The Atlanta Hawks’ 31-year-old rookie center earned the first start of his career and established career highs in points, rebounds, minutes and three-pointers.
But at the critical moment, he made a mental mistake and left Golden State’s Andre Iguodala wide open. With no time left on the clock, Iguodala made Antic and the Hawks pay by draining a three-pointer that delivered the Warriors to their eighth straight victory, 101-100, as the Golden State erased a 15-point Hawks’ lead in the final six minutes at Philips Arena.
For the first three games after two-time All-Star center Al Horford went down with a season-ending pectoral muscle injury, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer elected to start 15-year veteran Elton Brand, although the 34-year-old Brand still played relatively limited minutes. On Friday, Budenholzer gave Antic, the first native of Macedonia to play in the NBA, the start.
Antic responded with a team-high 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-6 on three-pointers. He also added seven rebounds in 27 minutes.
However, as Golden State went to inbound the ball with 3.2 seconds left in regulation, Antic’s job was to defend Iguodala, who inbounded the ball. Iguodala passed the ball in to Stephen Curry, who torched the Hawks for 12 points and three assists in the fourth quarter, and Antic went to trap him with a double team.
Curry made a quick pass to Iguodala, left open by Antic’s move to double Curry, and Iguodala scored the game-winner.
Antic seemed to take the loss hard.
"Even if you have best game, the team has to win," Antic said. "It’s all about the team for me. That’s how I’m raised. That’s how they teach me in Europe. If the team lose — even if you score 40 — it doesn’t matter. The team lose. This is team sports."
Budenholzer said Antic would start again on Saturday in Chicago but didn’t attach any importance to the fact that he started. The 6-foot-11, 260-pound Antic mostly played forward in Europe before coming to the NBA but with Horford out the Hawks need him in the middle.
"I think Pero played really well tonight," Budenholzer said. "I think that’s probably most important. He’s just a smart basketball player. He gives us a lot on both ends. His length, his savvy. Obviously, when he makes shots, he really helps our offense."
Down the stretch, the Hawks self-destructed with a slew of turnovers, as Golden State got hot. With 6:48 left in the fourth quarter, Antic made a 25-foot three-pointer to put the Hawks up 91-76. From there, the Hawks made only one more field goal for the rest of the game.
With Horford out, the Hawks’ next two leading scorers, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague, both had rough nights. Millsap had carried the team of late, averaging 25.8 points and 11.2 rebounds over his past five games. But he shot 3-for-14 and finished with 12 points to go with 11 rebounds. Teague made 5-of-13 shots and had five turnovers to go with 14 points and seven assists.
Despite the shocking finish, Budenholzer tried to look for the positive. Through three quarters, the Hawks held the eighth-highest scoring team in the league to 64 points and Curry, the league’s seventh-leading scorer, to eight. The problem was that Golden State scored 37 points in the final quarter — 25 in the final 6:34 — as Curry finished with 22 and nine assists.
"We talked a lot about just our defensive effort and our competitiveness," Budenholzer said of his message to the team after the game. "â¦ I think if we put that kind of effort forward every night, no matter who we’re playing, we’re going to have something to build on defensively there. We just got to get better."
The loss dropped the Hawks to 18-15 but was only their fifth at home this season in 17 games. On Saturday, they will have to get back on track on the road where they are 6-10.
Hawks guard Kyle Korver, who made 1-of-5 three-pointers and finished with five points, was asked about Budenholzer’s demeanor after the game.
"Frustrated," he said. We’re not going to get too upset. We have a game tomorrow. But we should have won that game and there’s no doubt. We know it so it’s definitely a frustrating loss."