The Atlanta Hawks kicked off the second-half of their season with another comeback victory, this time against the Toronto Raptors in Tampa on Thursday night, 121-120, thanks to a buzzer-beating three-pointer courtesy of Tony Snell.
Trae Young led the Hawks — who are still without De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kris Dunn — in scoring with 37 points, while Danilo Gallinari added 20 points off of the bench.
For the Raptors — playing without Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby — Norman Powell scored 33 points while Chris Boucher added 29 points.
As always, if you’d like to catch up on how the game unfolded at the time, you can do so right here. Otherwise, we’re going to jump pretty much straight into things today.
Just a brief bit of context before we jump into the fourth quarter, the Hawks enjoyed a wonderful first quarter as they scored 37 points and ran out a 19-point lead. Both the starting unit and the bench unit worked well in the first quarter to put the Hawks in an early class above the hosts.
However, the Raptors were the better team from the second quarter onwards, not only erasing the Hawks’ 19-point advantage but then proceeded to build a double-digit lead to end the third quarter as Norman Powell enjoyed a strong night, hitting six three-pointers.
In the fourth quarter, it looked like a similar story for the Hawks as the Raptors built a 15 point lead, the home team taking a 112-97 lead with 6:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. Just as the Raptors had done earlier in the game, the Hawks finally reeled off a run of their own to close that margin and we’re going to pick it up at the 2:01 mark as Stanley Johnson hits a big three-pointer to shift the advantage back to the Raptors, putting them up by six points:
John Collins struggled a bit on Thursday, in addition to running into some foul issues, and shot 0-of-3 from behind the arc with this three-point attempt:
For his offensive struggles at times, Collins was active defensively last night as he flashes that here as he digs in on Kyle Lowry before returning to contest Boucher’s three-pointer:
A very pivotal moment down the stretch came next as Collins’ layup rims around the world before Young tips the ball in. Initially, this was called an offensive interference on Young before the officials convened and overturned that call, giving the basket to Young:
Former Hawk DeAndre’ Bembry drives into the paint and draws a massive crowd before kicking the ball out to Johnson for another three-pointer, and a big three-pointer to push the Raptors’ lead to seven points with 1:12 remaining:
The Hawks’ response, however, is instantaneous as the Hawks swing the ball around and Kevin Huerter hits the three-pointer:
This was a huge play to make: to immediately get back the three they gave up and bring that Raptor lead back to a two possession-game. Had this missed, the Raptors would’ve had the chance to stretch that lead back to double-digits with a three-pointer, and with just over a minute left it would’ve been tough to come back from that..
The next vital moment down the stretch came at the free throw line as the 90% free throw shooter Norman Powell missed two free throws after a foul by Clint Capela — a huge break for the Hawks.
Coming out of the timeout off the rebound from the missed free throws from Powell, the Hawks inbound to Young in the backcourt before receiving a high-screen from Collins — with Gallinari and Snell spacing the wings — and Young gets downhill and finishes at the rim to cut the lead to just two points:
With the shot clock ticking down, Lowry gets himself a switch onto Gallinari but rather than take him off of the dribble with the little time left, Lowry attempts a step-back jumper which is short:
However, the Raptors would get another chance coming out of a timeout but they don’t get a great look as Powell drives before passing to Bembry, whose close shot is short amidst a crowd:
The Hawks advance the ball across mid-court before using their final timeout with a chance to draw something up for either a tie or the win with a three.
Out of it, Young gets a screen from Gallinari before turning the corner before finding his path cut off by the Raptors defense. Young’s dribble is killed and he is forced to pass to the relocating Snell, and Snell delivers the buzzer-beating three-pointer to give the Hawks the victory, capping off an 8-0 to finish the game:
The Raptors were, understandably, a little gutted (as evidenced by some of the body language afterwards) to have thrown away a 15 point lead and defended that final play well, cutting off Young and disrupting the play. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse was adamant that Young did not take the last shot but found himself wishing that maybe Young had after Snell’s last-second make.
