On Friday, the Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets linked up at Barclays Center for the second time in 48 hours in a previously rare schedule quirk to reduce the amount of travel for teams during the 2020-21 season.
Danilo Gallinari sprained his right ankle in the first game and was held out of this matchup. He was joined on the inactive list by Rajon Rondo, who was listed with left knee soreness. The Hawks were additionally without the services of Kris Dunn, Onyeka Okongwu and Tony Snell, as all three have yet to make their respective Hawks debuts due to various injuries.
Still, the Hawks proved they had plenty enough firepower available to improve upon their first loss of the season from two days earlier, putting the game out of reach by late in the third quarter and winning 114-96.
Here are three big factors that keyed this victory for Atlanta.
Potent three-point shooting
The Hawks came into Friday night with the second most made threes per game in the NBA at 16.3 per game, and fourth in three point percentage at 40.9%. They almost exactly matched those figures on Friday, hitting 16-of-39 from three-point distance for 41.0%. Trae Young and De’Andre Hunter led the way, each connecting on a trio of three-pointers, and that duo finished a combined 6-of-12 (50%).
Young opened the game with two pull-up bombs from beyond the top of the key. Young shows his ability night in and night out to take the slightest bit of disorganization in a team’s transition defense and turn it into three points from dead center, extending as far out as the logo on the court.
Most importantly, however, was Atlanta’s ability to move the ball quickly and decisively and find open shooters. As a team, they assisted on 24-of-43 field goals (55.8%). Hawks started the contest 6-for-13 from three, culminating in a Bogdanovic corner catch-and-shoot three and a pair of threes from Solomon Hill.
This Kevin Huerter triple was essentially the dagger, pushing the lead to 20 points with under nine minutes remaining.
John Collins, Clint Capela, and De’Andre Hunter continuing solid play
This trio started for the second consecutive game in the frontcourt and offered encouraging signs all over the floor.
John Collins had a brilliant game two nights ago, when he was shot 12-of-20 from the field for 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He followed that performance with 20 points on 14 shots and eight rebounds Friday night, including a game high three offensive rebounds.
Collins was punishing switches and simply shooting over smaller players like Caris LeVert and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot in the post. But more dangerously for Atlanta, Collins continued to slip screens and find passes hand-delivered to him for big jams. Kevin Durant recently called Collins “the best in the league” at slipping screens, and he did nothing to refute that claim over his week in Brooklyn.
The big buzz came late in the fourth quarter, when Collins created a new line of poster-ready camera shots at the expense of Jarrett Allen.
And just for good measure, Young and Collins flashed their rim running chemistry with this razzle dazzle jam off the backboard.
JC literally ended the game with a BANG pic.twitter.com/gyXrj2qFJ8— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) January 2, 2021
After an extremely long layoff since January of this year, Capela has found his spot in the Hawks starting lineup these past few games. Capela did a great job of keeping possessions alive with offensive rebounds, rolling off picks and throwing down lobs. He was 6-for-8 with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and drew rave reviews from his coach, Lloyd Pierce.
“I thought today he just brought it, Pierce said. “You know, I thought he could have had more blocks on the defensive end, and if we can get that early step as a protection guy, you know he can really clean up some plays for us. He had a tremendous mindset tonight and it was good to see him be rewarded with some baskets at the rim and him make some plays for some other guys as well.”
One one possession, Capela took a few dribbles and bullied Allen to the restricted area before finishing with authority, included in his first half highlights below.
Even with no blocks, his presence clearly altered shots near the rim. Capela did just about everything, including recording a career high 6 assists to go along with his points and boards, and a solid job walling off the paint on defense.
Clint Capela has a career-high six assists (prev. five 4x) to go along with his 12 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes so far tonight.— Hawks PR (@HawksPR) January 2, 2021
Capela on his personal assist record remarked, “I think I was just making the right choices.”
“Clint was a beast tonight,” Hunter said of Capela. “Offensive glass, controlling the rebounds. Limiting Jarrett Allen from getting offensive rebounds.”
But many of the post-game accolades seem to be directed toward the second year player form Virginia. Hunter may have had his best night as a professional, with an almost perfect shooting night (9-for-10 from the field) and decisive drives to the hoop.
Hunter on how he delivered this performance, remarked “Using my size, getting downhill. Just taking what the defense gives me.”
It’s clear Hunter has added to his physical strength and handles during the long offseason, and he had a career night all while primarily guarding and mostly locking down six-time All-Star Kyrie Irving.
