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Hawks dispatch Celtics with balanced scoring effort

Five players scored in double-digits for the Hawks on Wednesday night.

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks notched their third win in a row as they defeated the Boston Celtics 110-99 on Wednesday night at State Farm Arena.

John Collins led the Hawks with 20 points while Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish added 19 points. For the Celtics — without Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams — Jayson Tatum scored 34 points, Grant Williams added 18 points.

The Hawks and Huerter came out firing out of the gate, Huerter recovering from hamstring tightness that forced him to miss the second half against the Magic to hit four threes in the first quarter as the Hawks scored 30 points.

The Hawks eventually pushed their lead to double-digits late in the second quarter and took a nine point lead into the second half. A number of occasions the Hawks’ lead fell below 10 and the Hawks pushed it back to double-digits and two respective threes from Delon Wright and Danilo Gallinari pushed the Hawks lead to 16 before entering the final quarter with a 14 point lead. The Celtics, again, brought it below 10 late in the fourth quarter but the Hawks were never really threatened — as was the case for the entire game, really (taking the lead at the 9:32 mark in the first quarter and never lost it) — and held on to take an 11 point victory in the end.

Postgame, Hawks head coach Nate McMillan was pleased that the Hawks solved the Celtics’ defensive scheme on Trae Young with ball movement.

“I thought we scrapped all night long,” said McMillan postgame. “Boston is a tough team to figure out. They’re a really solid defensive team that does a lot of switching so you have to be patient and find the matchup you want to take advantage of. I thought our guys did that tonight. You have to figure out that defense and I thought we did that. 28 assists tonight was really good. Defensively, the way they’re playing small-ball, it was a challenge for us because we’re not really a switching team but we had to make some reads and adjustments on the floor and I thought our guys figured it out during the course of the game to get control, keep control of the game.”

As McMillan said, 28 assists for the Hawks last night on 41 made baskets, 11 of those coming from Trae Young, who was shown an extra body off of screens often. Young, however, was able to find teammates all night long from these situations.

Here, Young finds Clint Capela inside for the layup after the double:

This time Young goes looks to the perimeter and finds Huerter for the one of his five first half three-pointers:

Near the sideline this time, Young nutmegs Al Horford to find Collins for the layup:

Young would link up with Collins again on this next play where he finds Collins for the corner three after the double up-top:

And Young would find Collins one more time as he dribbles away from the trap to find Collins a straightforward dunk at the rim:

“It’s really a simple game,” said McMillan when asked about Young’s doubles and ball-movement. “What you try to do is get a team to put two on the ball. When they put two on the ball, if you have a player that is so productive that they have to put two guys on the ball someone is open, and all you have to do is move the ball. I thought in the first half we were trying to beat the defense with the dribble and not the pass. They pressure, they guard the ball so you’re not going to beat them with the dribble, you got to move the ball. I thought we did that in the second half and able to free up some guys and get some guys some open looks. It’s a really simple game: you put two on the ball, get off of it. I don’t care who you are, get off of it. I thought Trae did that tonight. Couple of times he tried to force some things and turned it over but that’s something we’ll continue to work on.”

“You just got to move the ball,” added Collins of when the Celtics put an extra body on Young. “It’s Trae getting off the ball, off the double-team and that person, whoever gets it, making a nice play for a teammate or trying to attack the rim on the 4-on-5. But that’s really all it is: making that first pass out of the double and making the correct play, making the correct read and we did that tonight.”

What many people forget very easily — especially fans of the NBA in general who wouldn’t watch the Hawks every night — is that Young’s greatest ability with the basketball is his passing ability. Of course, he can light it up for 40-plus but his ability to find teammates from seemingly anywhere on the court has always been his best aspect of his game.

Huerter described the Hawks’ ball movement as one of the keys to victory last night, as well as the Hawks’ defense.

“I thought we got the ball moving side-to-side,” said Huerter of the key to victory. “We knew they were going to switch a lot, they started trapping early, they were throwing a bunch of different things at us. We got the ball moving side-to-side, overall we got good shots and made shots early. I thought defensively holding them under 100 points was really good for the night. Tatum got his numbers but for the most part we limited everybody else and rebounded well again, which I think is a key for us. I think defensively we were really good.”

This was the first game since the Oct. 27 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans that the Hawks held an opponent to under 100 points in a game (though, the Bucks did score just 100 points in a blowout game recently).

“The game of basketball is an imperfect game and everybody is striving for perfection but I feel like the one thing we came out and did tonight was our mentality,” said Collins postgame. “We understood defensively what we needed to do, we fed the hot-hands and kept the ball moving. I feel like we played together tonight and we got the win at home.”

With Young limited in his ability to score the ball (scoring 18 points on 4-of-12 shooting and 0-of-6 from three) and forced to give the ball up often last night, others stepped up in his place. Collins led the team in scoring with 20 points (scoring consistently throughout) as the Hawks had various hot-hands last night.

In the first quarter it was Huerter, who hit four threes and scored 14 points in the first quarter before scoring 19 for the game overall. It was unclear for a period whether Huerter would play last night after struggling with his hamstring and while it isn’t completely healthy, Huerter said postgame that there is nothing majorly wrong with his hamstring.

