It’s been a long time coming — rewind to Dec. 8 against the Charlotte Hornets — but the Atlanta Hawks are back in the win column as they topped the Orlando Magic 101-93 in Orlando on Monday night, without Trae Young (ankle) and Jabari Parker (shoulder).
The Magic also had to play this one without key personnel — Aaron Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu and Michael Carter-Williams all missing this game — but this game would’ve always stood out as one of the more winnable games in Trae Young’s absence with the Magic entering this game dead-last in the league in points scored per game.
But even despite that, few could’ve seen this game unfolding as it did.
Really, things began in the second quarter where the game was getting away from the Hawks quickly, as the Magic took an 18 point lead with 2:33 as D.J. Augustin hit a three-pointer to cap off a 12-point quarter.
With the game seemingly getting out of hand, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce called for a timeout and re-inserted Two-Way point guard Brandon Goodwin, who had enjoyed a productive first quarter but had not seen time on the court in the second quarter up to that point.
Goodwin made an instant impact as he scored eight points in the final 2:33 to help cut the Orlando lead.
Here, Goodwin works with Collins and uses a nice left-to-right cross as he rejects the Collins screen, gets by Markelle Fultz and rises into a floater as Nikola Vucevic watches on:
(Score here to the end of the quarter is incorrect as the Hawks had a three-pointer ruled as a two, so it should be 37)
The first of Goodwin’s three-pointers to end the second quarter comes after a good screen from John Collins frees Goodwin of Augustin, and Goodwin pulls the trigger and knocks down the three:
On Atlanta’s next offensive possession, the Magic are switched (you can see Augustin is also guarding De’Andre Hunter on the weak-side), Goodwin directs Cam Reddish out of the corner, Goodwin then takes residence in the corner, Collins finds him and Vucevic — guarding Goodwin but probably more concerned about Collins — leaves Goodwin free to take an open corner three, which he duly dispatches:
A huge eight points in the final few minutes from Goodwin to help the Hawks out of the hole they were in and give them a fighting chance to perhaps make some sort of comeback in the second half — being down 10 is certainly a lot more manageable than 18 or perhaps beyond, who knows where this game may have gone had Goodwin not ignited.
“I think it was finding someone to step up, and Brandon was able to do that at that stretch,” said Pierce postgame via Fox Sports Southeast. “... I thought our guys were playing well. We got a little sloppy in the second quarter, a lot of one-on-one play but just having that spurt and settling in. I thought we were doing a good job, pretty much all night, and we had a big lapse that gave them that 18 point lead. Again, it was Brandon that just gave us a little cushion, a little comfort, for him to knock down two threes in that stretch and then just ignite us and get us back in the game and settle us down a little bit.”
But Goodwin wasn’t done, scoring another seven points in the third quarter as he saw significantly more time in the third quarter compared to the second quarter (playing over seven minutes compared to the near three minutes to end the half) and he found more than one way to contribute.
On this play, Goodwin is deployed off of the ball as Kevin Huerter works the pick-and-roll with Alex Len in the corner before finding the open Goodwin at the top of the three-point line. Goodwin has time to collect himself — freed up by Evan Fournier electing to cover Collins inside and Fultz concerned with the Huerter-Len action — before knocking down the three-pointer:
Bringing the ball up the court this time, Goodwin comes off of the Len screen, does a good job switching gears as he uses a quick burst to break into the gap and drives to the rim for the layup:
This is a very mature and impressive basket from Goodwin, using his speed to lull the defense before taking off again.
With more time on the court in the third quarter, this allowed Goodwin more opportunities to initiate the offense, tallying three assists in the third quarter alone.
One of Goodwin’s more important assists came as he draws the second defender in the corner, splits the two Magic defenders and finds Allen Crabbe for a three-pointer to cut the Magic lead to just one point:
The rest of Goodwin’s third quarter assists came courtesy of baskets by Len, which brings us nicely to the big-man.
If the second quarter was about Goodwin, the third quarter was about Len, who scored eight points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting in the period.
Len’s first points of the third quarter came with under five minutes to go and the Hawks trailing by eight points — not a lot had changed in terms of the score at this point compared to halftime.
Vucevic had proved a tough matchup for Atlanta, but now it was Len’s turn to return the favor, as Vucevic does well to contest the shot but Len, somehow, is able to score:
On the next trip, Len takes it to Vucevic with a little more force. Again, Vucevic contests this shot well but this time Len gets the friendly roll:
Operating outside the paint this time, Len receives the ball from Goodwin after the guard rejects his screen. Len sees an opening, drives to his right and is able to finish despite the presence of Mo Bamba:
To end the third quarter — with the game now tied — Len again drives on Bamba having received the ball from Goodwin but Len is able to get by more convincingly and finished with the dunk to give the Hawks their first lead since the early stages of the second quarter:
Len and Goodwin finished the third quarter with a combined 15 points and both were +11 in plus/minus. You can see how the game was still in Orlando’s favor and Len got going the gap began to close as the Hawks were able to put together some stops.
