The Atlanta Hawks snapped their five-game home losing streak as they conquered LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night at State Farm Arena, 117-113.
John Collins and Trae Young both scored 22 points, with Young adding 14 assists.
For the Lakers, LeBron James had a triple double of 28 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds while Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma both added 19 points.
Let’s break this one down.
Horrid Lakers shooting down the stretch
The Hawks and Lakers played a very entertaining three quarters at State Farm Arena but the fourth quarter was...a bit of a struggle — for both teams. The Lakers shot 26% from the field in the final quarter while the Hawks shot 27%.
“Neither team could score in the fourth quarter,” said rookie Trae Young. “That’s not usually what happens. We just had to buckle down and get some stops. We knew we had to play better defense in the fourth quarter if we wanted to win.”
Horrible shooting from both sides in the final frame but, luckily for the home team, they were the ones with the lead and the Lakers were the ones who needed to make shots more than the Hawks, being the team that was trailing after all.
Let’s fast-forward to the around two minutes remaining in the final quarter, where the Hawks have just a four-point lead over the much more experienced Lakers. How would the Hawks close this one out? Could they close it out?
Taurean Prince gets a clutch three-pointer on the board after Kevin Huerter did a great job changing directions from right to left to drive and find Prince on the wing for three:
“I just saw the ball coming. It was a good middle by Kevin,” said Taurean Prince of the play. “He just made the pass and I shot the ball. To be honest, I didn’t know exactly what the score was. I was just playing the game. When the crowd went crazy, I knew it was a big shot. That’s what we live for as basketball players. That’s what we grind for every day.”
The Lakers immediately responded with a LeBron dunk but Trae Young had a response of his own with the drive, the bucket and the foul:
big time play rook. pic.twitter.com/wMDwWlO82g— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 13, 2019
Young would miss the free throw but his basket but the Hawks back up by seven points with a minute and a half remaining.
After a missed Young three after the offensive rebound, the Lakers come down the other end and take a quick shot with Rajon Rondo attempting a three-pointer which misses:
Probably not the best shot out there if you’re the Lakers...
Collins was unable to add to the lead with his turnaround shot and the Lakers come down again with LeBron, who settles for a contested, straight-away three-pointer over Dewayne Dedmon which misses and with 36 seconds remaining and down by seven points, that was it for the Lakers:
Well, I say that was it but somehow the Hawks allowed this to become a game, kind of — the Lakers got within three and Kevin Huerter missed his first free throw with four seconds remaining, which certainly had the home crowd a little unsettled. Had he missed the second, it would’ve been very interesting but, alas, he did not and the Hawks emerged from State Farm Arena with a victory in a packed house with a large Laker contingent who made themselves be heard in the final quarter.
“Fun game. Good atmosphere for our young guys to have a packed house, and a lot of energy in the building,” said Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce postgame. “I thought our guys responded well to the energy. I was excited about getting contribution from a lot of guys. We had to scramble in a lot of different situations. ... I thought it was a great team effort, and a great atmosphere. I’m just really excited for our guys.”
After narrowly missing out on victory in Los Angeles after a game-saving block from Tyson Chandler, the Hawks had revenge on their mind.
“We knew we let one slip in L.A.,” said Taurean Prince. “We had a few mistakes we could’ve corrected to win the game. So we had that in mind going into this one.”
In what was an ugly fourth quarter where both teams shot so poorly, the Hawks edged the Lakers 18-17 in the final quarter and Pierce was really pleased with his side’s ability to get key defensive stops.
“That’s what I just told the guys- 18-17 in the fourth quarter, we turned the ball over a lot,” said Pierce. “But our ability to get stops and see (Rajon) Rondo get a travel (called) because of our effort to close out. We saw (Kyle) Kuzma get a travel call because of our effort to close out. We see all five guys run to the paint on every shot to limit their second chance opportunity. So, it’s good to see our team come out on the positive side defensively in the fourth quarter when we needed it the most.”
