The Atlanta Hawks notched a third consecutive victory — and seventh in eight games — as they defeated the Toronto Raptors in Tampa 108-103 on Tuesday night.
In the absence of Trae Young, John Collins, Danilo Gallinari, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kris Dunn, the Hawks were led again by Bogdan Bogdanovic’s 23 points, while Clint Capela added 19 points and 21 rebounds.
For the Raptors — without Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet — Paskal Siakam led the way with 30 points. Malachi Flynn added 22 points.
Another game, another shorthanded roster available to Nate McMillan, who ran the same starting lineup and the same rotation during the game, with Bruno Fernando again missing out.
This game was... not a pretty sight in the first quarter but the second quarter saw the Hawks kick into gear as their ball-movement did impress at times. Kevin Huerter scored 12 points in the second quarter, a welcome boost for the Hawks while Bogdanovic hit two three-pointers as the Hawks racked up 38 second quarter points to establish a 12 point lead at the break in spectacular fashion as Solomon Hill caught the Raptors napping, heaving the full-court pass to Kevin Huerter, who not only manages to get off the shot but makes it too with 0.6 remaining:
“That was a lot of fun,” said Huerter of the play postgame. “Siakam scores and we kind of looked up at the clock and I saw there was 0.6 and Solo, he started yelling something — Solo’s always yelling something — but I kind of took off. With 0.6 I knew I could catch and finish rather than I didn’t just have to sit there and just tip it. I took off and that was a hell of a pass. I told him afterwards that was an unbelievable pass that he made. I knew when I jumped in the air I wouldn’t be able to come down with it and just try to catch and throw something up that I could finish. Unbelievable pass, great execution and that was a lot of fun. It was a good way to end the half.”
The second half, for the most part, followed a very similar pattern: the Hawks get close to blowing this game open with a mini-run, their lead will be 10-12 points and then the Raptors would cut that to about seven/eight points before the Hawks would push it back to 10/11 points, and the cycle would repeat.
In the fourth quarter, however, there were a few key stretches of this happening that really did affect the game, and it ties into the three-point shooting story from last night too. The three-point shooting numbers heading into the fourth quarter favored the Hawks, 10-of-22, while the Raptors were shooting 5-of-20.
So, let’s set the table — game situation. After a Flynn three-pointer, the Hawks still hold a 97-89 lead with 6:20 remaining but can’t restore their double-digit lead after a missed three from Nathan Knight. The Raptors now have a chance to reduce the lead to a two possession game for the first time since the very early third quarter.
After a drive from Siakam — who had been a thorn in the side of the Hawks all night — the defense collapses, leading to perimeter opportunities for the Raptors. Huerter closes out on Gary Trent Jr., who makes the extra pass to OG Anunoby, who gets a look at a wide open three-pointer but can’t convert:
This would have cut the Hawks lead to five points, and you really couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to do so. The Hawks elected to take a timeout at this juncture, and you can understand why. Had Anunoby made that three, the complexion of this game could’ve been entirely different.
Coming out of the timeout, Huerter comes off the Capela screen, throws a great looping pass to Brandon Goodwin in the weakside corner, who then makes the extra pass to Bogdanovic, who hits the three-pointer to put the Hawks up by 11 points:
A huge six point swing for the Hawks here, and now the Raptors, again, have to slash a double-digit lead. Immediately following Bogdanovic’s three, the Raptors turn the ball over as Bogdanovic knocks the ball away from Anunoby:
However, the Hawks can’t add to their lead as, following his steal, Bogdanovic is unable to hit the three-pointer and Goodwin’s attempt is also short before the loose ball is eventually put out of bounds by Goodwin:
The Raptors miss another chance as the confident Flynn attempts another three-pointer — this one contested — but is unable to convert:
As the shot clock nears its end, Bogdanovic probes baseline before kicking it out to the perimeter, where Goodwin — free after the steal attempt from Trent Jr. — buries the three-pointer as the clock expires to put the Hawks up by a now, surely, unassailable 14 points with 4:08 to go:
That should have been that, and even with 2:38 remaining, after a Capela basket, the Hawks still held a 14 point lead and this was still the case almost a minute later until Flynn cuts the lead to 11 points with 1:40 remaining:
Huerter was essentially left to guard both Chris Boucher and Flynn on the perimeter here, not a ton more he could have done.
