Trae Young poured out 36 points but had significant help this time around as Kevin Huerter added 23 points while John Collins added 22 points.
For the Suns — playing without Ricky Rubio — Devin Booker scored a game-high 39 points before being ejected late in the fourth quarter while Deandre Ayton added 20 points off of the bench.
Let’s break this one down.
The Trae Young Show and the supporting cast
As always, if you missed how this game unfolded, you can catch up here, because, today, I’m jumping straight to the fourth quarter.
The Hawks had taken a 15 point lead in the third quarter only to see the Suns come back and even take a lead towards the end of the third quarter, but a last-second lob for John Collins gave the Hawks a one point lead heading into the final period.
As he is for everything offensively, Trae Young was at the heart of it all in the fourth quarter and he had it going early in the fourth quarter, eventually scoring 21 points on 5-of-8 shooting, 4-of-7 from three, 7-of-8 from the free throw line and three assists in the full 12 minutes (plus one second, according to NBA.com...).
So, you guessed it, we’re going to look at Young’s fourth quarter and how he put the Suns away.
Prior to the fourth quarter, Young had scored 15 points and was 1-of-5 from behind the arc. Something the Suns had done pretty well was prevent Young from coming off of screens and having that opportunity to let it fly, such as this possession in the second quarter as Elie Okobo just gets back in front of Young to prevent Young jacking up a three (and Young, to be fair, wasn’t baited into taking shots like this last night as much as other occasions) and Young passes it off to Kevin Huerter instead:
With the Suns leading by a point, Young comes off of the Damian Jones screen and Ayton makes the mistake of dropping back instead of stepping up to close the space between Young and an open three-point shot, and Young willingly obliges to give the Hawks the lead:
Again, Young and Jones link up and another good screen from Jones frees Young and, again, Ayton drops back and that’s the invitation that Young needs to let it fly:
On this next play from Young in the fourth, Huerter passes to Young, a good screen from Jones once again allows Young a tasty-looking matchup against Ayton, which Young takes advantage of to score at the rim:
The Hawks continued to build on this momentum — including a buzzer-beating, contested shot by De’Andre Hunter at the end of the shot clock — and Young brings the ball up the court, the Suns switch and this time Young rejects the screen and a quick move to his left frees him up for his third three-pointer of the fourth quarter:
With the Hawks now up by eight points, Young comes off of a Jones screen and, again, Ayton gets switched onto Young. This time, Ayton doesn’t drop back and Young takes his time and without Ayton really knowing Young — as he circles to get square — sets himself up for the long-bomb and hits the deep three-pointer:
“Really tough,” said Suns head coach Monty Williams said of guarding Young. “He was hitting shot four or five feet in front of half court. Not many guys in the league that are going to do that.”
That would essentially wrap up Young’s scoring outburst for the fourth quarter, his 21 points creating the separation the Hawks needed.
“He helps a lot,” said John Collins of Young in the fourth quarter. “I feel like his motor just turns on in the fourth quarter. His aggressiveness and instincts take over. It helps that he thrives in moments like that. Having ‘Ice’ in the clutch always helps.”
Young had three assists on the fourth quarter, this lob to Jones forcing the Suns into a timeout as the Hawks have suddenly opened an 11 point lead over the visitors:
And to put the exclamation point on the victory, DeAndre’ Bembry points for the lob and Young, from basically half court, somehow finds him for the beautiful reverse lob:
The Hawks put together one of their more complete games this season (other than the lapse in the third quarter that saw the Hawks let their lead slip, and a little lull in transition on back-to-back plays on defense toward the start of the fourth quarter) and not only enjoyed a 39 point fourth quarter but also produced stops on a somewhat consistent basis (which is rare for this team) and Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce was proud of his team’s effort on both ends in the final period.
“I’m really proud of our guys, especially in that fourth quarter,” opened Pierce. “It just felt like offensively and defensively we put together what we wanted to do. We wanted to get stops, we wanted to make plays defensively. Trae gets a big charge after a turnover. Our guys were on the boards. Kevin, 15 rebounds is amazing. But I thought we really slowed the game down. Trae obviously gets hot but to really get organized, slow the game down. He makes a lot of end-of-the-shot-clock plays, but you have to have a closer in this league and you have to be able to execute in the fourth quarter in this league and I thought our guys did a really good job with that tonight.”
