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Hawks take possession of No. 4 after overcoming Hornets down the stretch

The Hawks fell behind in the fourth quarter before recovering to take victory

Atlanta Hawks v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks made the short trip to Charlotte for a beautiful Sunday matinee against the Hornets, a game the Hawks had to work hard for but succeeded in defeating the Hornets 105-101 at Spectrum Center.

Prior to the game, the Hawks were dealt with the blow that both Trae Young and Danilo Gallinari would be absent for this game — in addition to John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Tony Snell and Kris Dunn — with Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan inserting Brandon Goodwin into the starting lineup. Goodwin scored a season-high 17 points, while Bogdan Bogdanovic scored a season-high 32 points and a career-high eight three-pointers.

The Hornets were dealing with high-profile absences too, with the hosts missing Gordon Hayward, Rookie of the Year candidate LaMelo Ball as well as Malik Monk. Miles Bridges led the scoring with 23 points while Terry Rozier added 18 points.

The Hawks were the significantly better team in the early stages, taking a 24-7 lead as the Hornets struggled to get on the board consistently in the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Hawks’ depth issues came to the fore as the Hornets’ second unit reduced the deficit to single digits and down to seven points by the end of the half, the Hawks’ advantage helped by Bogdanovic’s four threes in the first half.

The Hawks initially looked as though they had the momentum as Bogdanovic continued his frenzy with 11 third quarter points as the Hawks reestablished their double-digit lead. There were a few plays that swung the momentum in the Hornets’ favor.

The first one came as the Hawks steam in transition with Solomon Hill, who has Kevin Huerter and Bogdanovic on his flanks. Hill delivers the ball to Huerter, who draws the contest from PJ Washington and wraps the pass to Bogdanovic underneath the basket, who misses the point-blank layup at the rim to put the Hawks up 11 points:

Immediately after this, the Hornets cut the lead with this jump shot from Rozier and instead of an 11 point lead, an easy miss later and it’s just a seven point game:

There were other instances of this in the first half that meant the Hawks probably should have been up by more than seven points at the break.

The Hawks proceeded to take a timeout after this shot from Rozier. Out of it, the Hawks get an excellent look at a three-pointer that would have restored their double-digit lead but Huerter can’t connect from the corner after a beautiful screen from Clint Capela to free him up:

In response, the Hornets attack with Rozier, who gets downhill and kicks to starting center PJ Washington for the corner three, with Capela reluctant to leave the paint to cover Washington’s spacing:

Now, quickly, it’s a four-point game and the Hornets are right back in this game when the Hawks should’ve had a little more breathing room. The Hornets, however, continued to kick on and would eventually take a two point lead into the fourth quarter, their one-time 17 point lead completely erased.

It then looked as though the Hawks were in deep trouble as the Hornets continued their turnaround with a 15-3 run to take a 10 point lead with 7:16 to go in the final frame. Shorthanded and now 10 points down in the final quarter and the momentum now truly with the hosts, it didn’t look good for the Hawks.

Lou Williams had a tough first three quarters but huge baskets including three baskets — including back-to-back threes — in a row for the Hawks to bring to within five points, and with this lovely play from Goodwin to find Capela, the Hawks draw back to a one possession game with just over four minutes remaining:

The Hornets respond in probably the most incredible manner as Miles Bridges — on the second chance opportunity for the hosts — drives from the three-point line and absolutely hammers Capela at the rim for the poster, bringing the Hornets’ lead back up to five points:

Just an incredible display of athleticism that, no matter who you support, you have to appreciate and acknowledge as special.

The response from the Hawks, however, is immediate and effective. Bogdanovic had cooled down somewhat since his third quarter ignition but hits the catch-and-shoot three on the drive-and-dish from Hill to bring the lead back to just two points:

The Hornets attempt to reply themselves but fantastic defense by Goodwin prevents the penetration and the Hornets end up settling somewhat from the outside as Jalen McDaniels can’t hit the three over Williams:

Now with the opportunity to tie the game or take the lead with a three, it’s Goodwin again who gets the defense off of their feet, drawing the defense toward him and lobbing to Capela to tie the game:

With the Hornets relying on jump shots in a lot of spots during this game but they get a good look at a three here with Devonte’ Graham as he catches the Hawks in between switches as Capela back-pedals into the paint and Hill getting back to Graham. Off of the miss, Goodwin secures the rebound on the ground but gets tied up and a jump-ball is called:

This was one of the more contentious moments of the game as it appeared as though Goodwin was attempting to call a timeout which may have been missed by the officials. Alas, the jump-ball is called, off of which the Hawks lose and the Hornets re-take the lead with Rozier hitting the high-layup over Capela:

