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Hawks survive late rally to win season series over Sixers

The SIxers rallied late but the Hawks held on.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks bounced back from their loss against the San Antonio Spurs with a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night at State Farm Arena, 130-122.

Trae Young scored 33 points and added 12 assists while John Collins added 25 points as seven Hawks cracked double-digit scoring.

For the Sixers — operating without Joel Embiid — J.J. Redick scored 30 points and hit six three-pointers while Tobias Harris added 21 points.

Offense was the the theme of the night and it was the theme right from the beginning of the game. The Sixers didn’t start with a lot of defensive urgency and the Hawks were able to easily work themselves into some good looking shots, such as this shot from Taurean Prince (who returned from injury having missed the last couple of games):

That’s a lot of time and space allowed for Prince to pull the trigger, and the Sixers allowed a few of these easy opportunities to begin the game.

The Hawks ended up hanging 42 points in the first quarter before scoring 72 points in the first half but despite that offensive output they only took with them a four point lead into the third quarter.

“We’ve been doing that all year,” said rookie Trae Young of the Hawks’ 72 point first half. “For us, it’s been on the other end and trying to stop teams. We’re able to score on anybody but our problem this year is that we haven’t been able to stop anybody. We’ve been doing that really well lately and that’s why we’re winning more.”

Coming into the second half, you expected the Sixers to come out and apply some adjustments but whatever they may have been, they seemed to have no answer to actually preventing the Hawks from scoring. Well, that’s not entirely true — they were able to stop the Hawks for a spell in the third quarter but once the Hawks picked up again, they just couldn’t get stops.

Specifically, they had issues guarding the Trae Young-John Collins pick-and-roll — they literally took over on offense for the Hawks for a period during the third quarter.

It was Collins to begin as Young links up with Collins on back-to-back alley-oops.

On this first one, Collins just charges through the lane on the roll and no one gets back in time to cover him and Young finds him, leaving Sixers head coach Brett Brown very angry and calling for a timeout:

On the second alley-oop, Young forces the commitment from Jonah Bolden — possibly thinking Young was going for a floater — and Young lifts the oop for Collins:

Then, it was Young’s turn to score out of these pick-and-rolls, with Collins slipping the screen and Young driving to the rim, lifting his layup off of glass for the bucket:

On the hand-off from Collins and then the slip, it sets up nicely for a Collins lob but instead Young does lift a floater over the defense this time for the score:

And to wrap up the Young-Collins show, Collins receives the ball from Young and drives inside for the layup for Young’s 12th assist:

“...Pick-and-roll is pretty hard to stop and I felt like we just kept on going to it,” said Collins postgame. “I feel like at the time, they didn’t know how to stop it. So, those possessions, we kept going to it and kept milking it. If we ever find that, we’re just going to keep going to it.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown was unhappy with his side’s pick-and-roll defense, particularly in the second half.

“I think the pick-and-roll defense was poor,” said Brown. “You know, I think in the first half our transition defense let us down. I thought in the second half, pick-and-roll defense was challenged every time with Trae Young. Really, it’s one of our weaknesses. We are trying to find answers with people on the ball to guard those dynamic point guards, which he is. Defensively, I think those two areas, transition defense in the first half and pick-and-roll in the second half.”

Fast forward to the fourth quarter and the Sixers still can’t produce consistent stops while the Hawks strung together a run to take a 13 point lead with this layup from Young, rebounding his miss to score, leading to a Sixers timeout with 5:35 remaining:

When this layup went in, you really felt that this was pretty much the game — the Sixers had done nothing to slow the Hawks down all game and it felt like nothing was going to change in the final five minutes.

But then the changes did come and the Sixers tried to flick the switch late in the fourth quarter. Their big adjustment was that they began to aggressively double and trap Young once he got beyond half-court — it’s unclear why they didn’t decide to do this earlier because had they done so, who knows where this game ends up. It had some degree of success but wouldn’t mean anything if the Sixers didn’t score themselves.

The Sixers cut the deficit to five points behind a free throw from J.J. Redick but Young would hit a clutch three to push the lead back to eight points:

And yet, there was still an opportunity for the Sixers to come back into this game.

A tip-in dunk from Ben Simmons — who did not enjoy an efficient night, shooting 6-of-17 — and a free throw from Bolden brought the lead back to five points and then Trae Young was adjudged to have committed a flagrant foul as he caught Jimmy Butler in the face fighting for a loose-ball.

If Butler made both free throws, that’d cut the lead to three points and the Sixers would have possession of the ball with a chance to tie the game with about 30 seconds on the game-clock to work with.

However, Butler would miss both free throws, the Sixers would not score on the ensuing possession and the Hawks were able to ice this game at the free throw line, but they certainly caught a break in that regard.

The Sixers shot 22-of-38 from the line but those key misses from Butler and three missed free throws from J.J. Redick — a 90% free throw shooter before last night — really stood out.

“If you look at sort of the offensive statistics, that one stands out the most,” said Brett Brown. “I thought we had a great night offensive rebounding. I thought the guys did a great job of chasing the balls down, but the missed free throws, you wish you had a lot of those back.”

You sensed that the Sixers were waiting to flick the switch but waited too long to do it.

“I think we didn’t try to step it up until the fourth, which is the wrong mindset to have...” said Bed Simmons.

But the Hawks also deserve credit for the win — having played last night in Texas against the Spurs, a long flight over, a late tip-off, the flight back, getting back into Atlanta late in the night and getting ready to go again against the Sixers the next day. Being tired would’ve been an easy excuse not to perform, and this was what pleased Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce.

