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Hawks edge Heat in thriller behind Young’s 50

A career-high for Young, a big win for the Hawks.

Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks returned to action following the All-Star break and they returned with a bang, edging the Miami Heat 129-124 in a thrilling encounter at State Farm Arena on Thursday night.

All-Star Trae Young grabbed the headlines as he poured out a new career-high: 50 points on 12-of-25 shooting from the field, 8-of-15 from three and 18-of-19 from the free throw line.

There’ll be plenty of time to talk about Young later, fear not.

Elsewhere, All-Star big man Bam Adebayo led the Miami Heat with 28 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists, proving a constant thorn in the side of the Hawks all night long and contributing to the foul trouble of both Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins.

If you want to catch up on how the game unfolded as it unfolded, you can do so here, because we’re jumping to the fourth quarter.

Down the stretch

Well, before that we talk about the fourth quarter... a few notes about the game itself — it was wild. Both teams were really into it, the State Farm Arena crowd were really into it, and that hasn’t always been the case this season but even in the first half the crowd was there, not just in the fourth quarter — the Hawks gave them something to cheer about.

Actually, I lied. We’re not starting at the fourth quarter, but the end of the third quarter.

The Heat had responded to the Hawks’ third quarter run, and after making a three-pointer on the other end, Trae Young fouls Andre Iguodala on a three-pointer on the other, giving the Heat the opportunity to carry a double-digit lead into the final quarter — always a dangerous time of the game. Iguodala goes 1-of-3 from the line and Young draws a foul with a second remaining and instead of potentially trailing by 11 points, the Hawks are trailing by seven.

That’s always huge. When you’re trailing by double-digits in the fourth, especially when it’s 10 or 11 points, one little run — a 6-0 run, say, with two threes, which is nothing — and all of a sudden it’s a 17 point hole and things don’t look so good. So for the Hawks to have entered the final quarter down seven and not by 11, that was a big swing.

The Hawks then opened the fourth quarter exactly how they needed to on a 7-0 run within the first minute to tie the game and after that it was a close game throughout the final quarter.

As the fourth quarter began to wind down, Trae Young sat on 47 points and you could tell he really wanted to get to that 50-point-plateau, and this perhaps fed into the offense somewhat.

The Hawks appeared to run fewer plays for a stretch in the fourth quarter and the shot quality suffered somewhat (and Pierce would have a quote about this postgame, which we’ll get to in a soon).

On this possession, Young tries to size-up Adebayo out-front for a three-point attempt. After the miss, Andre Iguodala rebounds the ball and outlets to Adebayo, Young fouls him and Adebayo makes the basket:

Not a great foul from Young there and when Adebayo hits the free throw, the Heat lead by five points with 1:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. This was a big swing. Had the Hawks lost, this would’ve been the play that basically did it.

Young tries to make up by driving to the rim but is well challenged by Jimmy Butler and the shot is missed, but John Collins is there to follow through and cut the lead to three points:

Very important follow from Collins, especially on a night where he struggled with foul trouble and his scoring output was lower than one is used to.

Again, Young probably tries to do a little too much on his own as he drives to the rim on this possession but is quickly swarmed and, in the end, Jae Crowder comes up with the block on Young:

But Young is handed a reprieve as Iguodala is called for the travel and the Hawks, again, have an opportunity to tie the game. Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce takes a timeout at this point, which I think was the absolutely right move — the Hawks had gotten away from running some of their offense and with this being a big possession for the game, it was important for the Hawks to get it right.

Out of the timeout, Collins sets the screen for Young, who looks as though he’s got a clear path to the rim but Crowder steps in and plugs that gap. Young — who may have been called for a charge had he continued — turns and finds De’Andre Hunter, who rises and hits the three-pointer to tie the game with 54 seconds remaining:

“Because we’re in the bonus, they’re able to switch in the corner where it’s tighter. That’s why I didn’t advance the basketball,” said Pierce of the play. “I wanted to just keep the floor open and bring John up to set the screen and give Trae way more momentum to get downhill. They converged, they run at it and we were able to kick it out and get an open shot...”

