The Atlanta Hawks returned to action on Sunday afternoon with a victory over the visiting Indiana Pacers, 129-117.
Trae Young bounced back after a subpar game on Thursday against the Milwaukee Bucks with 34 points and 11 assists against the Pacers, while Clint Capela added a monster double-double with 25 points and 24 rebounds.
For the Pacers, Malcolm Brogdon led the way with 29 points while T.J. McConnell and Domantas Sabonis both added 18 points.
The Hawks were coming off of two-days rest for the first time since the All-Star break — boosted by the return of John Collins to the starting lineup — and it seemed to show as the Hawks were rampant from the offset, running out to a 20 point lead inside the first seven minutes, dominating at the rim en route to 35 first quarter points.
Atlanta, however, was let down by their second unit play towards the end of the first quarter and in the second quarter as the Pacers gradually chipped away at the Hawks’ lead.
Honestly, the Hawks — minus a flurry towards the end of the second quarter — were second best for much of this game after the Pacers’ second timeout in the first quarter. Eventually, the Pacers tied the game first at 105-105 — their first tie of the game since 6-6 — before tying again at 107 apiece with 4:40 remaining in the game.
Honestly, this was deserved from the Pacers — they were the better team on the balance of play for most of this game, the Hawks were especially poor in the second quarter. Alas, this is where the Hawks found themselves down the stretch: a tie game situation with under five minutes to go.
So, let’s look at what happened down the stretch and the Hawks pulled this one out.
Kevin Huerter breaks the tie as his ball-fake sends his defender flying before dispatching the three-pointer on the wing:
Huerter was rolling all game long and hit a big three-pointer towards the end of the third quarter with another coming here down the stretch.
After the Pacers reply with a Brogdon two, the Hawks run a lovely set where John Collins sets a high-screen that puts Young ahead of his defender, forcing Myles Turner to step-up as Capela slips behind Turner and Young finds Capela with the alley-oop:
A very well executed possession from the Hawks.
Brogdon provided the Hawks with a problem all night long and his pass on the drive to the weakside corner to Edmond Sumner and the ball slips through Sumner’s hands for the Pacers turnover:
Off of a three-point miss from Young, Huerter collects the loose-ball rebound and kicks it back to Young on the perimeter. Young then shifts the ball to Bogdan Bogdanovic who hits the three-pointer:
This was a really mature play by Young, who could have easily taken the shot himself but instead waited for the defense to close out before shifting the ball to Bogdanovic, trusting his teammate to hit the shot. I think perhaps in his rookie/sophomore season, I think that’s probably a shot Young takes himself.
The Hawks put themselves in a position to get another stop as Young and Huerter combine well to disrupt Caris LeVert on the ball, with Young eventually knocking the ball on the dig as Huerter gets to floor before Young joins him, earning the jump-ball:
Young wins the subsequent jump-ball before rejecting Capela’s screen before stopping a dime at three-point line. Capela then re-screens, slips the screen and is found inside by Young for the layup at the rim:
All of a sudden, the Hawks are now leading by eight points but quickly reduced to six points after another Brogdon basket. Coming the other way, Young gets another high-screen from Collins before looking as though he’s going to rise into a mid-range before getting out of it, passing the ball to Collins. Young then relocates deep behind the three-point line where Collins returns the ball to him as Young launches the 30-footer to extend the Hawks’ lead to nine points and a Pacers timeout:
After Brogdon hits a three-pointer out of the timeout, the Hawks immediately respond after Young splits the pick-and-roll, gets to the rim, collects the loose-ball after Turner almost takes it away and takes advantage of the defense (or lack of) at the rim to score the layup:
A missed Sabonis jump shot with just over a minute left basically ends the game as the Pacers trail by eight points with under a minute to go and the Hawks with possession of the ball. A few free throws in both directions fails to change the direction of the game and a tip-in from Sabonis on the missed free throw from Young (with the basket being credited to Solomon Hill) with 29 seconds remaining puts the exclamation mark on the game as the Hawks restore their double-digit lead:
Four more Young free throws put the icing on an excellent fourth quarter for the Hawks, scoring 35 points in the final period, 14 coming from Young.
Postgame, Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan was pleased with how the Hawks regained their composure to execute down the fourth quarter.
