The Atlanta Hawks racked up their fifth victory in their last nine games as they notched the 127-117 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night at State Farm Arena.
Trae Young continued to make history as he poured out 39 points and dished out a career-high 18 assists while John Collins added 17 points and a season-high 20 rebounds.
For the Sixers, Ben Simmons added 31 points while Shake Milton poured out a career-high 27 points.
The tone for this game was really set in the first quarter and that obviously that begins with Trae Young. Young notched a first quarter double-double as he scored 14 points and dished out 10 assists whilst being responsible for the Hawks’ first 30 points as the Hawks scored 39 first quarter points.
What helped Young amass that first quarter double-double is that his teammates consistently hit shots, shooting 63% from the floor.
Young consistently found the gaps in the Sixers defense, carving them open out of the pick-and-roll/double.
Here, Young finds John Collins here on the Hawks’ first offensive possession:
Here, Young probes amidst the crowd and finds De’Andre Hunter, who knocks down the three:
Young and starting center Damian Jones — brought into the starting lineup last night to help deal with Joel Embiid — linked up often last night, Young somehow squeezing this pass to Jones, who finishes with the dunk:
Young and Collins combine in the pick-and-roll, draws the Sixers’ attention, it again leaves De’Andre Hunter in space only this time Tobias Harris does get out to him to contest Hunter but to no avail as Hunter hits the three:
Coming out of the pick-and-roll, the Sixers try to throw an extra body in the form of Simmons, Young dribbles out of the pressure and finds the open Cam Reddish — whose movement off of the ball helps create this opportunity for himself — who hits the three:
Again, Young and Collins link up in the pick-and-roll and this time it’s Mike Scott who doubles onto Young, leaving Collins open in the lane, Young finds him and Collins finishes through contact:
(This was one of the stranger moments from last night — you could see the official under the basket raise his hand to call a foul but a foul wasn’t called)
Again, Young draws the second defender in the form of Simmons and Hunter makes the movement off of the ball. Young’s pass between the defenders is successful and Hunter finishes with authority at the rim:
In transition having gotten the steal, Young heads up the court. Raul Neto actually does a good job staying in front of Young but Ben Simmons falls asleep and allows Hunter to stroll to the rim and Young duly finds him for the bucket and Young’s 10th assist:
“I was just seeing what they were giving me,” said Young of his 10-assist first quarter. “I was coming off pick-and-roll and trying to make plays. You can’t get an assist without your teammates making plays too. They were making shots, getting to the hole and catching my lobs.”
What Young says is a big part of it: the Hawks made shots and made plays, and there’s a difference between the two.
De’Andre Hunter made shots in the first quarter but this from Kevin Huerter — that Young would’ve gotten an assist for — is an example of making a play, receiving the pass from Young and drives well to the rim for the score:
Lloyd Pierce believes that those early assists (as Young was racking up) opens up the game for the Hawks and for Young.
“You see one of those early assists where it’s just an easy play, right off the back. It’s just attack and someone will be open — and he’s an excellent passer anyways — but to just see the impact of it right away, it opens his eyes,” said Pierce. “He doesn’t have to come out and try and score. I think sometimes he likes to get going by scoring. It’s easier to just open the game up — if everyone else is scoring, they’re going to stop paying attention to Trae and worry about the shooters, worry about John rolling. He (Young) had the right mindset: it was pace, it was pace, it was pace. We were able to get some extra possessions and early possessions where a lot of those shots were late contested or uncontested.”
That first quarter really set the tone and the Hawks carried that forward, really, for the rest of the game. The Sixers did fight back in the second quarter and had even cut the lead to just two points right before halftime as Shake Milton hit a three-pointer.
Then came, arguably, one of the more important moments of this entire game.
With only 0.5 seconds left on the clock, a shooting foul is called on Ben Simmons as Young draws the contact:
Sixers head coach Brett Brown was not too happy with this call (and you can probably see why), earning himself a technical foul. Young was given the ball to shoot the technical but in doing so Brown lost the opportunity to challenge the call (he tried, but was informed he could not). Tobias Harris was also called for a technical foul, ultimately giving Young five free throws at the end of the half. He knocked down all five and extended the lead to a more comfortable seven points heading into the break.
What didn’t make sense was that if Brown was so incensed to begin, why didn’t he just challenge instead of getting so upset and earning a technical foul and giving away a point? It just didn’t make any sense and it effectively cost the Sixers five points (because I think there’s a chance that foul is overturned if Brown gets the challenge in at the correct time).
Getting into the third quarter, the Hawks re-established their double-digit lead and when the Sixers cut the lead to five points, the Hawks had a response.
In the fourth quarter, things got a little more nervy as both Kevin Huerter and John Collins got into foul trouble, forcing Lloyd Pierce to have to guard Joel Embiid with Vince Carter.
Pierce said Vince Carter was the “sacrificial lamb” against Embiid in trying to keep the bigs, particularly John Collins, out of foul trouble.— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) January 31, 2020
Said Carter just knows how to play, be physical and hold up until the double team arrives.
“Just trying to stay safe. Just to make it as tough as possible,” said Vince Carter of guarding Embiid. “I’m giving up height and weight. Trying to keep him as far off the block (as possible) and make him have to earn it. At times we were trying to double-team and pass the ball and make another guy hit shots. For me, the times I had to play him one-on-one, I just tried to make it tough. He had a couple of drives by me. He’s very good at putting his body on you. I just made sure I stayed close and hit first instead of get hit first. It was important because if he hit me first, I’d probably still be on the training table somewhere. He’s a big fella and he knows how to use his body.”