This was arguably the biggest shot of the night for the Hawks. I really believe that Young was getting to the rim before Crowder steps over, so the play had to change quickly. Young, too, did well to slow down and not run into Crowder — who was definitely getting set to take the charge.

It also justified the timeout taken from Pierce, who thought at times the Hawks were a little iso-heavy at times in the fourth quarter.

“I thought it was a moment where we tried to play iso basketball,” said Pierce of the fourth quarter. “We get to the bonus with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter and they just switched everything and we fell into that trap just playing iso ball. Trae is obviously rolling so he’s trying to keep that momentum going, but those are the games you (should) continue to get Nunn in foul trouble, and Crowder in foul trouble, and Iguodala in foul trouble, and Olynyk in foul trouble, and you just take advantage of it that way.

“We settled for a couple of shots and then we got back to our movement and that’s where De’Andre (Hunter) hits the big late-shot-clock three because of the movement. We also get some free throws late. But I thought our guys were able to get through that stretch in the middle of the quarter and then finish strong.”

After the biggest shot of the game came what was probably the biggest single play of the game, and, again, it came from another rookie.

Cam Reddish makes the on-ball defensive play as he pokes the ball away from Goran Dragic and finishes the play at the other end with the dunk, giving the Hawks the lead and forcing the Heat into a timeout;

“Being active. I feel like I make a huge impact defensively,” said Reddish of the steal. “I was just trying to be active on the ball and it was perfect timing. I was just being active and engaged, especially at that time of the game.”

A huge play from Reddish, and a play like that can only further the excitement surrounding him. He was just so quick to poke that away as soon as Dragic made his move — just a fantastic defensive play and then to turn it into a scoring opportunity too is just an added bonus.

Two rookies: two huge plays.

“Amazing,” said Collins of Hunter and Reddish. “Big play by Cam down the stretch with the steal. Dre was hitting a lot of clutch three’s. When we have our guys doing stuff like that, it makes it a little bit easier for everybody to play their games naturally and come out of the game with a win.”

“...seeing De’Andre and Cam step up and make big plays was big for us,” added Young of the rookie duo.

Out of the subsequent Miami timeout, Butler misses the three-pointer, Adebayo grabs the rebound but Young is there to slap away the ball and is credited for the steal, handing the possession of the ball back to the Hawks and the Heat are now forced to play the foul game:

Through said foul game, the Hawks ice the game and Young picks up point number 50 (he has Bam Adebayo to thank for that) but the Hawks also picked up the victory.

Pierce was, as you could imagine, pleased with the victory but was particularly satisfied with the efforts from his young players — each producing in their own way — and praised the steal from Reddish.

“It was a good win. I’m proud of our guys,” opened Pierce postgame. “I thought it was fun to watch that game from start to finish. I thought, even at halftime, we were down one and just a competitive group. But the way we were playing- we turned the ball over too much for the game. We turned the ball over too much in the second quarter, but I thought our guys were playing great pretty much all night. It was a really gutsy win at the end with all of our guys. Trae had a huge night. De’Andre hits a big three. Kevin had a big play. Cam- I mean what can you say about that steal?

“When you really think about our core five, those young guys, you saw a little bit of each guy making an individual play that was tremendous tonight. John on the defensive end, but Cam’s steal and play down the stretch was really what we’re missing and what we’re looking forward to. Those guys stepping up and making plays in unlikely areas. And that was really a huge play for us at the right time.”

Pierce eluded to the efforts across the board and these are certainly worth mentioning.

Obviously, Young scored 50 (and we’ll talk in more detail about that) but throw into the mix 17 points from De’Andre Hunter (who also registered a game-high plus-26) and Kevin Huerter, 16 points from Reddish (add the defense too: two steals and two blocks) and 12 points from John Collins (again, add another three blocks), who Pierce made a special mention as someone who didn’t have a great game in the box-score (limited by foul trouble) but made an impact in other areas to help the team.

“...John’s numbers aren’t great for John, but I thought he was tremendous tonight and that’s a huge part of it; setting those screens, getting behind the defense, converging their defense and getting shots for other guys,” said Pierce. “I thought he did a lot of nice stuff that’s not going to show up on the stat sheet.”