“Pretty good effort by our guys on our back-to-back,” said Pierce in his opening statement. “Come out, fly around, great energy, Taurean (Prince), John (Collins), Trae (Young), DeAndre’ (Bembry). I just thought- normally, you see a team when you get back about 2:30 in the morning, you can find every excuse. We went the opposite direction. I thought our guys came out and had a great spirit and energy all game. Just kind of had our way tonight.”

Having a fresh John Collins and Taurean Prince certainly helps (they didn’t feature on Tuesday against the Spurs) but the Hawks are still shorthanded in the front court with Dewayne Dedmon and Miles Plumlee out for the remainder of the season, Omari Spellman and Alex Poythress both unlikely to return and Vince Carter being rested.

The game marked the last back-to-back of the season, coming as a relief to all.

“Just part of the NBA,” said Collins about playing a road/home back-to-back. “At the end of the year, you’re sort of in this routine of waking up, getting after it back-to-back. I think this is our last one of the year, so I’m happy to be done with them. I’m just happy to be done with back-to-backs. They’re not fun.”

The game also wrapped up the season series between the two sides, with the Hawks emerging as 3-1 winners. Not too shabby against a convincing playoff team.

“For some reason, we play well against playoff teams,” said Collins. “We get up to play. I feel like the second part is we’ve got a little bit of a cheat sheet with Coach Pierce knowing most of the roster and the guys and how they coach. I feel like that’s a big part to the puzzle as well.”

“It’s great,” Young echoed. “Only a couple games left in the season and we want to finish strong and finish on the right note. Beating a team who is firmly in the playoffs is very good for us.”

All in all, it was a night where seemingly everyone was having fun.

DeAndre’ Bembry had his fun with a few nifty layups on Ben Simmons:

The bench loved that one.

Justin Anderson — as well as the bench — had some fun with this fall during the second half:

Anderson also enjoyed a monster block on former teammate Ben Simmons:

John Collins also enjoyed a fine block on Tobias Harris:

Collins has been blocking a lot more shots since the break (and 1.5 blocks per game in his last 10 games) — an area of focus since the All-Star break.

“In a sense, in a way, if aggressiveness is the term, then yeah,” said Collins on his blocked shots being a result of a raised defensive aggression. “I’ve just worked on my attentiveness on defense. I’m just trying to create more of an impact. It is toward the end of the year, but I’m still trying to get better.”

Pierce also credited an increase in aggressiveness and mentioned that Collins was “too athletic” to make an impact defensively.

Speaking of Pierce, he had his fun too, motioning to Vince Carter — who spent his night off (load management) on the Fox Sports Southeast broadcast — to check into the game:

Though it may be another losing season, the Hawks are still finding plenty to smile about.

“Personally, I think all those pick-and-rolls from Trae and I, I think that was a pretty nice highlight,” said Collins about highlights of the night. “But team-wise, a win. Like I always say, I’m trying to win. I’m happy. I know the locker room is happy when everybody wins. It makes everything a lot easier.”

Just to go over a few other game notes before we wrap up here today...

Kevin Huerter enjoyed a nice offensive game with 15 points on 50% shooting but was faced with a tough matchup in the form of Jimmy Butler — a tough matchup physically for Huerter.

Carter discussed on the broadcast how he ‘loved’ the matchup for Huerter purely to learn from it and maybe improve from it. Pierce discussed the matchup postgame and is looking for Huerter to improve his strength and physicality over the summer, believing that there is a good defender in Huerter but, right now, teams target him.

“Well it’s just part of his focus in the offseason,” said Pierce of Huerter playing against physical players. “(There are) teams putting an X on Kevin, and saying that the best way to go at him is with strength and physicality. He’s going to have to guard bigger two guards and sometimes, small forwards, and that’s going to be an area of growth for him moving forward. I think he’s a pretty good defender. I do know that size and strength bother him. That’s an area that he has to look to improve on in the offseason, and that will be a focal point for us. I know he competes, and that’s the biggest thing right now is consistently competing. We’ll worry about how to get that better.”

Alex Len is one of the few healthy bigs remaining at this stage of the season but was limited to 14 minutes due to foul trouble. In his absence, the Hawks were bested on the boards, particularly on the offensive glass as the Sixers — even without Embiid — grabbed 26 offensive rebounds and scored 35 second chance points compared to the Hawks’ 12 points on 11 offensive rebounds.

The Hawks were able to make up some of this difference by outscoring the Sixers 35-12 in fastbreak scoring, the Sixers doing a poor job getting back on defense.

“Our concepts weren’t great, we just didn’t communicate, and we looked kind of dead,” said Ben Simmons on the SIxers’ transition defense.

Another aspect of the game that went in the Hawks’ favor were — amazingly — turnovers.

The Hawks committed just 11 turnovers on the game and outscored the Sixers 22-10 in turnover points. The Hawks have done a much better job since the break of taking care of the ball, ranking inside the top 10 in turnovers per game in the last five games with just over 11 turns per contest.

Overall, a solid win for the Hawks — the Sixers don’t have a ton to play for, all but set for the 3-seed and face Milwaukee on Thursday, Atlanta serving as the first game of a back-to-back — but the Hawks executed well and were the better team for all but a few of the game’s 48 minutes.

The Hawks (29-50) are back in action on Friday as the kick-off their final road-trip of the season, starting in Orlando on Friday in a title against the playoff-chasing Magic.

There’s a lot on the line for the Magic, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2012 and they cannot afford any slips late on — it’s a great test for the Hawks against a team in a ‘must-win’ situation.

Should be fun.

Until next time...