This time it’s the Hawks that can’t respond as Williams misses a jump shot fading to his left after rejecting the screen from Capela:

I wouldn’t call this a bad shot, and Williams hit an even more ludicrous one earlier in the quarter, but it does mean the Hornets have the opportunity to potentially push the lead to a two-possession game. However, the Hawks catch a break as Graham misjudges his pass to Wanamaker and turns the ball over:

The Hawks, still trailing by two points with now under two minutes to go, attack the rim with Bogdanovic, who misses the shot but after the tip from Capela and Williams’ activity, Bogdanovic ends up with the ball again. From there, he finds Goodwin, who uses a quick burst of speed from the three-point line, sees the charge coming in the form of Bridges, bounces the ball to Capela who ties the game again at the rim:

Again, the Hawks’ defense forces a perimeter response from the Hornets as Goodwin, again, stays in front of his man defensively, forcing the pass to Bridges in the weakside corner, missing the three:

The Hawks now have an opportunity to take the lead, which was looking unlikely several minutes earlier, and Williams duly obliges as he uses the Capela down screen to get to the rim and hitting the runner off of the glass to give the Hawks the lead with just under a minute to go as the Hornets call for time:

After initially deflecting the Hornets’ first play out of bounds, the Hawks have to lock-in again and Goodwin hustles hard to stick with Rozier as the Hornets look to inbound the ball. They eventually get the ball to Cody Zeller, who hands-off to Graham, who initially rises to the shoot the three-pointer before changing his mind and attempting to zip the ball inside. However, Capela is right there to deflect the attempted pass inside and Rozier can’t control the ball as it knocks off of him and out of bounds, returning possession to the Hawks:

Following the review to confirm the ball did indeed go off of Rozier last, the Hawks call a timeout after Goodwin runs into a little bit of trouble on the sideline on the ensuing possession.

Out of the timeout, the Hawks lead with Williams, who draws both McDaniels and Graham on the perimeter. As Williams passes to Bogdanovic in the corner, Hill sets an excellent screen to free up Bogdanovic on the wing and a good look at a three. Sadly for the Hawks, Bogdanovic can’t hit his ninth three on the game:

You may have noticed that Hawks had taken out Capela — a key factor all game long — at this point just prior to this, to sub in Huerter, which was a very strange decision. I think (and it’s speculative) that perhaps McMillan believed the Hornets would call for a timeout make or miss, with about 16 seconds left on the game-clock. With the Hornets having just one timeout, I wasn’t so sure about this as it was unfolding — it wasn’t a guarantee that the Hornets would call for timeout.

Sure enough, the Hornets don’t call for time and push in transition down two points with no rim protection with Hill at the 5 essentially. The Hawks are able to slow the ball down in transition on the perimeter as Hill is in the way of a drive from Rozier. Rozier then relocates to the corner — with plenty of time to either find a gap or, perhaps, call a timeout — and takes a poor three-pointer in the corner with Hill draped on him which misses:

A truly horrid shot but the Hornets I think made the right call to not call timeout here. Without Capela on the floor, the Hornets should fancy themselves to look to exploit that and a timeout guarantees the Hawks re-insert him. They had time, but Rozier decided to go for it. Looks amazing if he pulls it off but if not...yeah, not great. Added to that, Rozier absolutely should have been called for an offensive foul as he kicks out that right-leg to the extreme. The officiating was...interesting at times but that might have been the worst instance the game.

Alas, the Hawks secure the rebound with Bogdanovic and ice the game at the line, with the Hornets unable to respond in the short time left, leaving the Hawks to pick up the victory and a very impressive victory given their injuries and game situation as they trailed by double-digits with 7:16 to go.

Postgame, McMillan was pleased with the poise and togetherness his side showed in the fourth quarter after the Hornets found momentum in the third quarter.

“I liked the fact we stayed together,” said McMillan postgame. “That team is scrappy, we knew that they would be scrappy. They changed their defense, I thought they got us a little rattled in that third quarter. We just kept our composure, we stayed together in the fourth quarter. We started to get stops defensively and offensively I thought we settled down, showed some poise and some calmness and was able to execute and score in that fourth quarter to win this game.”

The Hornets were making some tough shots on Sunday afternoon, coming at crucial moments where the Hawks perhaps missed a chance to push the lead a little further before Charlotte would hit a tough shot to keep them close, but the Hawks were at least getting the Hornets to take those tougher perimeter shots, even in the fourth quarter when the Hornets took that double-digit lead. Those makes eventually dried up.