“I’ll say, it’s hard to look at the game in that way, in terms of ‘oh, the stats aren’t there, the numbers look bad,’ but you’re still creating an impact,” said Collins of making an impact without necessarily scoring points. “Once you get over that, that’s when winning basketball comes into play. Obviously, it’s something we’re still learning, I’m still learning how to deal with that. But it’s a lot easier with a W, so I can’t complain.”

Winning solves a multitude of problems.

Trae Young’s career-night

It’s time to talk about Trae Young’s night. 50 points.

After coming so close on two occasions already this season, Young finally edged to 50 points for the first time in his career.

What really fueled the night was Young’s early impact from three-point range, getting his night started with 13 points in the first quarter with three three-pointers, the pick of the bunch coming from 35-feet:

Got to close out to Young a little sooner than that...

The second quarter didn’t really go as well for Young, going without a field goal but he did get to the free throw line and shoot 6-for-6. Things picked up again in the third quarter as Young added another 11 points to his tally, highlighted by this four-point play in the early exchanges:

But, of course, the majority of Young’s scoring was done in the fourth quarter — 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting (Young had attempted just 13 shots through the first three quarters), 3-of-7 from three and 5-of-6 from the free throw line.

The majority of these came in the first five minutes of the quarter, and Young was instrumental in erasing the Heat’s seven point lead at the start of the fourth quarter, including this three-pointer to tie the game at 97 apiece which sent Iguodala into next week:

Even Young’s two-point field goals turned into three points — two of Young’s three two-point baskets ended up in ‘and-1’ plays.

It was a fairly balanced scoring act for Young until that stretch in the fourth quarter where he took off. He checked out very briefly in the fourth but just didn’t have the same rhythm once he re-entered and tried too hard on a few possessions to try and score.

Young also committed seven turnovers, which is too many but, to be fair, none of those came in the fourth quarter so I think a bit of give-and-take is fair in this spot.

The efficiency from Young is what really stands out: 50 points on 25 shots, 48% shooting from the field, 53% from three on 15 attempts and 94% from the line on 19 attempts, and the one free throw he missed didn’t even matter as the game was already over.

The total free throw number looks large as a whole but it was all evenly spread over the four quarters: four in the first, six in the second, three in the third, five in the fourth. Just steady work.

But, really, it was the long-ball that got Young going — everything else stemmed from that, and Young now has a new career-high.

“It’s definitely up there,” said Young when asked if this was the biggest moment of his career. “I’ve hit a couple of buzzer beaters. My first buzzer beater against the Sixers was pretty special. I’ve had a couple pretty big moments but this was definitely up there.”

“He was phenomenal tonight. Big game from our leader,” said Collins of Young.

50 points is one thing but Young then decided to flex just a little more on social media later after the game.

This obviously stems back from earlier in the season in Miami where Young controversially ‘called game’ only for the Heat to comeback and win, prompting comments from Butler.

A few things to note here about this... Firstly, if you’re going to take shots at Jimmy Butler, do it on Instagram for maximum effect, he’s far more active in the comments section on Instagram. Secondly, the Heat still won the series 3-1 and are headed to the playoffs while the Hawks are not. Thirdly, maybe don’t tell Young that he was only guarded by Jimmy Butler for 39 seconds, committed two turnovers during that time and missed his only shot attempt.

But in a sense, if you’re going to flex like this, now is probably the best time to do it: Young was phenomenal in the game, dropping 50 (!) points in the win, and the Hawks don’t see the Heat again this season. So Butler will have to wait until next season for revenge.

Speaking of the Heat though, their comments with regard Young are interesting and worth sharing.

A lot of it has to do with something Knicks head coach Mike Miller said after the Hawks’ overtime victory against New York. I’m going to paraphrase here, but Miller basically said that the Knicks can live with the deep threes but not the free throws.

The Heat feel the same way.

“The area where we really need to do a better job are the fouls,” said Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. “He just got into such an incredible rhythm, fouling him. It does take great concentration and discipline to be able to do that. But we did not make the adjustment throughout the course of the game. It happened in the first quarter, second, third, and then the painful ones in the fourth. The adjustments to not foul were not there. Additionally the opportunities that he had in the paint, where he is attacking and slicing through the paint through our help defense was troubling and costly.

