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Hawks enjoy history-making night behind Gallinari’s arrival

A much needed win, and quite a way to get it

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

After a horrific loss in Cleveland on Tuesday night, the Atlanta Hawks bounced back to pick up a sorely needed victory against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night at State Farm Arena, 127-112.

Danilo Gallinari exploded for 38 points and a franchise-record 10 three-pointers, while Trae Young added 33 points as the Hawks clinched the season-series 2-1.

For the Celtics — without Kemba Walker on the second night of a back-to-back — All-Star Jaylen Brown led the way with 17 points. Former Hawk Jeff Teague added 14 points.

Both sides were coming off of last second defeats on Tuesday night and, as such, both entered this game on the second night of a back-to-back wanting to respond in the right way.

It was the Hawks who came out of the gate first in the first half, essentially completing their work in the opening 24 minutes behind 13 three-pointers (tying a franchise-record for threes in any half) — seven coming from Gallinari — as they stretched their advantage over Boston to as many as 27 points in the first half.

It’s here that we’ll focus on, looking at the Hawks’ first half threes. Let’s start with the non-Gallinari threes.

For their first three of the night, it’s a simple screen-and-fade featuring Trae Young and John Collins, with the screen removing Teague from the play, Daniel Theis has to be the body between Young and the rim and Young kicks it back to Collins for the three-pointer:

I might be looking at Jaylen Brown to, perhaps, help a little here on Young — it was a very easy play for the Hawks to run and a high-percentage shot for Collins with little pressure.

Tony Snell — continuing to start in place of the injured Cam Reddish, missing his second consecutive game — gave the Hawks a boost from three as he hit Atlanta’s next two threes, this first one comes as he relocates to the weakside corner where Teague gets drawn to the ball and although his closeout is quick, it’s not enough as Young flips it to the weakside to Snell for three:

Kevin Huerter handles the ball on this possession and between the quick burst by Huerter immediately takes Jayson Tatum out of the play. The slip from Collins brings both Theis and Brown from the corner this time. Snell relocates from the corner to the slot and a lovely pass from Huerter — again, demonstrating the presence of mind — finds Snell for his second three-pointer:

A beautifully executed play by the Hawks there.

Speaking of Snell briefly, he would hit four three-pointers on the game last night and is now shooting 57% from three on the season in 19 games played on 2.5 attempts per game. In the month of February, Snell is shooting 69.7% from three on 3.3 attempts in 10 games and 22 minutes per game — a huge boost for the Hawks in the month of February.

Young was next to get in on the act, hitting the deep step-back three on Teague:

Young would then get himself a switch with Gallinari and hit another step-back three, this time on Semi Ojeleye:

Another high screen from Gallinari and the Celtics pay the price for dropping back on the screen as Young hits another deep three:

Then began the Danilo Gallinari show, and he would go on to hit the remaining seven three-pointers for the Hawks in the half.

His first three comes off the drive and kick from Skylar Mays, with Gallinari showing no hesitation on the catch-and-shoot three-pointer:

Gallinari gets a free three-pointer as Brown and Carsen Edwards get mixed up, allowing an open three for Gallinari:

Again, another letdown in communication by the Celtics allows another good look for Gallinari and, again, despite the late effort of Robert Williams to try and contest it’s another three that goes down for Gallinari:

For his fourth three, it’s a nice three-man action with Huerter, Gallinari and Capela. Gallinari sets the down-screen (a little weak from Gallinari on the set) for Huerter to get Tatum chasing Huerter before Capela slips the screen hard. Huerter gets to the free throw line before throwing the pass to Gallinari, who is contested well by Tatum on the scramble switch but Gallinari drains the three:

For his next three, Snell comes off of the Collins screen, to which Tatum immediately leaves Gallinari to help inside in the event of the pass to Collins (which says a lot about the Celtics’ defensive game-plan for Collins). Snell does a nice job throwing it back to Gallinari, and despite the closeout from Tatum, Gallinari is rolling and hits another three-pointer:

For the ultimate heat-check, Gallinari hits the logo three at the end of the shot clock:

There’s a common expression here in Ireland that I think applies here: ‘Sure, feck it, why not?’

To cap off, Gallinari hits another deep three near the sideline as the Celtics — foolishly, at this stage — aren’t close enough to Gallinari on the catch and he hits his seventh three of the half:

Gallinari shot 7-for-7 from three before finally missing on his eighth attempt in the first half (and 10-of-12 in total) but a truly ludicrous shooting display from Gallinari.

