April 19, 1981, and completed on June 23 of that year). But for basketball, after playing three games in three days, the Hawks’ could prove more tiring – irrespective of whatever Johnson might say.

Four members of the Jazz played more than 50 minutes, including Gordon Hayward, who logged a game-high 57:28. Three Hawks broke the 50 barrier, including 6-foot-11, 275-pound center Zaza Pachulia, who hauled down 20 rebounds.

During their 2010 season, the Atlanta Falcons led the NFL in drives of 10 plays or more. Asked what those drives felt like, right tackle Tyson Clabo responded, “like a good burn.” One can only imagine how Pachulia and Utah’s 289-pound Al Jefferson, who played 51:19, felt.

“We just gutted it out,” Hawks guard Willie Green said in a video posted on the team’s website.

As Johnson mentioned, winning makes everything feel better. Utah had to deal with the flip side of that. Hayward called it a “tough game to lose.”

“I played fifty-seven minutes, and man, that’s a lot of basketball,” Hayward said. “I could’ve played 10 more overtimes if I had to. You’re just out there competing and that’s all there is to it. Tomorrow morning will probably be tough, but we’re professionals, so you have to just keep playing hard no matter how long it takes.”

With a game on Tuesday in Milwaukee followed by one back in Atlanta on Wednesday against league-leading Chicago for five games in six days, Hawks coach Larry Drew gave his squad a well-deserved day off on Monday. The team was scheduled to fly later in the day for the game with the Bucks, where the Hawks hope to win their fifth straight, which would represent their longest winning streak of the season.

They pulled back into fifth in the Eastern Conference with Sunday’s win and sit 1½ games behind Southeast Division rival Orlando for third. With 12 games remaining, home-court advantage could be key for the playoffs, as it was last year when the Hawks downed the Magic in the first round. The lower-seeded Hawks won all three of their home games in that series.

Drew liked the resilience his team showed on Sunday.

“That was something,” he said. “It’s all happened to us this year thus far. We’ve gone through injury, emergencies with families. We’ve gone through scheduling zig-zagging all over the states, 11-, 12-day trips. Now we go into a back-to-back-to-back, and on the third night, we go into…was it four? Four overtimes. This team didn’t have any quit in them.”