“Sticking to the game plan, the things that got us off to a good start in the beginning,” said Goodwin on what the Hawks discussed as they fell behind by 10 points in the fourth quarter. “Coach just said ‘stay together. Stay on a string on defense, keep getting stops, keep forcing them into contested shots. Everything will fall into place.’”

The Hawks, as has become almost the norm under McMillan so far, have excelled in the fourth quarter. However, not many of their victories under McMillan have involved double-digit fourth quarter turnarounds and certainly not with the group they had to roll with last night. Those that played executed McMillan’s philosophies in the fourth quarter as the Hawks continue to establish themselves as contenders for a playoff berth, with McMillan in particular praising Goodwin.

“This is what we’ve been talking about here, about learning to win,” said McMillan. “Being clear about what we need to do in the fourth quarter to win the game. We knew that we needed to get stops defensively. I think I said it in a timeout, they had an eight point lead with about nine minutes to go. There’s enough time in that game for us to settle down and be clear about what we need to do, get some stops and then execute on offense. I thought Brandon did a really good job tonight running the team, settling us down, getting us into our offense down the stretch. He had a couple of good plays late where he was able to attack their defense, their closeouts and had a couple of good assists to Clint. I thought he really did a solid job of running the team. Without him, I don’t think we win this game.”

Goodwin scored a season-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, 3-of-6 from three to go along with eight assists. Goodwin was active early, scoring nine first quarter points before another burst in the third quarter took his tally to a season-high.

Plus/minus is a subjective stat, especially in a single game, but Goodwin’s game-high plus-20 on the game tells an accurate tale: he was fantastic on Sunday afternoon on both ends of the ball. Goodwin was unfortunate to be out of the rotation while Rajon Rondo was with the team but was always going to prove his worth once given the opportunity — he’s poised on the ball, he can create for others, he can score for himself and he’s a good defender, and he displayed all of that on Sunday.

“I knew I was going to play a lot, but I needed the help from Brandon tonight at the point guard spot and he really came up big tonight,” said Bogdanovic postgame.

Goodwin was obviously inserted into the starting lineup in the absence of Young, one of many high-profile absences for the Hawks last night. After falling behind in the fourth quarter, you’d be forgiven for thinking that perhaps this wasn’t going to be the game the Hawks were going to be able to pull out. One of the themes under McMillan that players and McMillan himself have discussed repeatedly is their belief, and this was something reiterated again following the victory.

“We talk about believing. Always believing that we have a chance to win games,” said McMillan when asked about being able to win despite being shorthanded. “We’ve been hit with a lot of injuries but we keep the belief. Even when we’re down, keep the belief, stay together and play a 48 minute game. Tonight showed once again that we were able to beat a team that’s half a game ahead of us. We talked about the standings and Charlotte being half a game ahead of us. As I mentioned to the team, we’ve been here before. This lineup, there’s a lineup we started against New Orleans with Brandon at the point guard position. All these games we need, and I thought they came out with a good approach and played a 48 minute game. It’s a confidence booster that we can win when we’re a couple of guys down and, as I mentioned to the guys, we should be even stronger when we get these guys back.”

While Goodwin played a starring role for the Hawks, the star of the show was Bogdanovic, who scored a season-high 32 points on 9-of-22 shooting from the field and a career-best eight three-pointers made on 16 attempts.

“Bogi, we had to lean on him a little more tonight because we were without a couple of guys. Trae, Gallo and Tony,” said McMillan of Bogdanovic. “I thought he was aggressive. He had some shots that I thought were tough shots but he was playing with a lot of confidence. We tried to get him the ball and I thought he did a really good job of keeping us close down the stretch.”

When Young has been absent, Bogdanovic basically becomes the Hawks’ go-to option as an on-ball scorer. Another recent example of this was the New Orleans game on the road and on that occasion Bogdanovic also rose to the occasion, scoring 26 points that night. Despite the absence of Young, McMillan said the conversation with Bogdanovic remains the same: be aggressive.

“All we’ve talked about is being aggressive,” said McMillan was asked about speaking with Bogdanovic ahead of a game without the scoring options the Hawks are used to having. “I think sometimes he’s passing up some shots and looking for teammates and I like that too but we want him to be aggressive. We’ve personalized our offense a little more to get him the ball, move him around. He does a great job of moving off of the ball coming off of screens so we’ve added a few more sets to feature Bogi in that situation, and we like him in pick-and-rolls. Only thing I’ve told him is I think sometimes he’s passing up some shots that we want him to take. For him, it’s a rhythm thing. He likes to get a rhythm and sometimes he just doesn’t feel that those shots are rhythm shots and he’s looking to make the pass to his teammates which is team basketball, which something we also want from our guys. He’s doing a great job. Tonight we needed him to be aggressive and he was. He was a difference maker tonight.”

