The Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets matched up in State Farm Arena during Pride Night, with Atlanta coming away with a 115-105 win. It was a high octane affair, with a lot of shots put up from both sides and featuring some late drama. The win brought the streak to four and counting for the Hawks, who have been looking to undo some of the damage done during a recent 6-game losing streak.
Here were three keys to the victory Saturday night.
Composure down the stretch
The Hawks shot well all night long, finishing with 43/82 (52.4%) shooting from the field and a strong 116.2 ORtg on the night. After jumping out to a quick double digit lead in the first half, the Hawks largely kept Charlotte at arms length, including a score with 4:23 left in the fourth quarter to push the contest to an 11-point margin.
Despite this, the Hornets surged to close to a 106-102 score with 1:18 left in the contest, capping off a late 12-5 run. This forced McMillan to use a timeout and settle the troops.
The following possession was immediately unsettled by a halfcourt trap on Trae Young. But some quick ball movement found a wide open Kevin Huerter at the top of the key to quickly push the lead back to seven.
After a split at the line from Miles Bridges — which capped off a 35-point night for him, a career-high — the Hawks were met with yet another frenetic defensive effort for the young Hornets.
Eventually, Young drew three men and found an open Cam Reddish in the near corner for the dagger three.
The final blow, however, was a stiff John Collins challenge at the rim, sniffing out the Cody Martin attempt to finally smother any hopes of a Hornets comeback.
“I thought Kevin’s three was a big three and Cam’s three was a big three down the stretch in that fourth quarter,” said head coach Nate McMillan. “You have to make breaks for yourself and I thought our guys did that tonight. When we needed a stop, we got that stop. When we needed a basket, we got that basket.”
“Those threes that Cam and Kev hit were big time for us,” Young added. “We needed those. They were doubling teaming. I had a bad turnover trying to get out a double team but those were some big plays that they made.”
On the final minutes, Clint Capela remarked, “They got the best of us for a few minutes. We stayed focused. We relaxed. We didn’t stress out. That was maturity from us.”
Two of the late heroes were among the balanced scoring attack that featured six Hawks with at least 15 points. Huerter had 17 big points on 10 shots and Reddish continued his second straight game of strong play with 17 points and six rebounds off the bench.
“We got seven or eight guys on this roster that can really fill it up offensively,” said Collins. “I feel like I’ve been saying that all year and last year. Just about us moving the ball, getting everybody’s confidence, feel, touches, flow, rhythm correct, and we play good ball.”
Thes win adds to the strong play of late for Atlanta, with noticeably improved pace and bounce from the members of the team.
“The improvement that we’ve made has been playing faster,” Young remarked on the 4-game winning streak. “We’re scoring over 100 [points] in all our games here. We’ve just been playing faster. It’s not always going to go great or go perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. But the more possessions you have and the faster you play, with the guys we have, the more shots you get up the better it is.”
The game finished with 98 possessions per NBA stats, right at their average over the last four games and a tick above their season average. In their last four contests, the Hawks have averaged 118.5 points per game, 120.6 ORtg, and are true shooting 62.0%, second in the NBA to only the Utah Jazz in all three categories during this stretch.
Clint Capela’s big night
Capela had a slow start to the season — notably on defense and on the boards — partially due to a PRP injection and rehab for an Achilles issue he dealt with last season. Tonight, however, Capela had a strong game in both aspects and was a near perfect 10-for-11 (91%) from the field for 20 points, adding 15 rebounds and two big blocks.
Here was yet another signature block from the big man.
“[Clint Capela] is the anchor of our defense,” Collins said. “The energy, intensity, effort, and length he brings. He’s been bringing it the last couple of games. Hopefully he continues this stride for as long as he can. We love to see him play well.
“I thought [Capela] played within himself offensively. They were leaving him to help on penetration and he was able to finish,” said McMillan.
Later, head coach McMillan talked about the other side of the ball for the big man, “[Capela] anchors our defense. When there are breakdowns, a lot of times he [has] to come over and defend the basket which he’s giving up rebounding position in situations like that. So we have to do a better job of keeping the ball in front of us so that we can Clint can attached to his man and we can rebound the basketball.”
Most of the praise was duly effused on Capela’s effort on the glass Saturday night. He recorded six big offensive rebounds, many of which led directly to points for Atlanta.
This nifty spin on the smaller Bridges was both visually appealing but also effective in reaching a position to tip the ball out of a crowd.
Here are two offensive rebounds that led directly to buckets, including this first one that Capela very much meant to deflect off the front of the rim and in.
“What [Clint] does for us — the rebounding, the playing hard,” Young had to say. “He’s not going to get 20 and 18 every night but he’s going to get close to it, especially in rebounds. He plays so hard and he’s so smart [...] he’s a smart big man. One of the best in the game.”
Considering the injury issues he had to push through this offseason, Capela himself was noticably enthused with his improved healthy and play. “I’m feeling better, especially when I’m running the floor. I’m starting to feel that my legs are back so it’s a good feeling.”
Danilo Gallinari and the Hawks punishing small ball play
The Charlotte Hornets were up to the task in this game, make no mistake. LaMelo Ball notched a triple-double and dazzled with some highlight assists. Bridges had a career night with 35 points and 10 rebounds. But as a result of a deficit for most of the game, he played a lot of small ball center in an effort to catch up.
McMillan countered by extending Danilo Gallinari’s minutes and playing him alongside Collins in the frontcourt for longer stretches, including a nearly 15 minute stretch between the third and fourth quarters when the Italian forward didn’t see the bench at all.
“It was just the matchup,” explained McMillan for his rotational strategy. “They were switching their guards on our bigs and I think [Gallinari] is probably the best post player we have. His ability to take advantage of those matchups in the post, I stayed with that tonight. They were playing small ball so that allowed me to play [Gallinari] and [Collins] together. A lot of times it’s difficult to play that lineup because of the rebounding. Tonight they were able to offset that with the scoring.”
While the Hawks did lose the rebounding battle 52-45 — including ceding 21 offensive boards to Charlotte — the combined 51 points from the Collins, Capela, and Gallinari trio was a big reason why the home team came away victorious last night.
Below, off the switch, Kelly Oubre tries to check Gallinari in the post but he counters by angling toward the empty lane and hitting a fadeaway shot.
Gallinari did the bulk of damage from the free throw line, however, turning a modest 3-for-7 (42.9%) shooting night into a game high 8-for-8 from the charity stripe. Bridges bore the brunt of this, racking up five personal fouls and reducing his aggression on the defensive end.
“I thought we had pretty good ball movement,” remarked McMillan. “They do a good job of switching defense. For us, our guards needed to be patient, space the floor, and recognize what defense they were in. Once they showed the defense that they were in — a lot of times they were switching, they were zoning, they were trapping — we were able to get the ball out and reverse the ball to the weakside where guys were open, and they knocked down shots.”
Atlanta moved to 6-4 in Eastern Conference play and 7-1 at home with the win. The Hawks have also pulled themselves to within one game of .500 at 8-9 overall with a matchup against the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder to complete the homestand on Monday.