“...Alex Len was great, really good in the third quarter,” said Pierce postgame.
In many ways, the Hawks caught a huge break with those baskets from Len — apart from the final one at the end of the third quarter, those first three were well contested and could’ve easily have rolled away on another night. Alas, they did not and now the Hawks took an unlikely lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The second quarter was about Goodwin. The third quarter was about Len. The fourth quarter was about Huerter.
Up to the fourth quarter, it was a so-and-so game for Huerter: seven points on 2-of-7 shooting, 1-of-5 from three and four assists, three turnovers, two blocks.
And even to begin the fourth quarter, things weren’t great. Huerter was involved in a bad phase of play where he turned the ball over and complained on the spot instead of trying to get back in transition:
Luckily for Huerter, the Magic aren’t able to find anything quick, giving him a chance to get back in front of the ball but that did not last long as Fournier — while Huerter is still pleading to the officials — drives by Huerter with ease, Huerter tries to reach around, fails, Fournier scores and Pierce calls for timeout, absolutely irate at the phase of play from Huerter and how he reacted to it (watch until the end):
Not great from Huerter but how he responded to this ended up being a huge factor in deciding this game as Huerter went on a 7-0 personal run coming out of this timeout, forcing the Magic to call for time, now suddenly trailing by eight points.
It began with this layup at the basket, as Huerter drives left, uses the Bruno Fernando screen, splits Fournier and Bamba as they are caught in the air and Huerter sticks the runner:
Again, working Fernando — this time, rejecting his screen — Huerter baits Fultz into committing to right to get over the Fernando scree and with that, Huerter frees himself some space to launch a three:
The Hawks seemed to reject a number of screens last night (more than I can remember being normal) but this time Huerter does use the Fernando screen and carries a bit more speed as he turns the corner. Huerter, then, pumps the brakes, Fultz goes flying (though, is able to recover somewhat) and Huerter fires and hits, completing his 7-0 run as the Magic require a timeout:
Such a key run in this game to give the Hawks some separation in this game and a great response from Huerter, who finished with 19 points.
Postgame, Pierce spoke about what the challenge was for Huerter and why he was upset with Huerter, who in turn was unhappy with the non-call.
“He and I have talked about that,” said Pierce when asked about getting on Huerter and the subsequent run after that. “It’s a big challenge for him defensively to stay locked in, to stay engaged, to remain physical. He was arguing about a call. There’s a couple of plays that really hurt your team. When you’re arguing with an official, your defense is now 5-on-4 on the other end. That’s a point of emphasis we always try and make, and that was all I was trying to say to him. ‘I get it, you’re upset, but you can’t stop.’ He was playing well, pretty much the entire game, and we needed him to stay locked in and not worry about one call — move on to the next play. And he did that, he came out and he really got us going after that.”
“It was a play I definitely felt I got fouled on,” said Huerter postgame. “I came back down, kind of gave up on the play, just trying to bark at the refs. I came out and he (Pierce) let me hear it. He told me I needed to stay in it, I need to get aggressive if we want to come back. Luckily a couple of shots fell after that talk.”
After that Orlando timeout came one of the defining moments of the fourth quarter.
The Magic are a team that rarely turn the ball over — in fact, they lead the league in fewest turnovers committed per game (a Steve Clifford staple). However, coming out of this timeout — before they can really get into their set — Cam Reddish reads the play and intercepts Augustin’s pass and heads down the court where he is fouled by Terrence Ross:
The significance is that this was deemed to be a clear-path foul, giving Reddish two free throws (which he dispatched) and the Hawks possession of the ball, which Huerter takes advantage of, rejecting the Fernando screen and scoring at the rim:
All of a sudden, the Hawks are now up by 12 points in the final period and enjoying their largest lead of the night and, with it, a legitimate chance to snap their 10-game losing streak — without Trae Young no less — so long as they didn’t implode.
The Magic responded with an immediate 7-0 run and got within five points with just under three minutes remaining. The game certainly was not over yet.
