Danilo Gallinari led the Hawks — without Clint Capela, Onyeka Okongwu, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kris Dunn — with 29 points. John Collins added 20 points and 10 rebounds.
For the Rockets — playing with eight active players — Victor Oladipo scored 34 points, Jae’Sean Tate added 25 points.
The Hawks were major favorites in Houston on Tuesday night, even without Clint Capela. The Rockets were without Christian Wood, John Wall, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, Ben McLemore, Danuel House and David Nwaba. This difference showed inside the first 14 minutes as the Hawks raced to a 23 point lead and looked several cuts above Houston’s, effectively, G League team such was their rotation.
This really shouldn’t have been a contest but the Hawks left the door slightly ajar as the Rockets ended the first half with an 8-0 run to cut the lead from 23 points to 15 points. After leaving the door ajar, the Hawks allowed the Rockets to open it even further in the second half as the Rockets reduced the lead to single digits in conjunction with John Collins picking up his fourth personal foul: pretty costly given Houston’s lack of size that Danilo Gallinari was absolutely blitzing with his size and shooting ability and Collins was enjoying the matchup too.
The Hawks looked a little slower on defense and didn’t take great shots in the third quarter at times, while the Rockets looked like a team with hope and entered the fourth quarter trailing by just one point having outscored the Hawks 34-20. The Hawks hit six threes in the third quarter but just seven field goals: just one field goal inside the arc in the third quarter, shooting 7-of-22 from the field.
“Defensively I think our communication could’ve been better in those second and third quarters,” said Kevin Huerter of how the lead slipped. “They went to that small-ball lineup and that got downhill, they have a lot of guys that are pretty good off of the dribble. We tried to switch things up defensively and didn’t communicate a lot of things, kind of got sloppy. Fourth quarter, giving up 15 points, we said in the locker room, we’re telling ourselves we need quarters like that. That’s got to be our game.”
When Collins re-entered the game in the fourth quarter, the Rockets then tied the game at 97 points apiece with 9:25 remaining. With Collins’ return, the Hawks found the spark they were missing.
To give the Hawks the lead again, Rajon Rondo breaks down the defense before Collins puts pressure on the rim with his athleticism and finishes at the rim:
Collins missed a few opportunities at the rim in the fourth quarter but even those opportunities served as a reminder of what the Hawks had missed in the third quarter, attempting just three shots at the rim in the third quarter.
This game changed on the back of two massive three-pointers, the first of which coming from Huerter in a trail situation off of the find by Trae Young:
After Kenyon Martin Jr. responds with a basket out of the timeout, the Hawks come again. Huerter gets a good look at a three-pointer but is unable to connect, however, Collins establishes great position on the box-out and grabs the offensive rebound before kicking it out to Tony Snell, and the NBA’s leading marksman from the outside (in percentage) converts to give the Hawks a safer six-point lead:
After Oladipo — who was ripping through the Hawks — misses a bit of a wild shot (wanting a foul call) the Hawks return on the offensive end. After a missed floater from Young, Collins, again, is on-hand to grab the offensive rebound — amidst a crowd — and the Hawks can re-establish on the offensive end:
From this spot, Collins whips the ball out to Gallinari and the Hawks move the ball swiftly as Gallinari pitches it to Snell in the corner, who returns the ball back to Gallinari, who proceeds to fake, drive, hesitate, lean and use glass to convert his leaning shot:
Suddenly the Hawks are now leading by eight but five of those coming off of offensive rebounds created by Collins.
On the other end, the Rockets — running out of gas — couldn’t connect, as Kevin Porter Jr. tried to take over, missing a series of shots.
This first one is a settled three-point attempt with Snell right there to contest:
As Oladipo drives, Snell — as the help defender — does well to poke the ball away from him before Oladipo recovers the ball and, with his own attack now disrupted, fires the ball out to Porter Jr. in the corner, but can’t hit from outside again:
On the wing, Porter Jr. knocks away the challenge from Huerter, side-steps Young’s attempt to take a charge and tries to score to his right but Collins is there to swat the shot and produce his fourth block of the game:
Off of this block, Huerter produces a strong drive from the three-point line before finding Snell in the corner for the three-pointer, putting the Hawks up by 11 points with 2:34 remaining with the game now very much theirs to lose:
After the Rockets cut the lead to seven points with two baskets, the Hawks aren’t quite out of the woods yet. However, Collins makes a cut across the paint to get to his spot and once he’s found by Snell from the corner, Collins immediately rises into the jump-shot to put the Hawks back up by nine points with just over a minute to go:
After a missed three from Oladipo, Young hits the dagger three after his behind-the-back move frees him up to let it fly from downtown and he connects, putting the Hawks up by 12 points with 42 seconds remaining:
It proved to be another game where the Hawks needed to make things happen in the fourth quarter to get across the line, but they did it. They were helped by Houston’s 1-of-10 three-point fourth quarter, settling on a few possessions as their valiant effort with their eight active players running out of gas and dropped their 17th straight game.
For the Hawks, their largest winning streak of the past few seasons now extends to six games.
Postgame, Hawks Interim head coach Nate McMillan was pleased with his side’s defense in the fourth quarter against a side they knew was going to scrap.
“In this league, you can lose to anybody and you can beat anybody,” said McMillan postgame. “They were shorthanded tonight, we knew they would scrap. They have some talent over there. We played some good basketball in the first quarter, our defense got away from us in the second and third and then we found our defense in the fourth quarter which really gave us the win. Our guys stayed with it, they didn’t get rattled. They (the Rockets) picked up the pressure defensively in the fourth quarter, they tied the ball game, we kept our composure and did the things we needed to do which was get stops and, offensively, score the ball.”