Up until the fourth quarter, it was a pretty balanced scoring effort for the Hawks and then Young obviously got hot and helped take the Hawks home, but without the balanced scoring effort of the supporting cast that probably doesn’t happen.
Kevin Huerter continued his fine form, scoring 23 points, John Collins scored 22 points in 29 minutes despite foul trouble, De’Andre Hunter scored 15 points in the midst of foul trouble (a lot of the starting lineup went through some foul trouble) and Damian Jones added 11 points off of the bench.
“It was a complete game,” said Huerter postgame. “First half went back and forth. We built a little bit of a lead. Third quarter, we made a run, they made a run. We responded again in the fourth. It was really kind of a complete game and it was nice to see.”
“I think we all contributed in a big way. I think we all competed,” said Young. “Kevin had a hell of a game, John played well. De’Andre played great defense on a great player in Booker, he was just making some tough shots tonight. It was good to see all that.”
“Amazing,” added Collins. “Always good to come together and get a nice team win and have some of our young core pieces get going like we did tonight. Seeing everybody get in the flow of the offense is calming a little bit and hopefully we can build on this.”
The Hawks were missing Alex Len from this game and that’s obviously a loss for the Hawks but not as big as the absence of Ricky Rubio was for the Suns, and it was his absence that Monty Williams lamented postgame.
“…We gave up 39 points in the fourth quarter, but I thought our offense just sputtered tonight,” said Williams. “We only had 20 assists for the game. That’s not who we have been. Certainly not having Ricky on the floor hurt. Not having someone manage possessions. But we had a chance. We got back in to it. I think we were up three going into the fourth, we just didn’t manage the fourth quarter well.”
The Suns still shot 45% in the final quarter but they just had no answer for Trae Young and their pick-and-roll defense of Young in the final quarter certainly hurt them when it came to Young finally hitting some shots from the outside.
A timely game for Young, a much needed victory for the Hawks. And they deserved it last night.
Kevin Huerter’s career-night
Huerter enjoyed one of his best games of his young career so far, flirting with a triple double last night.
Huerter scored 23 points on 8-of-14 from the field, 4-of-5 from three, he got to the free throw line for 3-of-4, grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds (his previous career-high was 10), dishing out a career-high eight assists and only committing two turnovers on those eight assists.
“Having him on the court, it’s great when we have a 6-7 two-guard, a 6-9 Cam Reddish, a 6-9 De’Andre Hunter — however they measure out — all of those guys are capable of going up and getting extra rebounds for us and Kevin showed that tonight,” said Pierce of Huerter’s near triple-double. “We’ve always talked about Kevin Huerter being that secondary playmaker. Eight assists is a huge number for him and that’s key. Teams are going to blitz Trae and he’s got to get off the basketball and when he does, we have a guy that’s capable in Kevin ... we knew then and we know now that he’s capable of being another facilitator for us but it definitely helps when he’s also a three-point shooter like he was tonight...”
Huerter showed assertiveness last night, highlighted by this three-pointer off of the dribble in the first half:
Obviously, the 15-rebound showing from Huerter stands out and he contributed to the Hawks’ strong first half in second chance scoring (19 second chance points in the first half), sneaking in on this play for the offensive rebound and tip-in:
Huerter linked up on a number of occasions with Collins last night, not only in the pick-and-roll:
But Huerter linked up with Collins for three-pointers, including this play where Collins trails and hits the three:
As Pierce mentioned earlier, Young obviously sees a lot of bodies, a lot of defensive pressure. With Huerter able to make plays out of the pick-and-roll, make the reads, see the weakside opportunity (such as the corner three Bembry made in the second half) it helps alleviate the pressure on Young to do absolutely everything.
Over his last 10 games, Huerter is averaging 16 points per game on 45% shooting from the field and 46% from behind the arc. Huerter is finally enjoying a stretch of consistent play, his struggles obviously stemming from injuries and bouncing back from those injuries.
“He’s just been playing out of his mind,” said Young of Huerter. “He’s playing like I know he can. He works extremely hard. He’s a super-smart player, super-cerebral player. He’s playing with a lot of confidence and that’s what we need from him. We need him to play with a lot of confidence, shoot when he’s open, make plays when he gets the ball. He’s been doing that lately. I think I messed him up with the triple-double. I missed a couple of passes he gave to me. I’m gonna apologize to him for that.”