“We knew in that situation that the only way they can come back is if they start hitting threes, obviously Flynn hit enough for them to make it interesting,” said Huerter postgame. “I was just trying to rotate, I wasn’t trying to be the guy that wasn’t in his rotations and was giving up wide-open threes. We like Clint being down the floor to protect the rim, so a lot of times late-game like that a lot of the guards we’ve got to cover for him at the three-point line so he can cover for us at the rim. Just trying to do my job, everybody’s got to do the job at the end of games. Got to run people off of the line and we did enough.”
After a miss from Huerter from distance on the other end, the Hawks lose track of Flynn in the corner, and once the ball is swung too him he is wide open and dispatches the three-pointer to cut the lead to seven points, leading to a Hawks timeout after the breakdown:
Out of the timeout, Goodwin gets by Flynn on the drive but has the ball poked away from behind by Flynn and the Raptors come up with the steal:
The Raptors looked as though they missed their chance (again) as Boucher airballs a three-pointer out of bounds after a good contest and pressure from Huerter:
As the Hawks look to inbound the ball, Bogdanovic is called for the travel on the inbounds, handing possession back to the Raptors. With the Raptors scrambling a little bit as the clock is on their side, Trent Jr.’s three-pointer in the corner is heavily contested by Capela and unsuccessful:
However, out of the Flynn receives the ball and hits another pull-up three, cutting the lead to five points with 33 seconds remaining:
The Raptors play the foul game, eventually sending Goodwin to the line where he misses both free throws, leaving the door open for the Raptors, who cut the lead to two points with another Flynn three-pointer:
Nothing more Hill can do here, that is just a ludicrous make from Flynn.
That, however, would be as close as the Raptors would get as Siakam’s turnaround shot inside is missed and the Hawks ice the game at the free throw line.
Things got a little close for the Hawks late-on here when they shouldn’t have but they at least had a 14 point lead as Flynn ignited, safeguarding them from potential embarrassment.
Speaking postgame, McMillan was disappointed with his team’s fourth quarter, calling for his side to be ‘sharper’ than what they showed down the stretch.
“It was disappointing,” said McMillan of the fourth quarter. “We get the win and we did a lot of good things. We’ve got to be sharper than that, we’ve been sharper than that. I’ve already said to these guys, just as we’ve shown them a good fourth quarter in the Charlotte game, they will see this fourth quarter as well. Just did not execute, we had some turnovers, we just didn’t execute down the stretch. We didn’t show the calm that we talk about, wasn’t really clear about what we need to do and wasn’t connected going down the stretch.”
Listening to this and hearing McMillan speak about it, you would’ve thought the Hawks actually lost game, there did seem to be a sense of general disappointment about McMillan’s comments despite the win, something that the players felt too.
“It was one of those feelings where obviously a win’s a win, we had to remind ourselves of that, but obviously we didn’t close the game the way we wanted to,” said Huerter postgame. “The kid hit tough shots. Malachi Flynn, he hit a lot of shots over contested hands. Honestly, I thought they were about to do to us what we did to them last time in this building but Coach McMillan, he came in, we knew that that wasn’t the way we needed to finish games. We’re not going to win at a high-level if we continue to do that but at the end of the day a win’s a win.”
The theme was very similar across the players who spoke postgame: the Hawks didn’t end as they should have, as they would’ve wanted but the victory was the more important takeaway.
“At the end of the game, we could’ve done better,” said Capela. “So, what’s next? We finished the game. We won the game. That’s the most important thing There’s a lot games in the NBA so some games won’t be perfect. Tonight wasn’t perfect but we got the essential which was the win.”
