The Atlanta Hawks resumed their winning ways on the road as they toppled the Indiana Pacers 114-11 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Wednesday night.
Trae Young led the way with 33 points and 10 assists, Kevin Huerter added 19 points. For the Pacers, Malcolm Brogdon’s big second half ensured he finished with 27 points while Domantas Sabonis added 22 points.
The Hawks entered this game in somewhat uncharted territory.
In addition to De’Andre Hunter’s absence, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Cam Reddish were absent as the Hawks’ depleted wing depth led to the visitors calling upon Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to the starting lineup to join Huerter.
They weren’t the only absences in this contest: Hawks head coach Nate McMillan was not with the team in Indiana, erring on the side of caution of health and safety. In his place, Chris Jent took head coach responsibilities in Indiana.
On the court, it was a very even affair for most of the game. Both teams started out hot but the Hawks were able to sustain it for a longer period, finishing the first quarter with 38 points after a buzzer-beater from Lou Williams. The offense slowed a little in the second quarter before the Hawks managed to build a 10 point lead in the third quarter but Indiana would slash that before the third quarter.
What it essentially boiled down to was a two point game in the Hawks’ favor (105-103) with just under four minutes remaining as the Hawks took a timeout after a made basket by Sabonis.
By this point in the game, Young — who had carved the Pacers apart for three quarters — finally went cold at an inopportune moment and the Pacers would intensify their defense of him in the fourth quarter.
In his place, other Hawks had to make plays down the stretch, let’s look at those.
Starting off, this possession was bought by John Collins’ offensive rebound after a missed three from Young. Off of it, there’s a bit of a collision but the ball ends up in the hands of Huerter and on the slip from Collins, Huerter gets caught somewhat in the air and his cross-court pass to Clint Capela is successful and, as the shotclock winds down, his hook is successful as the shotclock expires:
Capela struggled inside all night long against the combined efforts of Myles Turner and Sabonis but got that hook to go first time at a crucial time in the game.
Two missed threes from the Pacers and a missed shot from Young, the Hawks come again. Now, Young is being denied the ball, face-guarded. Handling the ball, Huerter uses the bodies of Collins and Capela and steps into a mid-range jumpshot which he hits:
Young and Luwawu-Cabarrot spacing the floor and taking their defenders out of the play and leaving essentially one guard defending with two bigs — if necessary — to take Brogdon out of the play, not to mention a clutch shot by Huerter.
After a made shot by Caris LeVert, Huerter would create another play — as Young is face-guarded by Chris Duarte on this possession — and Luwawu-Cabarrot gets a look at a three in the corner which is missed:
After a split pair of free throws from Sabonis, Young is unable to lift himself out of his fourth quarter-slump as he misses the layup at the rim but Capela is on hand to crash the glass and score the putback, giving the Hawks a five point lead with just over a minute remaining:
The Pacers call for time, score out of the timeout through Brogdon, and then the Hawks call for time themselves to get Young back in — subbed out at the Pacers’ timeout for Solomon Hill.
After that timeout, Young is denied the ball again but Huerter and Collins link up in the pick-and-roll where Collins draws the foul and free throws on the drive:
Collins splits the pair of free throws, which could have easily come back to bite the Hawks (more on that soon) but in the meantime, the Hawks initially come up with the defensive play they need as Capela blocks LeVert’s attempt at the rim but it lands straight in the hands of Jeremy Lamb who hits a tough three to bring the Pacers within one:
Now a one possession game, the Hawks and Young commit a costly turnover with 11 seconds left and the Pacers have a 2-on-1 in transition with Brogdon and Duarte. Huerter contests Duarte at the rim and the shot is short, leaving the Hawks and Young to ice the game at the free throw line:
“I was trying to make a play on the ball, make him finish over me,” said Huerter of the play. “In that situation there’s not much you can do but try to compete and make a play and he missed it short. The dominoes fell in our favor tonight at the end of the game and we hit our free throws when we needed to.”
Duarte and Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle were left very unhappy at this play, and replays certainly indicated that Huerter tugged the front of Duarte’s jersey on the shot attempt.
“The last play was unfortunate,” said Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle via James Boyd of the Indianapolis Star. “He grabbed his jersey and pulled it down. It’s clearly a foul. Not sure why it wasn’t called. Very disappointed.”
Was it a foul in the eyes of Kevin Huerter?
“I never foul, I haven’t fouled anybody in my life,” said Huerter postgame. “I want to contest the shot, it was clean up-top and he came up short.”
Perhaps the first part of that answer is tongue in cheek and I think Huerter himself knows he probably got away with one there and his phrasing that the contest was clean ‘up-top’ is likely intentional.