“I didn’t realize he was 9-for-10,” Pierce said after the game. “Travis (Schlenk) brought it up to me jokingly after the game. I think for him, the defensive effort and the challenge of guarding a guy like Kyrie. Just being solid. I don’t think he did anything that hurt Kyrie. I just thought he was solid from start to finish. And offensively we were able to go to him a little bit and obviously shots went down.”
“I just feel like his ability to fit in seamlessly wherever, his versatility,” Collins added about what Hunter brings to the team. “His strength, his ability to create in different ways. Rebound. Also a leader on the defensive end as well so a big night for ‘Dre.’”
Improved defense, forcing turnovers by jumping passing lanes
Defense has been a big concern that was highlighted two nights ago, as Atlanta surrendered 145 points and a sky-high 63.5% eFG to Brooklyn, which resulted in an unfortunate 136 defensive rating. The 141 points scored was a franchise record for the Hawks in a regulation loss.
The Hawks quieted the critics some by turning around 48 hours later and limiting the Nets to just 98 points and a 44.8% eFG%.
Both starting lineups were unchanged from Wednesday night, with the Hawks starting both Hunter and Cam Reddish for their abilities to disturb ball handlers and disrupt passes. Reddish drew the initial assignment against Durant while Hunter was matched up with Irving.
It was a total team effort toward stifling Irving, who only had 18 points on 6-of-21 shooting. Here, Young holds up well in isolation using his lower body to fend off the drive. Reddish aids the efforts with a dig from the nail as Irving gets into the lane but can’t finish an off-balance shot.
The Nets started ice cold from deep, missing their first 11 shots from behind the arc. It was evident the Hawks made a concerted effort to switch quickly on perimeter screens, and they executed much more crisply than their last time out.
Atlanta’s guards and wings didn’t allow Luwawu-Cabarrot, Joe Harris or Landry Shamet to get loose like the previous game, holding that trio of spot up shooters to just 2-for-12 (16.7%) combined from deep. The below possession is a great example of just that.
Wow this defensive possession. Hunter/JC/Reddish work together to close the dribble penetration path. JC especially impressive closing on Kyrie and recovering to Allen. Huerter and Trae communicate about Harris (shooting threat) And Trae works over screen and closes out on Harris pic.twitter.com/2OxSdayUmM— Glen Willis (@willis_glen) January 2, 2021
Huerter collected steals like trading cards with active hands and good recognition of skip passes. The third-year wing ended up with four of the Hawks’ eight total steals and his head coach took notice.
“[Kevin] was just in the right spot,” Pierce said. “They had 62 points in the paint in the first game. We talked about our positioning to try and limit what they were doing to get to the paint. We saw some of those clips at the half. And he was just in the right spot and he ended up getting a lot of deflections and steals. That was pretty much the key. On offense, we always talk about spacing. On defense, we talk about positioning. You can make good plays if you’re starting in the right spot. And I thought Kevin led us there, just being in the right spot. And that led to a couple of steals and a couple of shifts where they had to kick it out and they couldn’t get into the paint.”
The Nets were able to get out and run off of misses in the first matchup, but after examining and discussing film, the Hawks did a much better job in outing number two.
The following is a much better display of transition defense.
The situation is a 5-on-3 opportunity for the Nets after a miss, but the Hawks rotate quickly onto all the shooters, and the rim-bound Allen, allowing Bogdanovic and Capela to get back into the defensive possession. The sequence is punctuated by a solid Solomon Hill closeout.
Hunter concurred on the defensive performance.
“The game a few nights ago, I think we were just going back and forth,” he said. “That was a big point of film. Just get back in transition, communicate what defense is where and execute the game plan. I feel like we did a good job of doing that tonight.”
“I thought we came out way more in tune to who they are and where they hurt us and just competed,” Pierce agreed. “Our defensive effort was tremendous and our guys were all involved in that.”
With their stiffened defense, the Hawks held an opponent to fewer than 100 points for the first time this season.
“I don’t know if impressed is the word. I would say extremely satisfied. [...] That’s the type of effort and energy we want to see from all of our games,” Collins stated. “With the new format, we’re able to play teams twice. Obviously we went back and watched film and saw all the things that we could get better at and have another chance to go back at them and attack them. I feel this really helps our growth, being able to see the mistakes we made and then actually play the same teams that’s going to do similar things and really learn from it.”