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The Atlanta Hawks turn around a late 10-point deficit behind Sharife Cooper’s heroics

Atlanta Hawks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

In the Hawks’ third preseason contest, Atlanta finally tallied a win in the standings. Without the services of Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter, Trae Young, Delon Wright and Onyeka Okongwu, the Hawks would rally late behind the play of second round draft pick Sharife Cooper at the point.

The Hawks seemed to play through the post primarily in the first half, getting John Collins and Danilo Gallinari plenty of touches down in the mid-post. This was something that was very effective last season, as the two efficient forwards often showed their skill in rising over mismatched opponents.

The Hawks insistence on playing from the inside out was very evident from just two made threes in the first half versus 10 in the second half. But inconsistent defensive play and poor shot selection found them down 40-37 at the halfway point.

“Everything starts with defense. We talked about it. We didn’t box out as much in the first half and they had so many wide open threes and offensive rebounds,” Bogdan Bogdanovic had to say about the first half performance.

Of note, they let second year guard Desmond Bane get loose a few times from deep, finishing 4-for-8 (50%) from there en route to an 18 point performance. There seemed to be less than ideal communication in handling perimeter screen actions, resulting in slow switches and under defending prolific shooters.

Coach Nate McMillan preferred to look at the preseason in 12 minute blocks. “Up until [halftime] we had lost ten quarters of basketball in the two and half games we played [in the preseason]. We finally won the last two quarters of this game,” McMillan stated.

On the other end, Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter heated up in the second half. The duo, which comprised the starting backcourt Saturday night, combined for 25 points and 9 assists, including 5-9 (55.6%) shooting from deep. Collins tied Bogdanovic for the lead in points with 16 by focusing on finishing at the rim and from the block.

It wasn’t a pretty game for the viewing public through three quarters, and the Hawks stared down an 82-72 deficit with under seven minutes remaining. Cooper then proceeded to swoop in and save the Hawks in the fourth quarter, leading them to a 19-5 run to close the game. Some highlights for the rookie guard:

On Cooper, Coach McMillan had this to say, “I thought he changed the tempo again tonight starting in the first half, picking up the ball and really establishing our defense. Getting aggressive defensively. The second half he did the same thing. I thought he did a good job of organizing the team and running the team down the stretch. Made some big plays and good decisions with the basketball in that fourth quarter. He was really the difference in this game. I love the energy that he’s bringing. He’s scrappy.”

“My mindset was just win at all costs [...] the fourth quarter, that’s definitely closing time, so I definitely feel like I wanted to make a big impact on that,” Cooper says of the fourth quarter. About showing his stuff in an attempt for recognition, he said, “I feel like that’s a selfish mindset. I try to stay away from that. I feel like playing the game the right way. If someone closes out, then I drive and make the extra pass.”

Cooper finished with 10 points (all in the fourth quarter) on seven shots, three assists, and three big steals while playing hounding on ball defense. It was certainly impressive to see him knife through defenses on one end while cutting off penetration and snagging loose balls on the other.

“That was a thing people would say during my draft process that I lacked on defense. I feel like that was a big emphasis I wanted to make this coming year,” he continued. “Just show that I could defend multiple positions and make an impact on that end. That’s why I have so much energy from trying to get that narrative changed and start a new chapter.”

“I love Sharife’s game,” Collins had to say about Cooper. “I love the way he thinks the game, plays the game. The calmness and poise he has with the ball. Obviously I love playing off him as well. We’re all happy to see Sharife get some reps and look good.”

On what changed from the first half, Collins continued, “I think we just settled into the game a little bit. We understood what they wanted to do. Move the ball a little bit more. Got into the paint. Got some foul calls. The game starts to open up once we start to make the easy plays. Got the dub down the stretch.”

That dub down the stretch takes Atlanta to 1-2 this preseason. The Hawks’ preseason finale will be in Atlanta against the Miami Heat on Oct. 14.