Carter did as well as you could have asked in that situation but it was just a night where Embiid just looked a little passive, perhaps bothered by that wrist injury, but he certainly didn’t take advantage of a matchup that maybe he should’ve had a much better time of things — despite the Hawks often throwing an extra body on Embiid — given how shorthanded the Hawks were last night in the big-department.
“They were just baiting it,” said Sixers head coach Brett Brown of the Hawks doubling Embiid. “I tried to play him a lot at the elbow. I wish he had gotten himself down there more…I thought he did a pretty good job, but they did a good job of double-teaming him.”
So often it’s been the case where the Hawks are the team chasing a lead in the fourth quarter and they get close but can’t get over the hump. This time around, the Hawks’ double-digit lead was enough for them to hold on even as the Sixers went on a 10-2 run as the Sixers closed the lead to six points (now, had the Sixers not given up five points to end the first half things would’ve been a lot more interesting — that and shooting 32-45 from the free throw line). The minutes racked up for the starters as the Hawks basically ran a seven-and-a-half man rotation in the second half, and you can tell that Trae Young was a little gassed towards the end (leading the way with 38 minutes).
But despite that, despite having a playoff team breathing down their neck, the big-man rotation depleted, the heavy minutes, the Hawks saw this through in what was a mature performance.
Postgame, Pierce labeled the win was, arguably, the best of the season.
“Obviously (it was a) good performance by a lot of guys,” Pierce said. “I think it was probably our best win this year in terms of coming in with a game plan, having to make do and adjust to an opponent that, if we were going to win, it would be one way. And it was imposing our will with pace and space and trying to just outwork them from start to finish. It was just making it a 48-minute game of pace and I thought our guys did a tremendous job, and that was kind of the exciting part of tonight’s game just taking something and running with it.
“The word(s) I used tonight was: our team trusted one another. They did a good job of really trusting one another. Trae with the ball movement, the guys playing with pace and playing until they were tired. But they trusted the game plan and trusted each other. That was a tremendous win for our guys.”
Pierce also praised his side’s organization, particularly in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we did a good job of just managing every possession,” said Pierce. “I thought there were about three late in the game that got away from us. But for the most part we got organized, we got into our sets and the ball moved. Cam was huge. Seven points in the fourth quarter for Cam, three offensive rebounds for John. When you’re organized, you can go get offensive rebounds. When you’re organized, you can move the ball, and make or miss, you’re going to get a good look. You’re going to buy some time, you’re going to make them work and get to the foul line.
“All of those things start to come in play just by moving the defense, being organized and being in position. I thought that was the best part about tonight. Trae organizing us, John being able to get some offensive rebounds and Cam stepping up and making some huge shots is tremendous.”
With Alex Len, Bruno Fernando, Jabari Parker and DeAndre’ Bembry still out of action, the Hawks’ front-court rotation was obviously pretty shallow. Yes, the Sixers were obviously missing Al Horford and Josh Richardson themselves, but missing basically half of their front-court rotation is a bigger deal for the Hawks than missing Horford and Richardson is for the Sixers.
That being said, with bodies being low and undersized versus Embiid, the Hawks did a very admiral job, particularly John Collins who was tasked with not only guarding Ben Simmons at point guard at times but obviously Embiid too — not to mention the season-high 20 rebounds Collins grabbed.
“It was the type of night my team needed me to have,” said Collins. “(We were) undermanned on the front-court side so definitely needed to have bigger effort on the boards, and inside finishing and scoring. I think I did my job.”
Obviously, Trae Young will grab the plaudits with his 39 points, 18 assist, 18 free throw night — which is fair, it made history.
But the Hawks deserve a lot of credit as a team: every starter scored in double-digits and received double-digit performances from seven players in total, and found 30 bench points on a night where the Hawks ran a shorter rotation normal while also outscoring the Sixers’ bench 30-14, former Hawk Mike Scott accounting for 11 of those points.
Now, that bench scoring differential has more to do with the Sixers’ bench performance than the Hawks’ (players not named Mike Scott for the Sixers shot 1-of-15 off of the bench) but Cam Reddish and Vince Carter gave the Hawks a nice spark off of the bench and you can really see the value of it in this little stretch where the Hawks are missing the production of Alex Len in particular, who has been a consistent contributor for the Hawks.
Speaking of Vince Carter, it’s worth mentioning that he passed Dirk Nowitzki for 3rd in all-time games played last night when he took to the floor.
“Great friend. Great player. First ballot Hall-of-Famer,” said Carter of passing Nowitzki. “The unbelievable run he had for the championship was great. Those three years playing with him and getting to know him, it’s an honor. I’ll definitely see him when we get there (tomorrow) and I’m sure I’ll hear from him tonight. Something not friendly from him, which is always good.”
The Hawks — sitting at 13-36 and now in a three-way tie with the Knicks and Cavaliers (weird to think the Hawks could all of a sudden rise to 13th in the East having been rooted at 15 for most of the season) — head to Dallas for their seasonly matchup against the Mavericks, likely without Luka Doncic due to injury, on Saturday night.
Until next time...