In addition to the Gallinari show — and the Hawks shooting 61.9% from both the field and from three — the Hawks were aided by the Celtics shooting 2-of-18 from three in the first half as well as recently re-named All-Star Jayson Tatum’s 2-of-11 shooting display in the first half.

Tatum got a lot of good looks in the first half but just couldn’t hit anything on Wednesday.

Coming off of the Theis screen, Kevin Huerter gets caught somewhat and withdraws himself from challenging Tatum in an effort not to foul on the three. Tatum gets a good look at it, but can’t convert:

Against the Hawks last week, Tatum hit a variety of shots with all sorts of difficulty. He couldn’t miss but also just hit shots to a high degree. Shots like this kind of fadeaway, which is a decent shot for Tatum but he can’t hit this time:

Faced with Rajon Rondo on the perimeter, Tatum gets inside to the rim and, despite the crowd near him, he gets a good look at the finger-roll but it rolls away:

Again faced with Rondo, Tatum gets an easy look at a shot but can’t hit:

Tatum scored just six points in the first half and finished the game with 13 points on 4-of-20 shooting. The second half was largely redundant but the Hawks definitely dodged a bullet in the first half with the chances Tatum missed.

Holding a 23-point lead at the half, the Hawks were a little sloppy to start the third quarter but survived the Celtics’ push and the lead never fell below 15 in the second half as the two sides eventually ended up trading baskets in the third quarter. From there, the Celtics emptied their bench at the 7:45 mark in the fourth quarter as they waved the white flag.

Before the game ended, the Hawks hit their franchise-record breaking 23rd three-pointer, with Gallinari hitting the Hawks’ record breaking 10th three-pointer in a single game earlier in the second half, eclipsing Steve Smith’s record of nine threes in a single game

“The only thing I feel bad about is Smitty’s record being broken,” opened Lloyd Pierce postgame. “Smitty’s my guy. Since I got to Atlanta he’s been one of the nicest guys. He’s classy and he had that three-point record but Gallo broke that record tonight and I felt bad. Really excited about our guys, we needed that win. It was one of those statement performances for our guys. They needed a feel-good win, a start-to-finish win and we got that tonight.”

There was a general sense across the Hawks — reflective in both sets of postgame comments from the games on Tuesday and Wednesday — that they really let a game they should have won through their fingers and that it was important to emerge from last night with a victory.

“We feel we let one slip away last night, a lot of people did,” said Young postgame. “For us, we knew that and we let one go. We knew tonight we needed to win. Coming out the way we played, it showed.”

As Pierce referenced, it was a good night for all involved, a well needed victory after the horrors in Cleveland the night before. It was also, as Pierce referenced, a statement game, a game that everyone had been waiting for from Gallinari, who hasn’t looked like himself so far in Atlanta amidst injuries but that showing will encourage everyone that he still has it.

“In that first stretch you see there’s something special going on,” said Pierce of Gallinari. “The only thing I asked him was ‘Can you keep going?’ He said ‘I can go 48 right now, coach,’ so we left him in. He played 18 straight in terms of that stretch and we took him out with a minute to go in the second quarter. But that’s Gallo. We know he’s capable, we know he can give us more, we want him to give us more, we need him to give us more and he was able to deliver that tonight. We’re going to ask him to do the same: stretch the floor, be dynamic, be hard to guard and when guys are attacking you with the closeout make plays like he did with the corner three for Kevin in the pick-and-roll.

“There’s more to Gallo. It’s unfortunate there was an injury early in the year. It slowed his momentum, it’s taken a while to get to this type of level. Do we expect him to go 10-for-12, no, but we know we can get more out of him and it was exciting to see tonight.”

“It’s good for him to do it, it’s good for our guys to know he’s capable of doing it” Pierce added about Gallinari. “Now we’ll be seeking him out to find those open shots and putting him in more actions so we can get him going and also using him as a facilitator. Big for all of our guys really to see that we’re capable of putting a performance like that together, now how do we back it up is the next question.”

Postgame, Gallinari said he could tell by the time the fourth/fifth shot went down that it was going to be a good night at the office, crediting his teammates for finding him at the right spots at the right time.

“I couldn’t tell right away (it was going to be a special night) but my teammates were finding me at the right time with great timing,” said Gallinari. “After you shoot three, four, five and then the game becomes very easy. After the fourth or fifth one, I could say that it was going to be a good night.”

