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Hawks handle Pistons to return to winning ways

After a difficult game on Saturday, the Hawks returned to the winning column.

Detroit Pistons v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks bounced back from a disappointing loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers with a comfortable win against the Detroit Pistons on Monday night at State Farm Arena, 122-104.

Trae Young led the Hawks — playing without De’Andre Hunter and Danilo Gallinari — with 32 points and nine assists while John Collins added 22 points. For the Pistons — without Jerami Grant and Cade Cunningham — they were led by Kelly Olynyk’s and Saddiq Bey’s 21 points apiece.

The Hawks were considerable favorites heading into this game but certainly did not play like favorites for the first half of this game. The offense was sluggish at times (11 first half turnovers), the second quarter defense wasn’t fantastic (the Pistons scoring 36 points on 61% shooting) and Collins had run into foul trouble for the second consecutive game limiting him to nine minutes in the first half.

That said, the Hawks looked as though they were stretching away in the third quarter but the Pistons rallied and brought the Hawks’ lead back within seven after this play, which Hawks head coach Nate McMillan was unhappy with, calling a timeout:

It was from here that the Hawks blew the game open and put distance between themselves and the Pistons for good, fuelled by their bench’s three-point makes and creation from Trae Young.

Cam Reddish got the Hawks started with this corner three after some good ball movement after Young sees a second body out front:

After a Bey basket, the Hawks come the other way and Young gets into the paint on the drive, kicks the ball out to Gorgui Dieng, who makes the extra pass to Lou Williams for the three-pointer:

After another miss from Bey — an open three-pointer — Williams returns the favor by making the extra pass to Dieng after the Young drive and Reddish swing, Dieng hits the three:

After another miss from three from the Pistons, the Hawks come again and a drag screen for Young allows him to get downhill and he uses the glass to finish at the rim to put the Hawks up by 16 points.

To help keep the Pistons off the scoreboard, Dieng does a good job to draw the charge on the drive on this offensive trip for the Pistons:

Dieng would add to the Hawks’ run with this confident jumper to put the Hawks up by 18 points as the end of the third quarter drew to a close:

The Pistons allowed this run to continue — electing not to take a timeout — throughout the final 3:58 of the third quarter. From there, the Hawks pushed the lead to as many as 23 points in the fourth quarter before McMillan was able to clear his bench for the final three minutes in what was a comfortable victory in the end after a somewhat underwhelming first half, highlighted by a monster play by Collins:

“I’m amazed too,” McMillan smiled postgame when asked about Collins’ dunk. “I played with a guy like that, that plays way, way above the rim called Shawn Kemp. To see those guys, their ability to first play above the rim like that, catch lobs and finish in traffic...that’s a special talent and a gift. They make those passers look good because some of these passes our guys were throwing it’s like ‘Who are you throwing it to?’ and all of a sudden John comes out of nowhere and catches that lob. It’s been an effective play for these guys way before I got here. John just executed well with the finish.”

For the game itself, postgame, McMillan was pleased with his side’s ball movement and selflessness, particularly in the second half.

“I thought we were about business the entire game,” said McMillan postgame. “I thought our conditioning hit us, our guys played a lot of minutes in that first half and I thought both teams were fatigued. I thought the second half we came out and continued what we talked about, establishing our defense. Offensively we had really good ball movement. I thought we passed up some shots — which is a good thing — we passed up shots to get our teammates a better shot. When you play in a rhythm like that and you play together like that with the guys we have on this roster, it’ll be tough to defend us. I thought we played selfless basketball tonight.”

We obviously looked at some of those third quarter plays and how the ball movement fuelled that run: 10 of the Hawks’ 14 made field goals were assisted in the third quarter.

“We were making the right reads,” said Young of the third quarter. “We were getting into the paint and finding guys and they were making one more pass. It was just reading what the defense gave us. They were very aggressive. We made the right reads tonight.”

“We came out well in the second half to start,” added Kevin Huerter of the third quarter. “They made a run to cut it to seven or eight and then the second unit made a bunch of threes and kind of pushed it to 20, so they did their job tonight. Everyone really played well defensively, we were really good in the second half — didn’t have a great second quarter. Playing the full game, that’s something coach McMillan has been saying and we put together a full game tonight.”

After what was a rough first quarter viewing wise (despite the Hawks being up 10 points at the end of the first quarter), the game began to turn somewhat as the Hawks and Young repeatedly got into the paint for the floater, which helped the Hawks initially pull away from the Pistons in the second quarter before Detroit made a run.

To set the table, this is what McMillan had to say postgame.

“He has that mid-range game and he has a floater,” said McMillan of Young. “Tonight, I think he turned the ball over once trying to get in the paint and throw the lob. Basically I told him ‘They’re playing your lob, shoot your floater.’ He made that adjustment and he was able to walk into the paint and shoot that shot. That’s a very efficient shot for Trae. I’m OK with him shooting that. Analytics will say that’s a bad shot but I don’t think that’s a bad shot for Trae.”