The Hawks had a timeout available to them if it had gone in the other direction but they certainly caught a decent break on the road as they notched another road win. Speaking postgame, acting head coach Chris Jent praised the victory but admitted the Hawks need to improve on the late-game situation that unfolded in this game.
“Obviously a great win but we have to be better,” said Jent postgame. “You’re always going to be in those situations in this league. It’s a long game, 48 minutes is a long game. We have to learn from it, get better, but it’s nice to learn from wins than losses. We definitely have to be better.”
“It wasn’t good,” Jent later elaborated on the Hawks’ end to the game. “We give specific instructions on what we’re looking for at the end of the game: having two timeouts, taking Trae out of the basketball game. We understood that we wanted to take a timeout immediately, make or miss, so it started there. A little mishap on the pick-and-roll, we knew they would play a small-small on the pick-and-roll, so we have to be better. Obviously you never want a turnover but we have to get a shot there, we have to get a shot at the end of the basketball game. We have to learn from that and improve.”
“I could’ve done better in closing it out,” admitted Young postgame. “I think it was a good game, we had a good lead and I’ve got to do a better job of closing it out.”
Young’s 2-of-8 fourth quarter — and his almost very costly turnover late in the game — were tough for the Hawks but despite those late struggles Young still finished with 33 points on an efficient 13-of-27 from the field. Jent was pleased with the composure of Young as well as his patience.
“I thought he showed a lot of composure,” said Jent of Young. “They were really pressuring him. I thought the little things like that last play in the second quarter — we get the basketball with roughly 10 seconds left on the clock and rather than go fast ... we take our time and get a three with the pass. Little things like that throughout the course of the game where he showed maturity throughout the game.”
Young’s 33 points represented his fifth straight game scoring 30 or more points in a game; the Hawks 4-1 in that stretch.
“I was getting to my spots and I’ve worked really hard on being able to knock down jumpers,” said Young when asked how he has been able to score of ease over the last few weeks. “I’m just getting to my spots and other guys are making plays too. If they don’t make plays it’s hard for me to get good looks. If teams are going to double I’m going to give it to them and they’re going to make plays. If they don’t decide to double I’m going to be able to get good looks. We have so many guys on the floor who can make plays and make jumpers. It’s more about the other guys making plays that was getting me really good looks.”
To his teammates, who Young gives credit helping him get to those spots, this truly is nothing new.
“That’s Trae,” said Collins of the Young’s scoring streak. “Kevin and I have been here a while and we haven’t seen any difference or any slow down in what Trae does. Trae is an elite scorer in this league and he’s been able score at a high-level efficiently as well as get his teammates involved. Not to say we’re unimpressed or not happy for him but that’s Trae. We expect greatness from him as he does from himself. We’ve got to keep encouraging him to play well.”
“His shot-making is elite,” added Huerter. “...He’s answered the bell at every point. His shot-making in big moments, he gets to the lane — there’s a lot of times we go back on defense laughing: just hitting crazy shots and his deep threes. He’s answered the bell, he’s carrying us at times and the better he is I think the better everyone else is.”
Making life easier for Young in the backcourt in the place of the injured Bogdan Bogdanovic was Huerter. Huerter has, more often that not, proved an extremely reliable option for the coaching staff to insert in place of an injury and Huerter’s efforts on last night’s game should not go unappreciated: 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 from three. While he only had one assist on the game, in the late game when the Pacers face-guarded Young off of the ball, Huerter was the one to handle the ball and the Hawks were able to make plays and get over the line.
“This is a game in years past that we haven’t always have won,” said Huerter. “We had a lot of guys out, had a lot of different guys step up, a lot of guys made shots when we needed to, our bench was really good tonight. It was a good win for us.”
Of course, Young and Huerter are among the longest tenured Hawks currently at the club and the chemistry they’ve built over the last few seasons.
“They’re free-flowing,” expanded Jent on the Young-Huerter partnership. “They’re free-flowing players, rhythm guys that have an appreciation for one another.”
“Me and Kev, we played on USA together in high school, so we’ve gone way back since before the league,” said Young. “We’re two very smart players that have been overlooked for a long time. We’re both very cerebral, we know how to play the game. I think that’s where we click, he knows how to come up and make certain plays and we can read off each other. That’s a good type of teammate to have that has that type of IQ and his game speaks for itself so to be able to have that IQ with it is big.”
Over his last seven games, Huerter is averaging 13.3 points per game on 55% shooting from the field on just under 10 attempts and 45% from three on five attempts per game.
“I think it’s been talked about a lot that he had a summer where he didn’t do anything,” began Chris Jent when asked abut Huerter. “Kevin’s a rhythm guy. He’s finding his rhythm. He operates really well with Trae, him and Trae have really good synergy. He’s going to get better and better. It’s really tough, you can’t underestimate the fact that you come into an NBA season and haven’t done anything basketball-wise during the summer. But It’s good to see (Huerter succeed).”