While the Hawks played some good defense in a number of spots in this game and the fourth quarter, what cannot be ignored is how awful the Lakers were in this final quarter and they looked as if they were just done — this was the last game of a six-game road trip for the Lakers and this game against Atlanta was their last before the All-Star Break and how they played in the fourth quarter, I think, was reflective of that. When they fell behind in the fourth quarter and the lead got to seven points (this game was just stuck on 110-103 for a long time) they looked like they just wanted to get the hell out of State Farm and onto their break — which would be mad, given they’re on the outside looking in in the Western Conference playoff picture and need every win they can get their hands on, now 2.5 games adrift of the 8-seed.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton kind of eluded to some of this postgame — the Lakers just need the break.
“That was a disappointing loss for us, but it’s time for us to get away and reflect a little bit about where we are as a group,” said Walton. I think this first part of the season we have gone through a lot of adversity as a group. We’re probably not where we want to be but we’re still close enough, so we have a challenge ahead of us coming back after the All-Star break. We have some work to do, but I think we have a group that is up to the challenge and I look forward to attacking that when we get back.”
This was an important game for the Lakers and, with respect to the Hawks, this is a game the Lakers need to be winning if they want in on these playoffs and the sense of urgency was missing as this game was stuck for a period of the fourth quarter and then down the stretch.
But they couldn’t match the Hawks’ energy and though there were a lot of Lakers fans in the building, support and energy from the home crowd was high. John Collins noticed a big difference from last season’s Laker visit to this year’s Laker visit, believing there were a lot more Hawks fans rooting for the home team than his rookie season.
“Last year was a little bit worse, way worse, but I think now our fans are turning out,” said Collins postgame. “They definitely turned out tonight. Although you know the Lakers are going to travel with a crowd, it’s nice to have our fans come out and support.”
While Pierce was hesitant to call this win ‘the Hawks’ best of the season’, he was pleased with the effort of his group as six players scored in double-digits and the ball movement, the Hawks tallied 29 points on the game.
“I guess I have to give them more days off! That was the way we got our spirit back,” said Pierce. “It’s a tough part of the year heading into the All-Star break, trying to figure out how to come out and perform with that type of energy, that type of efficiency and production from each guy. Bottom line is we have to do it together and every night it’s going to be someone different stepping up and having a big game and a productive game. When you have multiple players, six, seven, eight players in double figures that means the ball is moving, that guys are sharing the basketball and we’re making simple, easy plays for each other. You’re encouraged when we see it and you just want to try and sustain it as much as you can.”
As poor as the Lakers were in the final period, this was an entertaining game and the Hawks were well worth their win and it was one they needed at home after laying out three duds to begin the homestand and losing five in a row at State Farm Arena.
“It’s never nice to get on a losing streak at home, so it’s nice to break that (streak), get that out of the way and hopefully bring as many wins as we can back into State Farm Arena,” said John Collins.
Trae Young and other rotation tidbits
You knew Trae Young was going to be a focus in this one.
Young shot the ball pretty poorly — 6-of-19 shooting from the field — but this largely went unnoticed given that he dished out 14 assists in a career-high 38 minutes. Plus, Young still managed to eek himself to 22 points thanks to his three made threes and getting to the free throw line nine times, cashing in on seven of those.
Young had eight assists heading into halftime but quickly dished out another six assists to lift him to 14 as he and the Hawks carved the Lakers open to begin the second half, in a quarter where the Hawks outscored the Lakers 35-26.
It looked like Young was easily heading towards a new career-high in assists (17 currently being his career-high) but this wasn’t to be as Young wouldn’t tally another assist on the game.
Despite that, it was a fantastic game from a facilitation point of view from Young but none of this comes as a surprise to Lloyd Pierce at this stage, who only wowed himself when he realized this was game 57 for Young.
“It’s normal. It’s why we drafted him,” said Pierce of Young’s passing. “That’s his best skill. I think a lot of people forget that sometimes that he is a very unique passer. He’s a very crafty passer. He’s now Top 5, Top 6 (No. 7) in the NBA in assists as a rookie. Amazed? No. I think it’s amazing when he turns it over, because I don’t think he needs to. I think he’s crafty and smart enough to always make the right decision, and that’s the type of pressure we put on him. He doesn’t need to have six turnovers but he can get 14 assists every night. Finding ways to be more efficient is his growth, and that’s the pressure we want to put him on. I think he’s a unique and special passer.”