However, an empty possession for the Magic followed by this turnover from Fournier — and wonderful save from Huerter — leading a monster Collins dunk to put the Hawks up by seven points with under two minutes remaining effectively sealed the deal, and the Hawks celebrated their first victory for over three weeks:
“It’s a little different feeling in the locker-room. Feels good,” smiled Huerter postgame. “Over the last 10 games we definitely felt there were games in there we kind of let get away from us. In the fourth quarter, we just tried to stay consistent defensively and limit them to one shot and we hung on to win.”
Watching the game last night, you could tell that the Hawks’ communication was much better — and it showed defensively at times — and this was what pleased Lloyd Pierce last night.
“I thought the guys were spirited tonight,” Pierce said. “The execution came from communication with each other. You’ve got Kevin trying to run plays for De’Andre (Hunter), the guys are excited for Brandon (Goodwin) so they’re trying to set screens and get him the basketball. I thought the execution and communication was that spirit. They had a great spirit of who was hot, who to find, and I give a lot of guys credit. There were a lot of guys who didn’t show up on the stat-sheet defensively that really came out and bought in. Vucevic is hard to guard. Fournier is hard to guard. Terrence Ross is hard to guard. To make them work for every shot was key.”
The Hawks’ bench gave them a huge boost in this game: 52 points to Orlando’s 24.
Goodwin finished with 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, 3-of-4 from three to go along with six assists and a plus/minus rating of +22 in just under 22 minutes. Len added 18 points and 12 rebounds off of the bench.
We’ve obviously looked at their respective stretched but without Goodwin and Len, there’s no game for the Hawks and Huerter to go win in the fourth quarter.
Postgame, Pierce spoke about both Goodwin and Len and how neither performance came as a surprise.
“I think we’ve been waiting on Brandon,” said Pierce. “He’s had some success down at the G-League level, which is the reason why we called him up in the first place ... He’s been shooting the ball well. We just needed to get him some minutes and get him to settle down and he came in and (showed) why we have him as a two-way player.
“Alex has done that. He’s come in and given us a really big punch off of the bench. When he’s active around the basket and he’s trying to get offensive rebounds, that’s where he gets a lot of his scoring. In the pick-and-roll, he was able to catch some passes and attack the rim. That’s been something he did last year, that’s something he’s done this year a little bit as well. He just put together in a big stretch in the third quarter.”
“They were huge for us all game,” said Huerter of Goodwin and Len. “For Brandon to come in like he did — getting called up a couple of days ago — coming in and have 20, 21 (points) in this game and just play with extreme confidence, playing how we know he can and Alex Len got it going around the rim. It was a huge pick-up for us.”
“...He came in right off the jump today and was playing defense,” said Huerter of Goodwin via Sarah Spencer of the AJC. “I can’t say it enough, he was the difference in the game.”
Goodwin himself was just happy to give the team a lift.
“It feels great to be able to bring energy to the team,” said Goodwin immediately after the victory, via Fox Sports Southeast. On the court, off the court, whatever I could do I was trying to be an uplifting spirit at a time where we needed a win. That was my whole job coming in, whether I got in (the game) or not, just to have some energy on the bench, keep being positive and when the time came to do what I can, get my teammates involved and attack and score when I could.”
Goodwin has had some decent opportunities to score over the last few games and while the shot just didn’t fall Goodwin believed that things would eventually turn.
“I got in a couple of times last game and I couldn’t see a shot go in, but I thought I played pretty well,” said Goodwin. “I knew that moment coming into this game, I was going to be able hit shots but as long as I do the little things — guarding my man, help my teammates out and do all the other little things I was going to be alright.”
Collins had a quiet offensive night by his standards, scoring just 10 points on nine shots, grabbing 10 rebounds in the process. The Magic are a tough matchup for Collins but that’s not to say Collins had a bad game — he played well, and came up with this key contest on Jonathan Isaac at the rim:
Overall, the Hawks were worth their victory last night. They enjoyed a much better second half than the Magic, they had numerous guys from unlikely spots and stretches step up and they played decently well on both sides of the ball — that’s a rarity this season.
Orlando obviously have issues scoring but with the Hawks’ defense being as deplorable as it has been all season, it’s surprising that the Magic didn’t break 100 points. In fact, this was only the third time this season that the Hawks have limited an opponent to 100 points or less — two of those instances have happened when facing the Orlando Magic.
Now with the losing streak off of their back, perhaps the Hawks can play a little more freely in their next game and play with a little more joy in what has been a difficult season thus far.
“I’m happy for the guys,” said Pierce postgame. “They’ve played well in stretches, I think they’ve gotten down on themselves a lot...”
The Hawks (7-27) are back in action on Friday as they take on the Boston Celtics at the T.D. Garden.
Always an interesting game in Boston...
Until next time... and until next year for that matter, too.
Happy New Year!