Off the heels of a 13-point drubbing in Toronto on Friday night, the Atlanta Hawks were right back in action on Saturday, when the Portland Trail Blazers came to town for their annual visit. The Hawks sent Portland away with one of the best halves of the season, turning a six-point halftime deficit into a 15-point win. Atlanta stepped up their game on both sides of the ball to get their tenth win of the season and third in the last four games to close out the calendar year. Dennis Schröder led all scorers with 22 points, but it was a team effort on the offensive end, as six players scored in double figures, spurred by the team’s hot three-point shooting. They finished 14-for-30 from beyond the arc, led by Taurean Prince and Tyler Cavanaugh, who combined to hit seven of 11 attempts from deep. Portland, on the other hand, shot just 7-for-25 from outside as star guard CJ McCollum struggled all night to get his shot going from the field. Damian Lillard missed the game for Portland with a continued hamstring problem, which created the opening Atlanta needed to swipe the game from their visitors.
Every Hawk who played significant minutes posted a positive plus/minus, led by Cavanaugh, who had perhaps his best all-around game of his professional career. Beyond the 13 points on just seven shots and 3-for-4 performance from outside, Cavanaugh was disruptive defensively and got in on the offensive glass multiple times to win new possessions for Atlanta. Hitting the offensive glass has been a consistent theme for the Hawks over the past two weeks and it was no different in this one. John Collins added six offensive boards of his own to carry the Hawks in that particular statistic, using the typical high energy and motor observers have grown accustomed to from the rookie center.
Collins didn’t shoot particularly well from the field, but his willingness to take face-up jumpers when he gets the ball in the post is an encouraging sign. Even though his jump shot has been poor this year (he’s shooting just 31 percent from midrange on the year), he wasn’t afraid to get those shots up against Portland when they were open. Eventually, he’ll get the touch down on those shots and become a more versatile scoring threat, perhaps even extending his range out to the three-point line.
Schröder was the key to the Hawks’ second-half run, as the point guard poured in 18 of his 22 points in the second frame and missed just one shot in the final two quarters as he tortured the Trail Blazers with a variety of moves. Particularly effective was his midrange jumper, which he hit with regularity against Portland’s deep drop pick-and-roll coverage, which I outlined for Blazer’s Edge, our SB Nation sister site covering the Trail Blazers. Schröder shot the ball six times in pick-and-roll and made five of them, scoring 11 points in the process. Watch below how he was able to punish Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic for hanging back so far on the pick-and-roll:
The German point guard also had the move of the game against Nurkic late in the fourth quarter, where he broke out the cut dribble to wrongfoot the big man, a move made famous by, among others, Jeff Teague, Schröder’s predecessor in Atlanta:
After turning the corner on the screen from Ersan Ilyasova, Schröder throws the ball toward the rolling Ilyasova, but puts so much backspin on the ball that it bounces right back to him, fooling Nurkic into jumping across to guard Ilyasova and opening up the easy layup for Schröder. It’s a beautiful move on a handful of point guards have in their arsenal, but it seems that Schröder was paying attention during those years on the bench watching Teague bewilder big men again and again with that same move.
Schröder and Prince were the only Hawks to break 30 minutes in this one as head coach Mike Budenholzer used his ten-man rotation generously, given that the team had just played the night before in Toronto. Prince was very effective in his role for Atlanta, finishing with 12 points, ten rebounds, and five assists. All 12 of his points came from beyond the arc as the second-year wing continues to show his massive development in that area over his rookie campaign. Prince is now up to 43.0 percent shooting from deep this year, a mark that truly puts him among the league’s elite.
As Prince has displayed his aptitude for catching and shooting on the perimeter, the coaching staff have decided to run more plays for him to come off screens, reminiscent of the same sets they used to call for Kyle Korver. After using just 31 possessions off screens last year, he’s already up to 47 such possessions this year. They’re effective, too: Atlanta has scored 50 points on those 47 possessions, a mark that puts Prince in the 62nd percentile league-wide. His standstill shot translates relatively well to shooting on the move and being able to do so really widens the possibilities for his offensive role:
Prince was also quite effective defensively, playing more of a free safety role when guarding Portland’s Evan Turner, who is often unwilling to shoot from outside. Turner finished 1-for-3 from beyond the arc but his shooting woes popped up throughout the game, as Prince mostly ignored him on the perimeter to focus on helping against McCollum, Shabazz Napier, and the more dangerous Trail Blazers. Watch how Napier drives to the rim but is met by Prince, who has two feet in the paint despite his man being in the strong-side corner. The coaching staff did their jobs in pre-game scouting meetings with Prince, as he was repeatedly willing to let Turner shoot from out there.
After their third win in the past seven days, the Hawks improved to 10-26, edging their way up the standings. They were the final team in the league to get to double-digit wins and are now just one game ahead of Memphis in the race for the most ping pong balls in May’s draft lottery. Ten teams are within 3.5 games of Atlanta at the bottom of the league, making this season’s fall to the bottom even more interesting. Still, before fans bemoan each and every Hawks win, it’s important to note that losing in such large amounts can have a negative effect on the team. Wins like this one against Portland and winning stretches like the one the Hawks are currently on really boost morale and help with long-term player development, as the players are naturally willing to work harder for a team they feel is more competitive.
Atlanta is back in action in the new year on January 2nd in Phoenix, where they take on another team near the bottom of the league in the Suns, before heading to Portland for the return visit to the Trail Blazers. These two games kick off a five-game road trip to open 2018 for the Hawks, before they come home for nine home games in their next ten throughout the rest of January.
All stats are courtesy of Synergy, unless otherwise noted.