Young had dished out some real beauties last night, such as this:
oh it's too nice. pic.twitter.com/fX9gn9C3iR— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 13, 2019
How about this one too?
trae's got a pocket full of dimes. pic.twitter.com/v950UqmnnQ— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 13, 2019
Young played a career-high 38 minutes last night and this was due to the fact that this was the first game without Jeremy Lin, who agreed to a buyout on Monday. With the Hawks lacking point guard options at the moment, Young was always going to be asked to do a bit more.
Pre-game, Pierce said that DeAndre’ Bembry would deputy as backup point guard for last night’s game but took until the fourth quarter to tally an assist on the game. Kent Bazemore also handled the ball in parts and he had three assists on the game.
The Hawks looked pretty lost on offense when Young wasn’t on the floor, and his rest periods were brief in this game. Though, a big victory for the Hawks in this game was when Young rested for about a three-minute period in the fourth quarter and the Hawks still held a seven point lead when he returned. Huge, given that there was also a period of the game where Young rested less than a minute after the Hawks’ offense just looked lost in that minute absence, so Pierce just sent him back out.
When Jaylen Adams returns from injury, things should ease up for Young in terms of workload but the nature of this game (being close throughout and down the stretch) more than likely contributed to his high minute load last night.
There were other interesting rotation bits from last night too...
The most unusual of the lot was probably Vince Carter being deployed at small forward, something the Hawks have not done this year.
“I thought Vince was great,” said Pierce. “Vince comes in and he gives you minutes and production as the small forward for the first time (this season). We scripted different plays today to get him used to playing a different position.”
Kent Bazemore only played 16 minutes in this one and this was a strange decision from Pierce to not only play Carter at the three but to play the three at the expense of Bazemore and play Carter more minutes than Bazemore — considerably more too as Carter totalled 24 minutes.
Though, part of Carter’s extended minutes can probably be linked to the fact that Dewayne Dedmon, Alex Len and John Collins (in the fourth quarter) all ran into foul trouble.
An interesting game all around but especially for Trae Young as he moves forward without the guidance of Jeremy Lin in the Hawks locker-room.
The LeBron assignment
Heading into this game, you would’ve assumed that the challenge of guarding LeBron James would’ve been undertaken by Taurean Prince, the opposing team’s small forward. But no, this was not the case but instead, to begin, John Collins was the one to guard LeBron James, with Omari Spellman and Dedmon also spending time guarding James as Pierce deferred to his bigs to guard LeBron.
A thought that enters your head when you see that is ‘Gee, what does this say about Pierce’s belief in Prince to guard LeBron if they’re putting Collins and Spellman (two below average defenders) on LeBron’ but Pierce explained the decision postgame.
“In 43 minutes he had 16 assists and having coached him for three years and being around him, when he can pick you apart with his passing that’s when you’re in the most trouble,” said Pierce of the defensive assignment of James. “Putting a bigger body on him, you hope he becomes more of a scorer — and it’s weird to say that with LeBron because you have to pick-and-choose — but having a bigger body that is harder to pass around, he’s got to feel them when he does drive and we want him attacking our bigs and keep him from being more of a facilitator.
“Even with that being said, he had 28 points and 16 assists so there’s no easy way to guard him but we just wanted to use our size to disrupt him as much as we can. I thought Omari did a good job, for a rookie, in L.A. defending him and I thought John and Dewayne and Omari did a good job tonight as well.”
The return of Mike Muscala
Now with the Los Angeles Lakers following the trade deadline, former Hawk Mike Muscala returned to State Farm Arena for the first time since he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in the trade that saw Dennis Schröder shipped away to OKC.
There was a video tribute that ran in-arena for the man known as ‘The Moose’ after the first timeout of the game but nothing was made of it, both from the Hawks’ broadcast on Fox Sport Southeast nor on social media from the Hawks’ official Twitter.
Why this was the case, who knows. Either way, nice to see Muscala back in town and he got to catch up with his former teammates postgame.
The Hawks (19-38) are back in action on Thursday at State Farm Arena against the New York Knicks, and it’ll be their final game before the All-Star break.
Should be fun.
Until next time...