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Breaking down the final possessions of Atlanta’s thrilling win over Charlotte

Taking a deeper look at crunch time.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks were finally able to end a losing streak that had reached double digits by pulling out a one-point victory over the Hornets on Sunday evening. It’s the first time observers have been able to evaluate how this young team and new coaching staff will manage themselves in a close contest with the game in question during the final possessions since a one-point road loss to the Lakers on Nov. 11.

Let’s take a look.

The Hawks used their final timeout with 15.4 seconds remaining in regulation down one point. Note that the Hornets still had a foul to give before putting the Hawks into the bonus.

Atlanta had the option to advance the ball to half court but chose not to do so. The amount of time remaining meant it wasn’t imperative for them to advance the ball and instead allowed them to dribble the ball to the spot from where they wanted their designed action to begin.

Trae Young dribbled directly toward the top of the key as John Collins, Kent Bazemore, DeAndre’ Bembry and Taurean Prince worked toward their respective dedicated spots.

The Hornets allowed the Hawks players to show as much of their hand as they could before Kemba Walker gave the foul on Young to cut off his momentum toward the paint.

Charlotte did not have a natural rim protector on the floor. As such, it looks like the plan for Atlanta at this point was to give Young the option to attack immediately in isolation if the Hornets defenders were spread out (with no real rim protection available) or to slow it down and wait to allow Collins to move toward the top of the offensive formation to set up for the 1-5 pick-and-roll.

It’s very likely that the Hornets coaches and players saw every bit of this and were not the least bit surprised.

As such, the Hornets made an adjustment and worked to deny the entry pass to Young, as the Hawks are inbounding the ball from the sideline after Charlotte gave the foul.

It’s impossible to know for sure if Young was aware that he can retreat to the back court in order to create more space to provide a passing lane for Bembry to enter the ball to him. He may have decided that if he had done so he would have not had the time to keep all of his options available.

The result, however, was that Bembry had to enter the ball to someone other than Young, so as to avoid a would-be disastrous five-second count and turnover.

Atlanta’s most experienced player on the court, Bazemore, came toward Bembry to set up a secure passing lane for the entry pass.

The positive aspect for Charlotte, in having detected and denied the Hawks preferred action, is that the offensive team now had to improvise. With Young cut off from the proceedings, Atlanta had to go to Plan B.

The negative aspect is that the Hornets’ defenders will also need to read and react to the improvised action. It’s very likely that the player defending Bazemore, Dwayne Bacon, was primarily expecting to act as an off-ball defender, but now he found himself being attacked by his man with the ball.

Likewise, Marvin Williams was likely prepared to deal with Collins diving toward the rim after a high screen-and-roll with Young or from the baseline as Young attacks the paint with a spread formation.

In the improvised action, Williams tried to help on Bazemore with a “dig”. Note that the purpose of a dig is to force the ball handler to pick up his dribble, but Bazemore did not look the least bit uncomfortable and got all the way to the glass and converted the layup to give his team the one-point lead.

Here is the subsequent possession.

(Note: Kevin Huerter has replaced Young in the Hawks lineup for this defensive possession.)

The Hornets took a timeout and, with only 6.4 seconds remaining, advanced the ball to the frontcourt. Notice how they used a little bit of traffic in the form of Malik Monk cutting from the left three-point break to the right three-point break. It’s just enough to prevent Bembry from having the space to deny the entry pass to Walker, just as Walker had done to Young on the other end of the floor.

Consider the previous Hawks’ their young players gain experience, they should develop the ability to use a technique like this to set up a successful entry pass without it having to be drawn up during the timeout.

It appears that the Hornets plan was to set up their All-Star point guard to attack with the dribble, with the preference of letting him attack toward his stronger right hand.

The Hawks’ defensive unit seemed very well prepared to read and react to the action, but Walker is in a pretty exclusive class of NBA players who can beat you even if you know exactly what is coming.

Recall the dig from Williams on the preceding possession that had no effect on Bazemore’s ability to maintain his dribble. On this play, notice how effective Huerter’s dig was on forcing Walker to pick up his dribble at least a tick before he would have otherwise needed to do so. Also notice how this allowed Collins to see Walker commit to going airborne toward the rim. This gave the Hawks’ young big man ample time to see the play and he got the block to secure the win.

But the play design allowed Walker another alternative.

In this cropped video, notice that when Colllins shifted toward the rim to offer resistance, instead of setting up a simple slip pass to him on the left block, Cody Zeller instead moved to set a screen on Bazemore as to allow Monk to slide to the weak side corner unattended.

Watch again in the full flow of the play.

Also notice the reaction of Mock when the ball is not delivered to him as he stands wide open in the short corner.

Should Walker have made that pass?

Possibly, but he has to read the play in real time and make that decision.

Now let’s take a look at the defense of Bembry in the cropped video.

This is beautiful.

He knew where the help from Huerter is despite the fact that Walker strongly wants to go right. As Walker got downhill, Bembry pushed him just enough toward the help that the dig had its intended effect. Then, he did something other than becoming a spectator. He worked hard to get back across Walker’s body to his left side. It very well could be that Walker felt Bembry trailing him from the left and didn’t feel sure he could deliver the ball to Monk for the uncontested jumper.

In summary, it did not go exactly as designed on both ends of the court but the Hawks found a way to execute on both plays for the badly-needed win.