“We kind of relaxed there at the end but a win’s a win,” added Bogdanovic. “I felt like we deserved it at the end. We deserved the win, honestly. We were grinding the whole game.”
Bogdanovic enjoyed another strong game, scoring 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 from three: another hugely efficient game from Bogdanovic, who hit some very timely shots last night, both in the second quarter and in the fourth quarter.
Goodwin enjoyed another fine game in the starting lineup, scoring 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 3-of-4 from three, as well as bringing the defense. Huerter also played well, scoring 17 points on 7-of-14 from the field and 3-of-6 from three, including 12 points in that pivotal second quarter. Huerter at times also had the responsibility of guarding the red-hot Trent Jr., who shot just 3-of-15 from the field and 0-of-7 from three, with Huerter getting in some good, even great contests at times — a very underrated aspect of this game.
Capela starred once again though, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 from the field to go along with 21 rebounds. The Raptors matchup has been a tougher one for Capela, with opposing center Boucher stretching Capela in the two previous outings (scoring 29 points in each of the two previous meetings). However, Boucher didn’t nearly have the same impact on this game, scoring just four points on 1-of-3 from the field and 0-of-2 from the three.
“I think he’s staying in his lane,” said McMillan of Capela postgame. “He’s doing a good job of defending for us, defending the basket and rebounding the ball. Offensively, he’s the screen setter. He does a good job of setting screens and freeing up the ball, when you do that everyone is open in situations like that. It starts with our 5-man. Probably 90% of our plays, our 5-man is involved in some capacity setting screens. Clint does a good job of doing that. These teams that are playing small-ball, he’s doing a really good job of punishing them in the paint.”
McMillan also praised Capela’s adaptability defensively, covering the more spread offense at the five that Toronto runs with Boucher on the floor.
“I think to take the next step, which is what we’re trying to do you need a center like that,” added McMillan of Capela. He has experience, he’s played in big games. He’s done a really good job defending the basket. Whenever they have a post-player that you need a big to be able to defend, he’s been able to provide that. Tonight, it was more of a spread offense, a team that tried to take him away from the basket. He did a really good job of coming over and helping when the defense had breakdowns and then rebounding the basketball. He’s been able to adapt to the different teams that play with a low-post big and a spread big. Tonight he was big, once again, for us.”
Capela himself has been pleased that teams have settled somewhat when he is in the paint.
“I feel like my presence in the paint makes guys want to shoot long twos instead of attacking the paint,” said Capela postgame. “I feel the respect from the other teams, that’s a good thing.”
With another 21 rebounds adding to his growing tally, Capela continues to lead the NBA in rebounds per game with 14.2, stating postgame that his belief that he is the league’s top rebounder as he seeks to help guide his team to a playoff berth with his consistent performances.
“I definitely feel and know I am the best rebounder in the league,” said Capela. “I just go out there and do what I do every night, it’s not just one game or two. I’m trying to be really consistent every night about my production and the only way to help this team win. It’s been pretty good so far and I hope to keep myself healthy to keep helping this team to succeed.”
All-in-all, the Hawks did deserve to win this game and though the Raptors sorely missed Lowry and VanVleet (their lack of scoring from their guards last night other than the late outburst from Flynn), the Hawks did a great job once again of pulling a result out of the bag despite their current absences, making up games on both Charlotte and Miami, who both lost last night.
The Hawks (30-25) are back in action on national television on Thursday as they return home to take on the Milwaukee Bucks (33-20).
“It’a going to be a good test for us,” said Capela of Thursday’s game against the Bucks. “We’re going to be able to see where we are against one of the best playoff teams in the East in the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s going to be good for us, it’s going to be a really good test. Great team playing really well, they have a coach with a good system. It’s going to be a good test for us at home.”
The status of Trae Young and company remains to be seen but if the same absences are true for Thursday’s game, the Bucks should be considered convincing favorites at State Farm Arena. Time will tell...
Until next time.