I believe lob turnover in question is this one, where Young tries to lob for Clint Capela off of the pick-and-roll and Isaiah Stewart back-pedals to break it up:

Young was finding difficulty getting to that lob and this is where the adjustment from McMillan/Young comes into play; in the second quarter.

On the double-drag screen, Young is faced with Stewart again as Young looks to turn the corner. Stewart doesn’t step-up to Young and seems more concerned about the possible lob to the rolling Capela and Young gets to his floater:

Next, Young is faced with Stewart again after the screen and as Capela rolls you can see Stewart’s conflict as Young gets to another floater:

On this play, a much higher screen takes place and Young — and Capela — attack with a lot more pace. Stewart back-pedals the entire way — the threat of the lob posing a much bigger threat attacking downhill — and Young has an easy floater once again:

Attacking in transition, a complete breakdown from the Pistons who allow Young down the hatch for the floater, at which point Pistons’ head coach Dwane Casey had seen enough:

Young shot 7-of-8 from the field in the second quarter en route to 22 first half points before ending with an early season-high 30 points on 13-of-21 from the field. The underrated part of that second quarter was how much the Hawks ended up needing those points from Trae Young as they eventually conceded 36 points in the second quarter (Atlanta scoring 34 themselves).

Looking elsewhere, Collins had himself an interesting game. This was a very good matchup for him but couldn’t utilize it in the first half as he ran into foul trouble. It was the second consecutive game where Collins ran into foul trouble, having done so in the loss to Cleveland on Saturday.

“Definitely got to calm down a little bit and sometimes let a couple of fouls go,” said John Collins of his fouls. “Frustrating my team and myself, just doing silly things. Just got to cut it out.”

The second half proved a better outing and he finished with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field (including that ferocious dunk) in just 24 minutes.

The Hawks had to make a lineup change after Hunter was ruled out with a non-COVID illness, with McMillan inserting Huerter into the starting lineup in his place.

There were some confused people wondering as to why Reddish — who scored 17 points on 5-of-14 shooting from the field — was not starting. A few good reasons are outlined below:

Postgame, McMillan also spoke about how comfortable he is to insert Huerter into the lineup, how he plays the right way and how he enjoys the combination he brings when together with Bogdan Bogdanovic on the floor.

“We did this last year when we had injuries, placing Kevin in that starting lineup at the two or the three position,” said McMillan of Huerter. “I’m just comfortable with him because he can play with the ball, he can play off the ball. He plays the game the right way. We had balance again in that starting lineup with him in that lineup. Both him and Bogi, that combination, the two of them played a lot of minutes last year coming off the bench and it’s a good combination. When you’ve got shooters out there and guys who can handle the ball with Bogi and Kevin you can do a lot of things as far as running your offense. The challenge to Kevin tonight was to pick up the defense. I thought he showed us a lot last season and we’re going to need him to do the same thing defensively for us and I thought he did a solid job tonight.”

Both Huerter and Bogdanovic finished with 14 points apiece on 5-of-8 and 5-of-9 shooting respectively — steady, solid production from both starting wings last night.

Williams also made his first appearance of the season last night, scoring nine points in 17 minutes of play. McMillan spoke postgame about how he wants to include Williams this season and how the rotation at the backup point guard position would switch periodically.

“I was going to give Lou minutes tonight, even if ‘Dre did play,” said McMillan of Williams. “I want to get him some minutes at that backup point guard position. He’s a veteran and I think he settles us down, he did it last year when he played. I like him being out there. I will, at times, switch the rotation and go with Lou as that backup point guard to Trae because I think he settles us down and I like the pace that we play at when he’s out there playing.”

I can’t say I personally agree with Williams being the backup point guard at times, seemingly at the expense of Delon Wright who the Hawks acquired this summer to fill that role specifically so that Williams wouldn’t need to be put in that situation extensively again. That said, I do agree with McMillan’s sentiment that Williams can be a reliable presence out on the court, but in an ideal world Williams shouldn’t play a ton of backup point guard.

All-in-all, the Hawks took care of their business as expected, and needed to. After a bad loss on Saturday, a team like the Pistons without Grant was just what they needed. Pretty much all of the roster enjoyed solid games, perhaps the exceptions being Reddish (despite his 17 points, it was not at all efficient or pretty at times), perhaps Wright too who is still adjusting to the Hawks’ offense.

The Hawks (2-1) now embark on a three-game road trip that begins in New Orleans on Tuesday — the first night of a back-to-back and a run of eight road games in their next 10. The Pelicans are without Zion Williamson and enter the game having topped the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.

Should be fun. Until next time...