“We had the lead, Indiana, they’re going to keep coming at you,” said McMillan postgame. “They put a small lineup in the game to change the tempo of the game and they were able to do that. We got a little rattled there but we got our composure back and was able to execute down the stretch, defensively get some stops, offensively score the ball. It was a new ball-game, 105-105 and we executed those last five minutes the way we needed to.”
“Figuring out a way to score and attack the mismatch and find ways to score. We got some stops and that’s pretty much it,” added Young of the Hawks down the stretch.
Last time out against the Milwaukee Bucks, Young really struggled as he made his return from a calf injury. While he did wrap up said calf when he was on the bench, Young looked a lot more like his normal self, scoring 34 points on 9-of-21 shooting from the field, 3-of-9 from three, 13-of-14 from the free throw line, 11 assists.
Trae Young today:— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 18, 2021
It’s his 30th career 30p/10a game — the most by a player before turning 23 since the three-point era (1980). pic.twitter.com/PaztdIolxt
“I definitely feel I got more of my rhythm back tonight,” said Young. “Last game, missing a lot of my floaters and things like coming back. I think I needed that game to get my feet under me and get into a rhythm.”
Perhaps most impressively when it comes to Young’s performance? He committed just two turnovers on the game to go with those 11 assists.
“One of the things Trae and I talked about before the game was turnovers,” said McMillan of Young. “He can do this every night. His turnovers have been in the five and seven range. As I told him, he’s better than that. Five turnovers for a guy like Trae with his ability to create offense for himself as well as the team and cutting down on those turnovers, I think he can have this game most nights. This is not a surprise to me. He has shown his ability to score the basketball, his ability to move the ball. I wanted him to do a better job of taking care of the basketball, put more value on every possession and I thought he did a really good job of doing so.”
Young has been fairly consistent in discussing the need for him to limit his turnovers, saying it can only stand to help the team if he’s able to keep them down.
“I’ve been talking about that from the beginning of the year,” said Young of his turnovers. Definitely been a key for me coming into the season is trying to taking care of the ball a lot more and understanding that if I take care of the ball then we take care of the ball as a team, we’re pretty good on offense. That only helps our team. We’ve talked about it, we’ve been talking about it since he’s gotten here. That’s something I always have in the back of my mind when I’m playing. Just trying to take care of the ball for my teammates.”
Young’s running-mate, Collins, made his return on Sunday afternoon having missed the last nine games with an ankle injury suffered on the Hawks’ Western Conference road-trip, scoring eight points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field in just under 21 minutes of action, with Collins restricted on minutes for the time being.
Unsurprisingly, everyone was pleased to see Collins back on the court, including Collins himself.
“It felt great,” said Collins of his return. “Feel like I’m back to 100%. Obviously I’m trying to get the wind back to where it was before I got hurt but be that as it may, felt great out there, just good to be back out there with my teammates. Happy, happy, happy we got that W tonight. Trying to stay here and continue to progress.”
McMillan, who couldn’t contain his smile when asked about Collins, was keen to reinsert Collins immediately back into the starting lineup, referencing that Collins fares better with the starting unit than coming off the bench with the second unit.
“It felt great, it really did,” smiled McMillan postgame when asked about having Collins back. “Having another body, a fresh body and having a guy who has done a lot for us this season. I wanted to get him back in rotation as soon as possible and allow him to get a rhythm. He has a much better rhythm with that first unit than he does with the second, so I wanted to get him out there quickly. He was limited with the minutes he could play, 16-20 minutes tonight, so we’re hoping he’ll come out of this game feeling good and those minutes will increase next game.”
Collins obviously represents one major body the Hawks are looking to get back into the fold as their playoff push continues, though it may take a few games for Collins to get back into a true rhythm, especially as he negotiates, for now, a minutes restriction.
“It was great,” said Young of Collins’ return. “As we continue to have more bodies and get guys back it’s going to be better for us. It’s going to take a little time for JC to get his feet under him, I know he was kind of winded going up and down but that’s natural. I’m excited for him to get his feet under himself and we’ll be good to go.”
Other than Collins (who you wouldn’t a massive scoring outburst from in a minutes-restricted return), the other Hawks starters enjoyed fine games.
Young is one we’ve obviously discussed already but Capela enjoyed one of his best nights of the entire season as he scored 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field to go along with 24 rebounds (two off of his career-best) and three blocks.