“When he is pulling up from six feet from beyond the line, there there’s not a whole lot of other things you can do to that. Other areas could have been much better, but he had a great performance and he made some big plays. Even down the stretch we were up six, then we were up five, we gambled a couple times when Huerter hit a three, then Reddish hit a big one, and they had some other guys step up as well.”

“Not much on him because I mean he’s shooting 50 footers,” added Adebayo. “At the end of the day, you live with that. You live with him shooting 50-foot threes. That’s something you got to live by, but I feel like we let him get a lot of easy fouls that got him going to start those 50 footers...”

The Heat are a very interesting team defensively. They play the most zone out of any NBA team and they’re spear-headed by a great defensive coach in Spoelstra and great defensive personnel, such as Adebayo and Jimmy Butler (who came up with some incredible defensive possessions in the third quarter). Yet, it was odd that didn’t show Young as much pressure or an extra body off of screens last night as other teams have.

Despite all of that though, it goes without saying that Young was fantastic. In scoring 50 points, he joined some exclusive Hawks company:

A few interesting notes with this game from Young: he’s 2nd in the league in fourth quarter scoring with 8.9 per game (trailing only James Harden) and he’s moved ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo into 2nd place in points per game with 30.1.

Again, the efficiency is I think the most eye-catching part of Young’s performance but just a great night for Young — 50 points is special.

De’Andre Hunter was asked immediately after the game what he would give Trae Young’s performance out of 10. He replied “11.”

Sounds about right.

Rotation notes

Just a note on the Hawks’ rotation before we finish today.

No Clint Capela, no Skal Labissiere for the Hawks but what was interesting was that Pierce went with a 10-man rotation last night but, as he has done in a few spots recently, this rotation is slashed in the second half as Pierce rolls with the starting five and then the majority of the bench minutes in the second half went to Jeff Teague (nine minutes in the second half) and Reddish (18 second half minutes).

Vince Carter did not play in the second half, Bruno Fernando played just three minutes in the second half and Brandon Goodwin was credited for two seconds in the second half.

Three of the five starters (Young, Huerter and Hunter) all played 20 or more minutes in the second half while Dedmon and Collins had their foul issues, limiting their minutes.

Jeff Teague was plugged in at times to help with the foul trouble (shifting Collins to center) and Teague I thought looked like a man who benefitted from a nice break — he was looking snappy in his movement and moving well. He also hit a three-pointer, something he’s been very reluctant to take (his first make and attempt since February 7th).

“There’s still this untapped part of Jeff’s game that we’re trying to get out,” said Pierce of Teague postgame. “He was tremendous tonight. He hits the three but he was also 3-for-3 in the first half. He’s 3-to-1 in assist to turnovers in our team right now. I think there’s so much more we can get out of him and that’s what I’m doing. I’m challenging him every day. He’s supposed to shoot four threes a game, so I’m yelling at him all the time to get them up. He’s been good, we just want him to be better. We just want him to be great.”

Brandon Goodwin — and this has been mentioned by others, not an original thought of mine — has been deployed recently as a wing more so than the backup point guard, that job is most definitely Jeff Teague’s at this moment and that’s been reflective in how Pierce has deployed his rotations.

It’ll be interesting to see if Pierce sticks with this 10-man rotation in the first quarter and a 7.5 man rotation in the second half as he did last night and as he has done of late in spots.

It was also interesting to see Pierce not go to Damian Jones (a DNP-CD) or Vince Carter in that second half, especially given the foul troubles to both Collins and Dedmon, though the fact that both hit their issues at different points of the game helped them navigate this somewhat.

Elsewhere, DeAndre’ Bembry (remember him?) is also not seeing any game-time at the moment as he — and Treveon Graham — also picked up a DNP-CD. It doesn’t bode well that Goodwin has been playing more wing minutes than Bembry of late. In the space of a year, Bembry has gone from the team’s best perimeter defender to someone who just doesn’t play anymore. When you draft two defensive wings who can show flashes of shooting, that’ll happen.

The Hawks (16-41) are back in action on Saturday when they’ll take on the Dallas Mavericks at State Farm Arena.

Should be an interesting game.

Until next time...