“I think we were pretty determined not to let Young take the last shot,” Nurse said via TSN. “I think that probably makes sense. You don’t want to let him shake you down for that step-back three or deep three or whatever. We did force him inside the line and I thought for sure the time was going to run out. It seemed like he had it forever in there and it probably felt that same way on the floor. Then the last second he flings it out and happens to find Snell out there all alone and he stepped into it and made it. It was just tough. Would I have rather seen Trae throw up that 14-footer? Right now I would have, yeah.”
On the other side, for the Hawks, pure elation, as Snell was swarmed by his teammates.
“I threw both my arms and hands up as I knew it was going in,” said Danilo Gallinari of the last play. “It was perfect execution coming out of the timeout, especially Trae who is very patient. Kev slashed to the basket on the same side of Tony and that’s why Tony was so wide open. Very good execution and of course Tony did what he does.”
Snell has been shooting lights out all season — leading the NBA in three-point percentage — and worked himself nicely into the opportunity to hit what happened to be the winning shot. Snell isn’t a man of many words and hitting a game-winner certainly didn’t change anything in that regard.
“They (Snell’s teammates) wasn’t too surprised about it (the shot) but I’m glad we got the win,” said Snell postgame.
A man of few words but when Snell does speak “it’s the right words,” as Young described.
“It’s been great having him playing this way, he’s been playing really good for us and shooting the ball great,” said Young went on to say of Snell. “We’re going to continue to need it from him. We works daily on it, I don’t expect him dropping off on his shooting.”
Speaking of the final play, it was one the Hawks universally praised. Originally, Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan wanted to see what opened for the Hawks after the missed shot by Bembry but when nothing clear materialized, the Hawks called for time. McMillan then described the final possession.
“When we forced the miss, we wanted to take a look at running out and if we didn’t have anything, get a timeout — they did a good job getting that timeout,” said McMillan. “We drew up a play that we’ve had in our package: a rip-play. I thought our guys did a good job executing. Trae didn’t have anything, it was basically for John to rip to the basket for a lob. If we didn’t have the lob, it’s a two-man game with Trae and Gallo, I thought they did a good job. Trae trusted his teammate, got that ball out and Tony did what he’s been doing for us and knocked down a big three.”
“Got a screen at the top of the key, coming off to my the left, I actually saw Tony earlier in the play right as I went off of the screen,” said Young of the final possession. “As I was driving to get to the hole, I saw (Lowry) down there helping and I knew somebody was open. For me, it’s all about making the right play. Coach trusted me to have the ball in my hands and for me, just make the right play. Whether it’s me scoring or finding the open man, that’s just what I got to do.”
Looking back the play again — and Gallinari mentioned this too — that cut from Kevin Huerter was arguably the most important aspect of that play. It brings Powell toward the basket, freeing up Snell behind the arc. Powell attempted to closeout but in vain, as Snell hits the shot.
Have another look:
Obviously everyone plays a part here, but Huerter’s cut unlocks so much on that possession: great execution all around here on this possession, and it pulled the Hawks to an unlikely victory.
And it was unlikely: not too often do teams recover from 15 point deficits in the fourth quarter with just over half of the quarter to go. The message? Believe.
“It started in the middle of the quarter,” said McMillan postgame. They made a run and what we have been talking about is ‘believe.’ Believe in each other, trust each other, stay together out there. They were able to fight their way back into the game, it always within one or two possessions, we got it to one possession.”
“We just got to trust each other out there,” McMillan would go on to say. “We got to keep our spacing and we’ve got to move the ball and that’s the one thing we’re working on with Trae. Trae draws so much attention that if you got shooters on the perimeter, those guys are going to be open. I thought we did a nice job of getting the ball out the shooters, we’ve been doing a better job of getting the ball out to the perimeter and not just locked in on the roll guy. You got to make your reads coming off of the pick-and-roll and Trae did a good job tonight of getting that ball out. The last play, you have shooters out there, we have shooters in Tony and Bogi and Kevin and Gallo, all of those guys can put the ball in the basket when they’re open. That’s a shot they practise every single day: catch-and-shoot. Tony was able to deliver for us.”
