The Atlanta Hawks almost lost a game last night at the free throw line. Again. This hasn’t been a problem for the team yet in terms of wins and losses, but it could very soon become one.

Atlanta was still able to gut out a 95-86 win on the road against a New Orleans team that is close to being complete with the return of Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis, which is to be commended, but their shooting from the free throw line late in the game was horrendous.
As a team, the Hawks only shot eight free throws on Tuesday night and they missed four of them, going 50 percent for the game. All four misses came in the fourth period.

As bad as the Hawks were, New Orleans was even worse. According to figures from the Elias Sports Bureau, the New Year’s night game in New Orleans was the single worst free throw shooting game in NBA history since the creation of the shot clock.

The Hawks 50 percent shooting was matched and one-upped by the Hornets who made just four of 12, giving them a team free throw percentage of 33.3. Put them together and you get a combined free-throw percentage of 40 percent (eight makes in 20 attempts), the lowest in any of the 49,000-plus NBA regular-season games played since the league introduced the 24-second shot clock in the fall of 1954.

The worst part of the New Year’s Day Free Throw Debacle for the Hawks is that last night’s misses came from the team’s top shooters. Both Lou Williams and Jeff Teague went 0-fer at the line, missing both free throws in the fourth quarter at critical times.

Teague is shooting close to 87 percent from the line this year and is almost 80 percent from the line in his career. Williams has also averaged 87 percent from the line this season and posts a career average just above 80 percent.

Free throws have been at a premium for the Hawks, particularly late in games and against teams they should be taking care of with ease. (That is, if they genuinely expect to be playing for something in the postseason.)

“They’re just that – free throws,” remarked an exasperated Larry Drew after the Hawks pulled a similar act, almost pulling a loss from the jaws of victory against the Detroit Pistons last week. “We’ve got to get better [from the line].”

The Hawks shot 74 percent from the line as a team in that game, but Josh Smith and Al Horford each missed half of their free throw attempts, most of which came at critical times in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Coach Drew said it best: they’re free throws. You should make them.

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