McMillan was also very pleased with the Hawks’ poise and mental response in the fourth quarter, singling out Trae Young for ‘settling the Hawks down’ late in the game.
“You’re going to have those opportunities in the fourth quarter, whether you’re up or you’re down,” said McMillan. “I call it ‘making breaks for yourself’ — you got to get stops, rebound the basketball, then offensively you’ve got to make shots and when you get those open looks you’ve got to knock those shots down to come out on top. Our guys tonight, they made those shots, they made the plays down the stretch to win this game. I thought it was really good poise by these guys in the fourth quarter. I thought Trae did a really nice job coming in late in the fourth settling us down and finishing the game.”
The Hawks, it’s no secret, have executed to a higher standard in the fourth quarter of late. As they’ve experienced more close-game situations, they have played with a little more maturity and poise when it matters and responding when their opponents make a run.
“I really liked this win for the sole fact we got up, had a lead, battled a team that had a real fight, had a real want to win and made a little pushback but we weathered the storm, made the right plays down the stretch,” said Collins postgame. “I feel like that was a real difference maker for us is understanding when a team does make a run, we’re OK, we’re still in control, we can still win the game. It’s all about execution.”
“Every single time a team makes a run I feel I get a rush of panic,” said Collins when asked if the Hawks would panic a little more earlier in the season when their opponents made a run. “But it’s just about consistently doing it over and over again, maintaining those leads and battling back. Tonight, myself personally, I panicked a little bit because I never like to see a team come back and make a run like that but it’s all about being calm, cool, being connected with your teammates and talking out there.”
The Rockets shot 7-of-20 in the final quarter from the field, contributed to somewhat by their fatigue but the Hawks did produce the stops they needed on both ends of the floor, highlighted by the two-way play of John Collins, who helped the Hawks flip the momentum back to the visitors.
“You have to make plays in the fourth quarter,” said McMillan when asked about Collins’ fourth quarter impact. “Those are the things we were talking about a couple of months ago when we were losing games. You got to make those plays, you got to get those rebounds, you got to get stops, you got to knock down shots when you have those opportunities. I thought all of our guys did that. John was in foul trouble in that third quarter, tried to save him as long as I could — 10 minute-mark we had to get him back in the game. He came in and made some big plays for us: rebounding the basketball, having to play that five position and defend the basket as well as rebound for us because Clint and ‘Big O’ were out of the game. He did a really nice job tonight in doing that.”
When Collins was forced to check out with his fourth personal foul with 7:38 remaining in the third quarter, the Hawks clearly and sorely missed his presence on the court (by this time Collins had 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting and three blocks) — between how the Rockets came back and when how the Hawks began to pull away again when he re-entered, Collins’ impact on this game was clear to see in the fourth quarter.
Between Collins and Gallinari, the Hawks boasted a significant size advantage and their success last night was almost a given, given the Rockets’ lack of size right now with their injury issues. In a lot of spaces, Gallinari was just able to shoot over his opponents.
“It was good to see the ball go in, I thought he was aggressive tonight,” said McMillan of Gallinari. “We did have an advantage, we felt, in the post. We tried to mix it in with both he and John, I thought both of those guys did a really nice job — especially in the first half — of taking advantage of the small-ball that they were playing. John was able to post those guys up, score early in the game. In the second half, Gallo, we got him some touches, we found him on a couple of matchups and we did a good job of recognizing where the matchup was, getting the ball and taking advantage of it.”
Gallinari finished with a team-high 29 points 10-of-14 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 from three while Collins finished with 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, five offensive rebounds and four blocks.
Young took on a more prominent facilitating role as he dished out 14 assists but struggled from the field, scoring 13 points, shooting 3-of-13 from the field and 1-of-5 from three. Young had registered a double-double by halftime but aside from those assists, it was a relatively quiet game for Young scoring wise.
Tony Snell and Nathan Knight added 15 points, with Snell hitting 5-of-7 from behind the arc. Knight remains an interesting player. When he has played, he has shown positive flashes, energy and activity. If rookie Onyeka Okongwu remains out, I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more of Knight because is as good of a time as any, as he’s not normally going to see time behind Capela, Collins, Gallinari and sixth overall selection Okongwu.
All in all, the Hawks should be a little disappointed in this spot. Yes, they came through in the fourth quarter: they responded well to a situation that should never have occurred in the first place. The Hawks had this game sorted, essentially, in the second quarter before their lapse at the end of the second quarter kept the door slightly open for the Rockets to make another run to close the gap. A Rockets side who had eight active bodies, a number of whom weren’t even drafted, and on a 16-game losing streak. Credit to them for coming back when they were dead and buried in the second quarter (Oladipo was fantastic) but the Hawks should never have allowed this to be a game where they needed those plays in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, the result is what matters and now the Hawks are winners of six straight games and return to .500 with a 20-20 record and keep themselves in the hunt for a playoff spot, moving ahead of the New York Knicks into seventh in the East on winning percentage, half a game back of Boston for sixth and one game back of the Charlotte Hornets in fifth.
“It feels good, we’re back to .500,” said Huerter. “It’s a good feeling in the locker room. Obviously it was an ugly game, it’s the type of win that doesn’t feel too good but a win’s a win. We want to keep it going, that’s six wins. We’re on a good roll right now and obviously we’ve another good opportunity Thursday at home.”
“We’ve got a tough stretch coming up,” added Huerter. “We’ve got a big game Thursday at home that we’ve got to get in a team we owe in Oklahoma City and then we’ve got a long road trip that, in a lot of ways, is going make or break our season. That’s kind of how we’re going into it: an extremely important time of the year and we want to keep this going.”
The Hawks (20-20) are back in action at State Farm Arena on Thursday night when they take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (17-23) in their last home game before their Western Conference road trip.
An important game.
Until next time...