McMillan wasn’t the only one to talk about belief postgame. The Hawks have fared better in the fourth quarter in recent games of late and while it has been their last two games they’ve pulled through to take comeback victories, it’s something to note.
“Believe in ourselves,” said Snell of the Hawks’ recent difference in fourth quarters. “We’ve been through a lot of games now that we’re starting to get used to each other, even though we’ve got Bogi coming back and getting used to his flow. Just believing, team chemistry, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The more we play together, the more we get used to playing to each other’s strengths and continue to build from there.”
“The ‘never give up mentality,’ that’s something we’ve talked about, something we did in some games lately being down and coming back up (to) win the game in the fourth quarter,” said Gallinari postgame. “That’s something that gives confidence to a group like this that has been through a lot of ups and downs since the beginning of the season. It’s great to win games like this, sometimes you have to win games like this. Hopefully we learn how to build leads and not give up leads.”
“The more we can close games like this, the more games like this you play, you’re going to be able to finish,” added Gallinari.
Of course, what has to be noted at the same time is that the Hawks gave up a 19-point lead in the first half which eventually turned into a 15-point Raptor lead: a significantly large turnaround against a team missing Siakam, Anunoby and VanVleet in the game.
“I wish we wouldn’t get ourselves in such a deep hole in the fourth,” said Young of the Hawks’ recent reversal in fourth quarter form. “These last two games we’ve shown what we’re capable of.”
McMillan added to this, saying that the Hawks really only played 24 minutes and not the full 48 minutes, but they did pull it together in the fourth, got the stops they needed and hit the shots they needed: scoring 37 fourth quarter points — 12 from Huerter, 11 from Young and seven from Gallinari.
Speaking of Young, he was excellent offensively: scoring 37 points on 11-of-24 shooting. It was strange though... watching the game, it looked as though Young had missed a lot more shots than what he did and he somehow finished shooting just under 46% from the field — certainly didn’t feel like that watching the game. Add to that, though, 16 free throw attempts: a big area of victory for the Hawks last night as the Hawks shot 35 free throws to Toronto’s 23 attempts.
Snell had a quiet night until his buzzer-beater and Collins had a quiet game, scoring 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Capela grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked five shots, while Huerter scored 19 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter.
While they didn’t fare as well in the second half, the bench provided a huge lift for the Hawks in the first quarter. Without it, the Hawks don’t enjoy as much of advantage as they did in the first half — some good moments offensively from Rajon Rondo (hitting two threes), some good defense from rookie Onyeka Okongwu, Solomon Hill’s haircut seemed to help as he also hit two three-pointers and obviously Gallinari played well offensively with those 20 points.
The only real struggle was Bogdan Bogdanonvic, who shot 0-of-6 from the field and 0-of-5 from three as he works his way back from injury. A shooting struggle is to be expected from Bogdanovic — he was absent for quite a long period of time and a knee injury is obviously no joke. Bogdanovic did contribute four assists and even if he’s not shooting well right now, he can still bring something to the table.
All in all, an excellent win for the Hawks. It was a very even game between the two sides when you look at the stats but both teams were significantly better than the other at different stages of the game. Fortunately for the Hawks, they were the better team in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter as they came back to produce a timely win: the Raptors being one of the teams in that Eastern Conference mosh pit. The win puts the Hawks slightly ahead of the Raptors — by tiebreaker — in the Eastern Conference standings, the Hawks now sitting in eighth place in the East on the morning of March 12, even with the two teams tied at 17-20.
The Hawks (17-20) are back in action on Sunday night when they’ll take on the Sacramento Kings (15-22) at State Farm Arena.
Should be fun.
Until next time...