Bogdanovic has been in sensational form for the Hawks of late, and without his production and efficiency the Hawks certainly don’t enjoy the success that they’ve enjoyed of late as the Hawks continue in their push for a playoff berth — Bogdanovic has been monumental in that push of late.

“He makes the game so much easier,” said Goodwin of Bogdanovic. “He can come off screens, he’s not just a pin-down, shoot the ball (type of player) ... he makes the game a lot easier. He was 8-for-16 from three. We tell him ‘every time you get the ball, shoot’. He can shoot the ball really well, there’s nothing he can’t do. We put the ball in his hands and we know we’ll get something good out of it, whether it’s him scoring, or finding Clint or finding the open man on the perimeter.”

Goodwin and Bogdanovic obviously enjoyed a great games, as did Clint Capela.

Capela scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in just under 35 minutes of action.

Capela had, arguably, the most important matchup last night as the Hornets started with their small-ball lineup, featuring PJ Washington at the five. Capela won this duel in the first half, securing a first half double-double including 12 rebounds. Things were a little tougher going for Capela in the second half, only securing three rebounds in the second half. Capela had a few different looks thrown at him, more so out of necessity as Washington sustained an injury in the third quarter.

While the Capela matchup wasn’t as much of a factor in the second half as it was in the first (though, he scored some very important baskets in the fourth quarter off of quality deliveries from Goodwin), his general presence continues to be an overwhelming positive for the Hawks, and when the Hawks took him out of the game late-on and the Hornets breaking in transition with the shot-clock off, there was a fear perhaps that the decision to do so could’ve proved costly, highlighting Capela’s importance, which McMillan elaborated on postgame.

“He’s been really the glue for us all season long,” said McMillan of Capela. “His ability to defend the basket, cover up our mistakes, rebound the basketball. We won the boards tonight and most of the time it’s due to Clint. Then, his ability to set screens and these guys are finding him with the roll and the lob on the offensive end. He is a threat on both ends of the floor. We’re not posting him up but we’re taking advantage of these teams that are playing small-ball and he’s been able to do a great job all season long of punishing them in the paint and on the boards when teams go small.”

Capela was one of quite a few Hawks players who played a very good game in a spot where the Hawks needed everything they could get, with McMillan only having 10 available bodies heading into Sunday’s game. In the end, McMillan elected not to play Bruno Fernando at all, Skylar Mays didn’t feature at all in the second half while Onyeka Okongwu and Nathan Knight featured less in the second half than they had in the first.

One of the more interesting stats stated on the Hawks’ broadcast was that the Hornets were 22-0 when leading heading into the fourth quarter. At one stage, it looked as though that was going to be 23-0, but the Hawks rallied to end that perfect record.

“We didn’t know that stat,” said Bogdanovic postgame. “I think Coach called a timeout, we were like ‘OK, let’s grind it out again. Six minutes left, let’s go possession by possession. They scored some tough shots. Let’s play basketball and let’s have fun in the fourth quarter. Nothing else.’ Lou Will came up big at the end, Clint, defensively, offensively, BG, I scored a shot then free throws at the end. That’s the game. That’s the game we want to play.”

A quality victory for the Hawks in what was a very even game at a time where every game is important as the playoff race intensifies, with victory over the Hornets giving the Hawks sole control of the 4-seed for the time being (though, the Hornets still lead the season-series 2-1).

“We just can’t relax, we can’t get comfortable,” said McMillan when asked about the standings. “We’re doing some good things, we’re playing good basketball, playing hard, playing together, we’re playing on both ends of the floor and we’ve been able to do that with all the injuries that we’ve had. I think the main thing is we need to get healthy and once we do get healthy we need to continue to focus on finishing this season, one game at a time. You can’t relax because the race is so close. You’re a game or two from moving up a spot and you’re a game or two or three from moving out of the playoff race. We understand that this is going to go down to the wire and just focus one game at a time on just trying to taking care of business with the next opponents.”

The Hawks will face stiff competition for seeding from the likes of the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat, the Hornets themselves and possibly the New York Knicks in addition. As McMillan said, the Hawks could easily find themselves looking at the play-in should they hit a rough patch of form.

It really will be fascinating to see but, for now, as the Hawks try to get healthy again, they’re doing more than a commendable job and played very well on Sunday afternoon.

The Hawks (29-25) are back in action on Tuesday night against the Toronto Raptors (21-32) in Tampa.

Until next time...