Clint Capela today:— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 18, 2021
He is the first Hawks player with multiple 20p/20r/3b games in a season since Dikembe Mutombo in 2001. pic.twitter.com/mMitGJpSP2
Not only did Capela reinforce the Hawks’ advantage in the paint and the boards, he was a great option offensively too, found on multiple occasions in the fourth quarter.
“Big, big on both ends,” said McMillan of Capela. “Domas (Sabonis) is an All-Star, Myles Turner, those two bigs for Indiana, those guys can hurt you. Clint, once again, did a great job being the anchor for our defense, covering up mistakes that we were making on the perimeter and rebounding the basketball. We dominate the boards tonight and a big reason for that was Clint, not only defending but rebounding the basketball. Offensively, great job of setting screens, freeing up the basketball and making himself available. Just another great job by Clint, I definitely don’t think we win this game without him being on the floor.”
The NBA’s leading rebounder only continues to highlight just how important he is to this team. Such is the importance of Capela, you could make the case that he might be the most valuable player to this Hawks team. Obviously, Young has to carry the load scoring and facilitating but there’s absolutely no question the floor of this team has been raised infinitely with Capela’s addition and level of play — there’s no question how valuable he has been.
Another player who enjoyed a fantastic night was Huerter, scoring 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field, 5-of-7 from three in a team-high 40 minutes.
Postgame, McMillan was full of praise of Huerter and the improvements he has made this season on both sides of the ball, especially the defensive end of the ball.
“Kevin has been a consistent player for us all season long as well,” said McMillan of Huerter. “We talk about what Clint has done and what other guys have done, Kevin has played in just about every game. He’s been a starter, he’s come off of the bench. What we’re doing is, similar to Bogi, personalizing some of the offense so we can get the ball in different guys’ hands and he’s done a great job of creating offense, being more aggressive, attacking the basket, not settling for just the perimeter jump shot and then he does a good job making decisions when he’s running the pick-and-roll. I love his aggressiveness tonight. Defensively, I think he’s gotten better. We’ve challenged him all season long to become a better defender. Each night he has become the guy that we’re putting on some of the best players without De’Andre and Cam, we’ve had to really rely on Kevin to become a better two-way player for us.”
I, personally, have always rated Huerter highly, defensively too, so you can imagine my disappointment at times last season with regards Huerter’s defense. I honestly thought at the time that he’s better than what he showed, and this year Huerter has been showing the flashes defensively that he can not only hold his own defensively but also excel at times.
Over his last 10 games, Huerter is averaging 14 points per game on 51% shooting from the field and 40% from three with five attempts per game. He is one of a number of Hawks enjoying a fine April, another is Bogdanovic.
Bogdanovic added another 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field and 5-of-11 from behind the arc. He continues to show fantastic form and consistency in the month of April.
Bogdan Bogdanovic has scored 20-or-more points in four straight games for the first time in his career.— Hawks PR (@HawksPR) April 18, 2021
Bogdan Bogdanovic hit at least five three’s in a game in four consecutive contests for the first time in his career … He has 46 triples in April, the most in the Eastern Conference and second-most in the NBA.— Hawks PR (@HawksPR) April 18, 2021
There’s almost nothing new to say about Bogdanovic right now that hasn’t been said already: he just continues to play at a really high level with incredible consistency on volume.
As it turned out, the Hawks needed everything they could get from their starters because Atlanta’s bench struggled last night: another 16 point outing after 16 points against the Bucks on Thursday, which was arguably the turning point in that game.
The Hawks were fortunate to receive very strong games from four of their five starters, so they didn’t quite need their bench to be firing on all cylinders but it’s still not ideal for the Hawks that their bench is struggling right now. Obviously part of that is due to their injuries, which means it falls to Lou Williams to lead the way when the second unit is on the floor. Brandon Goodwin probably needs more than two field goal attempts in addition...
The Hawks, honestly, weren’t fantastic on Sunday as a whole but they were able to pull out a victory despite that, and they need every single one with Miami, New York and Boston continuing to secure victories themselves in an incredibly tight playoff race.
The Hawks (31-26) are back in action on Tuesday night when they’ll take on the Orlando Magic (18-38) at State Farm Arena.
A very good opportunity for the Hawks awaits, you would imagine...
Until next time...