When Huerter plays like this — in addition to Young doing his thing and when Collins can get going/avoid foul trouble — the Hawks are an infinitely more interesting team to watch, and Huerter has been playing well for a consistent stretch now, which is encouraging and, hopefully, reaffirms to the fanbase that Huerter has always belonged in the starting lineup, contrary to the nonsense spouted at the start of the season.
Speaking of Young, Huerter and Collins — the main trio for the Hawks entering this season — they’re finally beginning to rack up some minutes now that everyone is finally healthy/not suspended.
The trio have played just 11 games but have now played 145 minutes (which isn’t much but progress is progress) and are only minus-6 in those 145 minutes as a three-man lineup (which I think is impressive obviously given their record). They combined for 81 points last night, a sign of things to come many would hope, including Pierce.
“Yes is the answer, I hope so from a consistency standpoint,” said Pierce. “I thought John set the table for us early, he was phenomenal. He hits two big threes on some pick-and-pop situations, he’s around the basket as well. He’s got 33 blocks in 15 games, where it was 39 in 61 games last year. His defensive numbers, his defensive rating at the five — he’s been playing a lot at the five — have been great. But to see Kevin shoot the ball the way he shot it tonight, to see him rebounded, to see De’Andre make plays, to see Cam defend and then Trae close it out is kind of how it’s been designed. We’re trying to get these guys to all gel together and tonight was an example of that.”
Bembry and Jones provide bench lift
Overall, it wasn’t a great game for the Hawks’ bench — outscored 52-23 by the Suns’ bench — however, Damian Jones and Bembry came in and provided a lift, especially defensively.
Jones had a larger hole to fill in this game, as the Hawks were missing Alex Len and Bruno Fernando, and there were legitimate concerns pregame as to whether Jones could do that. Fortunately for the Hawks he was, and Jones was a large positive for the Hawks last night — scoring 11 points in 26 minutes, and he provided some relief for Collins when he picked up some fouls and even Cam Reddish, with Pierce electing to go to Pierce when Reddish picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter.
We’ve looked at Jones already and how he set some really solid screens for Young in the fourth quarter, totally for five screen assists on the game which helped lead to 11 points.
Bembry, meanwhile, certainly played more hot-and-cold game. He had some ghastly sequences, such as this play in the second half:
But Bembry played some solid defense on Devin Booker in the second half while also getting involved into some chatter with the Suns star, too, which earned himself a technical foul.
He also produced this emphatic block:
Speaking of the Booker-Bembry, this was the play just before Booker was ejected, Booker driving by Bembry for the dunk:
Speaking postgame, I believe Booker refers to Bembry as ‘the offender’ but it was interesting to hear what Booker had to say about some of the trash talk that was going on (and there was plenty of it last night, not just from Booker and Bembry but Young and Oubre too, who are friends off of the court).
“I was very surprised actually,” said Booker of the ejection. “I was just speaking on the refs, something I never do. The first technical was because he was under the impression that I flipped off the other player when I was simply pointing at the scoreboard. When the offender said I’m locking that up, I just pointed up to the scoreboard and said he thought I flicked him off. The second one, the dunk, I looked back and said I can do that every time. Two technicals. At the end, somebody has to be held responsible. More than that, it puts my team in a tough position and I don’t feel like they were deserved, especially after a lot of the taunting and trash talking, if you want to call a taunting tech, that I’ve heard before.”
Now, Booker shouldn’t have been ejected for that second technical but it was fun to watch those two go at it in the second half.
Regardless, both Jones and Bembry provided a much needed boost from the Hawks’ bench on a night where the big-man rotation was lacking (obviously still missing Jabari Parker too in addition to Len and Fernando), the Hawks needed the defensive boost and, well, the rest of the bench struggled to make a large impact last night.
“...the guys that came in, DeAndre’ Bembry defensively, Damian Jones with a lot of his screens and rolls to the rim provided a big boost for us tonight,” said Pierce postgame.
The Hawks (9-32) are back in action on Friday night when they take on the San Antonio Spurs on the road.
Until next time...