After all of the trade-based excitement in NBA circles on Thursday, the majority of the league resumed on-court action on Friday evening. That included the Atlanta Hawks, with the team taking on the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco just one day after executing a swap involving Rajon Rondo and Lou Williams. In the first matchup between the two teams since Dec. 2, 2019, the Hawks led throughout the evening and, behind the stellar play of John Collins and a dominant offensive effort, Atlanta finished off a 124-108 victory.
Injuries were a big story before tip-off on both sides of this particular contest. The Warriors were without Stephen Curry in this matchup, leaving the home team without its centerpiece on the second night of a back-to-back. For the Hawks, the headline absence was De’Andre Hunter, with the second-year forward missing the game with knee soreness after recently returning from a 23-game hiatus and being listed as probable on Atlanta’s original injury report from Thursday.
Prior to tip-off, Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan attempted to downplay any concern with his absence.
“I think it’s part of the process,” McMillan said. “He’s really been working out really for the last month, and they felt he was ready to go when he played in his first game. Things like this are going to happen or could happen. It wasn’t really a concern today. He had some swelling. I think that is to be expected. We are going to sit him out and, hopefully, they can get that down and have him ready to go against Denver.”
Even without Hunter, the Hawks put together an impressive performance from the opening bell. Atlanta led 11-5 out of the gate, with seven quick points from Bogdan Bogdanovic, who joined the starting lineup on Friday evening.
Atlanta led throughout the opening quarter, and Trae Young was dominant. The star guard scored 10 points and dished out five assists, leading the Hawks to impressive overall efficiency.
With the Hawks playing well on offense, they took a seven-point lead after 12 minutes, and the margin expanded in the second period. Atlanta used a 14-2 run to take a 66-45 lead late in the first half, and Collins was a big part of the push.
Collins connected on all seven of his shots prior to halftime, scoring 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Collins also flashed some of his other skills, including a lob to Clint Capela in transition during Atlanta’s big second quarter run.
Atlanta led by 18 points at the break, and the Hawks shot 65 percent from the floor — the team’s best first-half shooting mark since the regular season opener in Chicago — and 6-of-11 from three-point distance in the first half. Not only were the Hawks dominant overall, the visitors were relentless in attacking the rim, scoring 38 points in the paint in 24 minutes.
Even with a comfortable halftime lead, the Hawks didn’t have trouble finding juice coming out of the locker room. Atlanta scored the first six points, including a three-pointer by Tony Snell and an old-fashioned three-point play by Young, to take a 24-point advantage.
The Warriors did find their own footing, responding with nine straight points. After a timeout, though, the Hawks threw a counterpunch with seven consecutive points of their own, neutralizing some of Golden State’s momentum.
Still, the third quarter was marked by runs on both sides, and the Warriors cut the margin to 90-76 in the latter part of the period. Atlanta did a good job to stabilize things from there and, even after a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Warriors guard Nico Mannion, the Hawks took a 16-point lead to the final period.
Collins continued his excellent play to open the fourth quarter, scoring the first seven points for Atlanta to increase the lead.
The game never became competitive down the stretch, but there was one remaining point of interest. Collins, who entered the night with a career high of 35 points that he matched on four occasions, set a new bar after a three-pointer with 4:14 to go.
John Collins was not traded.— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) March 27, 2021
He has a career-high 3️⃣6️⃣ points. pic.twitter.com/nOzsDHqbDZ
Collins finished the evening with 38 points on 14-of-19 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three-point range and 6-of-7 from the free throw line. He also added 12 rebounds and was fantastic from wire to wire.
“Obviously I started out the night pretty strong,” Collins said of his performance. “My teammates did a great job of finding me. I was able to stay in rhythm. I had some confidence in my game. Kept shooting. Kept making shots. For me, just seeing the ball go in constantly. It’s always going to give me more confidence, as well as my teammates finding me and wanting me to be more aggressive. Solid night for myself, but we finished it off with the win, which I’m most happy about.”
“I thought he had really good patience in the post,” said McMillan of Collins. “We did a nice job of attacking and not settling when we had matchups. We got him the ball when he was deep in the paint, and he did a good job of finishing. Patience was really good. I thought we got the ball to the matchups and our guys won the matchups tonight.”
Beyond the spectacular performance in a vacuum, Collins excelled in the first game following a trade deadline in which he was prominently mentioned in the rumor mill. After the game ended, he also expressed relief to be remaining in Atlanta, citing “an extreme relief” and a desire to “finish out the year strong.”
“Super-duper relieved, man,” said Collins when asked about his reaction. “Obviously a big weight off my shoulders to just know that all that noise can stop, or at least some of it, can stop for the rest of the year, and we can just focus on just basketball. It’s big for me just to have a peace of mind and being able to go on the court and focus.”
“I’m definitely happy to be here, to have a Hawks jersey on, to see the same faces, same coaching staff, same trainers, just to have that same energy that I’m accustomed to and used to,” Collins continued. “Like I said, it gives me peace of mind to be able to carry out my day to day business as I have been up to this point.”
In support, Young contributed 21 points and 15 assists, with 18 points and 15 rebounds from Capela.
Though Atlanta did allow very strong shooting efficiency (50 percent from the floor and 43 percent from three-point range) to the Warriors, the team’s overall defensive performance was more than enough. McMillan also felt as though it was key for the team to start the game positively on defense, and that was key in taking a lead they would never relinquish.
“The first thing was to establish our defense,” said McMillan. “We needed to get our defensive intensity back in this game. I thought we did that in the first quarter. We were able to get out in transition and get some easy baskets…. Overall, I thought our defense was solid tonight. We were able to get out in transition. We didn’t settle on the perimeter. It was attacking their paint, 60 points in the paint and that’s the way we want to play basketball.”
The offense was still the story, however, and that was evident through the statistical profile. As a team, the Hawks shot 55 percent from the floor and 39 percent (13-of-33) from three-point range, generating 31 assists on 46 field goals and producing a splendid 60 points in the paint. Overall, that effort produced almost 1.3 points per possession, which is even more noteworthy against a Warriors team that entered the game with a top-10 defense.
With the win, Atlanta sits in a tie with the New York Knicks for the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and just a half-game from the No. 4 spot in the tightly packed race for playoff positioning. The Hawks will return to the court on Sunday evening with a visit to Colorado to face the Denver Nuggets.
“As I just told the team, if you can play .500 basketball on the road, that’s a good thing in the NBA,” McMillan said. “Right now, we’re playing .500 basketball. Our two losses, we had control, we feel, of those games and ended up letting them slip away. But we’re playing .500 basketball. That’s good basketball. Now we turn our attention to Denver and try to get ourselves ready for that.”