When most players are asked about season-high nights, career-highs nights, franchise-record breaking night, they all say they want to do it in a victory. Gallinari was no exception, taking more pleasure in the new franchise record he set in a win.

“I think it’s always great to make history,” said Gallinari of setting the franchise record. “Records are always great to get, very happy for that but of course when you get these kind of records and you win the game it feels way better. It happens sometimes you get amazing games without winning, so the win was very important.”

The bench was loving every minute of it as it was happening, everyone was loving Gallinari finally break a slide and ignite like everyone knows he can do.

“It’s beautiful, it’s so beautiful, I’m not even going to lie to you,” said Young on Gallinari’s night. “It’s so fun seeing him shoot, how effortlessly he does it, the way he shoots, he way he knows how the pick apart the defenses. I knew it was only a matter of time before he got hot. It was good to have him get hot tonight.”

It’s been a largely underwhelming season for Gallinari with the Hawks but despite how many nights he has seemed to struggle, he’s now shooting 40.9% from the field (which isn’t great still for a forward but surprised me given how he’s actually struggled offensively) and 42% from three on 4.8 three-point attempts per game.

The defensive concerns surrounding Gallinari’s movement are still present and still pose a problem, but when Gallinari can even have half of a night like this, those issues are a more tolerable. What was really hurting the Hawks was when Gallinari wasn’t hitting shots in addition to his defense, but the positive going forward is that Gallinari can only improve on what he has showed so far on both sides of the ball.

Regardless, a wonderful game at a sorely needed time for the Hawks from Gallinari and it’ll be interesting to see how Gallinari progresses going forward after getting a game like this under his belt.

Looking elsewhere, Young finished with 33 points on 12-of-23 shooting from the field and 5-of-11 from three — a great response from him after a difficult game in Cleveland.

Young also produced a highlight play, inbounding the ball off of the back of Grant Williams with only a second on the shot clock before scoring at the buzzer:

“I’ve been doing that since high school,” said Young of the play. “Anytime someone shows you their back to the baseline, to the inbounder, there’s always an opportunity — even the sideline. With that short amount of time, I knew we needed a quick a shot. They knew that too, that’s why he faced away and wanted to take away any open look first. I just used something I know I can get off in enough time to score. I’ve been doing that for a while.”

It’s not too often that 33 points from Trae Young goes completely under the radar but with things shook out with Gallinari, that’s exactly what happened. His performance did not escape Pierce, however.

“Trae’s played unbelievable basketball,” said Pierce. “Even last night (Tuesday), he didn’t shoot it well — he and I talked about that today and I told him ‘Listen, you’re playing unbelievable basketball’. I sent him a text after the Denver game and told him how special I think he’s playing, really, because it’s simple: he’s making some great reads, the teams are converging on our pick-and-rolls, he’s making some skips, he’s making some of the throwbacks, he’s making some of the simple passes in front of him. When he starts doing that — we use the term ‘soften’ — he’s going to soften the defense. All the schemes, all the blitzes teams throw at him, the quicker he can punish people with the pass, they’re going to have to soften their defense. I think that’s why he’s playing great basketball.”

The Hawks showed mental fortitude to bounce-back in this manner in a spot where the Celtics (very narrowly) favored with their two All-Stars. It was as nearly as excellent of a win for them as awful as the Cleveland loss was. The potential fallout had they lost this game in a poor manner would’ve been chaotic. Thankfully for everyone, everyone is a lot happier after a quality win like that and two quality, quality performances from Gallinari and Young.

“When you play a game like that and leave a game like that on the road it’s always tough mentally but I think his game proved that mentally we can be very good and tough-minded team,” said Gallinari.

The Hawks (14-18) are back in action on Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder (13-19) at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

For all the talk of how this season has gone for the Hawks so far, they’re only two games behind of Indiana for the fifth seed — that’s how tight it is in the Eastern Conference right now.

“Every game counts,” said former Thunder forward Gallinari postgame. “It’s important now we finish this last road-trip with a winning record just so we can go into the break with a better record.”

Very important indeed, and the Hawks will be running on the high of this result heading to Oklahoma City. As will the Thunder on theirs, triumphing over the San Antonio Spurs on a buzzer-beating shot by Lu Dort.

Friday’s contest has the potential to be a very fun game indeed.

Until next time...