Another wing to step up was Luwawu-Cabarrot.
Cabarrot has largely been an ‘end of the bench’ player this season, as one would maybe expect for the man who claimed the Hawks’ final roster spot heading into the season. Cabarrot stepped into the starting lineup and scored eight points on 3-of-6 from the field and 2-of-3 from three in 25 minutes of action.
“He’s been there before,” said Jent of Cabarrot. “That’s the part of the construction of this team and why Travis has put these players with this group because during the NBA season you need those guys. He’s played in the playoffs, he’s started plenty of games. He did a great job, both sides of the ball I thought he was fantastic.”
Nothing on Cabarrot’s boxscore will pop out but his play on the court was extremely helpful for the Hawks last night, particularly defensively. Between himself and Huerter, the Hawks were able to switch a ton, Cabarrot himself seemed to switch at will. Defensively, he moved his feet well on drives and his rotations were good in addition.
Take this possession for example. Up top, it seems as though Huerter is expecting the hand-off screen from Sabonis but when LeVert makes the cut instead Huerter is taken out of the play. Clint Capela is there and may have been able to thwart an attempt at the rim but a quick little hop into the driving lane from Cabarrot deters LeVert from his drive:
Now, Cabarrot kind of gave up a bit on the play at the end (probably expecting Capela to continue the defensive play and contest) but there were little things like that from Cabarrot all game long.
Again on this play — when Brogdon gets the better of Huerter on the drive, Cabarrot is there to rotate and stops Brogdon dead in his tracks:
Cabarrot was also able to produce this great block in transition in the second half:
“Another guy who comes in, plays unselfishly, plays hard, plays together,” said John Collins of Luwawu-Cabarrot. “Out there giving his all on the defensive end. Might not make the big splash on offense but all the little things TLC is doing, those add up. Winning basketball.”
On offense, Cabarrot wasn’t shy and when the opportunity came he shot without hesitation:
“It was big-time,” said Young of Luwawu-Cabarrot. “He came in aggressive and I told him I want him to be aggressive when he caught the ball and not be timid when he came in. Just wanted him to play his game and knock down shots when he got them and he did that. He hit big shots for us tonight and he had a big block for us too. He made a big impact on our win tonight.”
Even if Cam Reddish was to return to action for the Hawks’ next game on Friday, I would wager a bet that perhaps Cabarrot might continue in the starting lineup. Nate McMillan has stated multiple times that he likes Reddish coming off of the bench, and in terms of minutes distribution between Reddish and Cabarrot, you’d slash Solomon Hill’s 13 minutes and a few of Cabarrot’s 25 minutes and perhaps a few between Delon Wright and/or Lou Williams.
Speaking of Nate McMillan, although he wasn’t there in person to oversee the Hawks’ victory on Wednesday night, he is still credited with the victory and last night’s victory marked his 700th as a head coach.
“You all know Coach McMillan and to be a part of his legacy, the quality of person and quality of coach that he is, to be tagged with that man, that’s a great honor,” said Chris Jent of McMillan’s 700th career victory. “I’m honored to be a part of that so it’s really cool.”
“700 wins is big-time,” added Young of McMillan’s milestone. “To do it after a playing career is even crazier, that just shows he’s dedicated to winning. He knows so much about the game. I’m happy we’re a part of it, that’s a big milestone. Looking forward to winning some more.”
All-in-all, this was a good victory for the Hawks. In the fourth quarter when Young shot 2-of-8 and was almost a non-factor in the closing stages thanks to the Pacers’ defense of him, other Hawks stepped up and made plays one way or another and in that I think they can be encouraged that they can find ways to win when their best player struggles. Of course, the Hawks were fortunate with that no-call on Duarte and very fortunate that turnover from Young didn’t cost them the game but in saying that they had done everything they needed to to be in a position to win that game prior to that break.
Without three of their rotation wings, the Hawks got good scoring stretches from Delon Wright and Williams in the first half and Danilo Gallinari found his shot in the second half. The three-point shot also fell well (16-of-33) on a night where the Hawks had difficulty at times inside with the large backline of Sabonis and Turner making life inside difficult at times.
A quality win on the road for a team missing some key components but the players — and Chis Jent — stepped up in a big way to keep the Hawks in the continual hunt in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks (12-10) are back in action at home on Friday when they take on the Philadelphia 76ers (11-11) at State Farm Arena.
The Sixers are coming off of a tough loss in Boston where Joel Embiid scored just 13 points on 3-of-17 shooting and will be looking to bounce-back in a big way in Atlanta.
Should prove an interesting test.
Until next time...