“It’s OK,” said Huerter of his hamstring. “We’re testing it pregame, it was kind of a game-time decision. It’s coming along. It might nag for a couple weeks but there’s nothing seriously wrong with it, just something we’ve got to monitor and continue to treat moving forward.”

It would not surprise me if Huerter sat out the occasional game — back-to-backs perhaps — during this stretch but his impact on last night’s game was huge: five of the Hawks’ 13 three-pointers coming by way of Huerter.

Both Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic had strong spells in the third quarter: Collins a perfect 5-for-5 in the quarter for 11 points while Bogdanovic hit three threes in the third quarter — on his way to 12 points — to help the Hawks stretch away from the Celtics.

Finally in the fourth, Reddish scored eight of his 19 points in the final quarter. Reddish shot 8-of-14 from the field despite shooting 1-of-6 from three: his work inside the arc proving extremely solid.

“Just tried to stick with it,” said Reddish of his game. “Guys just trying to find me and get me some easy ones early, kind of got me going.”

Reddish’s teammates have often encouraged him to be aggressive but have also spoken to the talent of Reddish and how easily the game comes to him. Last night was no exception.

“Personally I’m always trying to tell him aggressive mentality,” said Collins of Reddish. “It’s calmness but still trying to attack. I feel like he sort of did that tonight. Not saying it’s because of me but you’re just starting to see his game slow down, or when he does slow down and finally pick his spots the game is so easy for that dude. That’s what we want to see more of because it helps him, it helps us. We just want to win so we’re trying to keep pushing Cam.”

“He’s tough to stop when he tries to get to the rim,” said Huerter of Reddish. “He’s so athletic, so long, he’s got a lot of different moves when he gets into the paint. I think that’s where he’s at his best when is playing downhill and getting into the paint. As he continues to realize that, the better he’s going to get. He made a couple of nice passes today, getting in and kicking out. It’s a lot of growth.”

It’s interesting to hear both Collins and Huerter allude to both ‘calmness’ and how Reddish will improve when he realizes he’s better perhaps inside the arc than outside of it (this was certainly the case last night).

With better shot selection in general, Reddish would certainly provide the Hawks with a solid contribution offensively on most nights but could stand to reign some shots in at times and take his time in transition scenarios at times. I thought both comments from Collins and Huerter on Reddish were certainly interesting; their phrasing to pay attention to (as is often the case when coaches and teammates discuss Reddish, they seem to dance somewhat in the words they say).

Nate McMillan praised not only Reddish for his play but Lou Williams for facilitating Reddish into sets that allowed him to succeed last night.

“I thought Cam was really good on both ends of the floor,” said McMillan of Reddish. “With that group you have Lou and Gallo — some veterans out there — that he can play with, some experience. I thought Lou did a really good job of getting us into some actions. Cam got a hot-hand and we started to feed him, Lou did a good job calling sets for Cam. Cam did a great job making plays and finishing. Just solid game on both ends of the floor.”

19 points from Reddish, 19 points from Huerter, 20 points from Collins, 18 points from Young: a balanced dose of scoring from the Hawks last night in what was a comfortable victory.

“We’re always at our best when we can have everybody do their job and make shots,” said Collins of the balanced scoring. “If you want to take someone out of the game — if you want to take Ice out of the game — I feel like that’s when guys should be empowered to do more and try to create more when they’re sending two guys at somebody. I feel like the game becomes easy for us when we have so many skilled guys that can do a lot with the basketball.”

A key to this game that may go under appreciated was the Hawks’ bench. Not only did they outscore the Celtics’ bench Josh Richardson 32-11 but they played very well in key stretches at the end of the first half and to begin the fourth quarter. I’ve really enjoyed seeing Clint Capela with that second unit as they did last night but the improved play of both Delon Wright and Danilo Gallinari really helping that unit, including Reddish’s high-level of play last night too.

Gorgui Dieng played a stretch just under two minutes, I would imagine to relieve Collins at the end of the third before Capela started the fourth quarter. It wouldn’t surprise me if we (collectively) saw more of this from the Hawks going forward, a second unit of Wright, Lou Williams, Reddish, Gallinari and Capela. A mix of defense and shot creation — though, streaky shooting/offense perhaps.

Regardless, it’ll be interesting to monitor going forward as the Hawks continue to adjust to life without De’Andre Hunter for the short term future and obviously without primary backup big Onyeka Okongwu as they have been all season so far.

All-in-all, a pretty straightforward win for the Hawks, who were never especially threatened against a Celtics side missing a very key component in Brown and paint protection in Robert Williams (see below):

The Hawks played a good game, swung the ball to good effect and received multiple contributions from across the team, as well as their bench. They were well-worth their victory.

The Hawks (7-9) are back in action on Saturday against the Charlotte Hornets (9-7) at State Farm Arena. The Hornets were a very tough opponent for the Hawks in the early season last year and their defense of Young was a huge reason behind that. Time will tell if he will suffer a similarly frustrating experience on Saturday.

Until next time...