The Atlanta Hawks continued their fine form as they picked up a victory against Southeast Division rivals Orlando Magic 112-96 on Tuesday night at State Farm Arena, their ninth in 11 games.
Trae Young led the way with 25 points while Lou Williams scored a Hawk season-high of 22 points. For the Magic, Cole Anthony and Wendell Carter Jr. both scored 17 points.
The Hawks entered this game as heavy favorites, the Magic a much different looking outfit now than when the Hawks last faced their Southeast rivals following the trade of Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier.
It looks like the Hawks are going to close as 12.5-point favorites tonight against Orlando.— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) April 20, 2021
This is the largest point spread for the Hawks as a favorite since Nov. 12, 2016 against the Process Sixers.
While the Magic kept decent pace with the Hawks in the first quarter, the Hawks began to pull away in the second quarter, scoring 38 points to take a 17 point lead heading into halftime. While a very poor third quarter saw the Magic close the gap — before the Hawks, somehow, entered the final quarter leading by eight points — the Hawks pulled away again in the fourth quarter.
This was honestly a very straightforward game for the Hawks, almost a formality. The Orlando Magic are... not very good as currently built, and they are likely destined to finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Hawks have one more game to square off against the Magic this year (their second-to-last game of the season) and I’d imagine the Hawks will be heavy favorites then, too.
The Hawks themselves did not play incredibly well either. The third quarter was downright deplorable in terms of play: scoring 15 points on 7-of-26 shooting from the field and 0-of-6 from three. Yet, somehow they brought an eight point lead into the final quarter.
That should tell you all you need to know about this game and how bad the Magic actually are — they missed a lot of chances to make the Hawks nervous, which I don’t they were at any point last night, even as their lead dwindled in the third quarter. Not to bang on that drum endlessly, but it’s honestly the most important factor of last night’s game, more so than how the Hawks played (which, again, was not incredible).
One area, however, the Hawks did crush the Magic in was the rebounding battle.
The Hawks out-rebounded the Magic 65-40 (a season-high for the Hawks) while grabbing 18 offensive rebounds, leading to 14 second chance points. What was also notable was the Hawks secured every single defensive rebound in the first half.
Clint Capela grabbed six of these offensive rebounds and almost scored off of every one of them.
As Bogdan Bogdanovic’s shot is blocked at the rim, Capela is on-hand to clean up and tucks away the second chance opportunity:
In transition, Trae Young’s pass inside to Kevin Huerter leads to a reverse layup attempt from Huerter which is missed but, again, Capela in there to finish the play:
Working inside the paint himself this time, Capela’s first attempt inside is missed but, amidst the crowd, Capela gets the second opportunity as he hits the jump-hook despite the contest:
John Collins is next to attempt a shot inside and when his shot is missed, Capela is there again to score the second chance opportunity:
Collins himself grabbed five offensive rebounds himself — between that and his presence defensively, these were Collins’ biggest contributions last night as he continues to work his way back from that ankle injury and minutes restriction, scoring 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field to go along with 15 rebounds in 25 minutes of action.
The Hawks were pretty wasteful with their second chances, generally speaking. 14 points on 18 offensive rebounds isn’t a great return but it was enough. Still, to out-rebound an opponent 65-40 is still impressive and it stood out to Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan postgame, who wanted his defense to be more aggressive at times.
“I thought the beginning of the game we did a nice job establishing our defense,” said McMillan postgame. “I thought we needed to be a little more aggressive, they were running their offense without any pressure, but I thought we were pretty consistent throughout the game. The game-plan was to keep them in front and not allow them to get into the paint and play in the paint. I thought we did that for the most part. What I really loved about what we did was dominate the boards. That is always a key for us to win games, is to control the boards.”
The Hawks started both the first and third quarters slowly, the Magic running out to a 9-2 lead to begin the game, which, oddly, McMillan did not call a timeout for when it happened. A 7-0 run to begin the second half made this a game again as the Hawks went nearly five minutes without scoring to open the second half.
“I thought we were passive coming out the start of the third quarter” said McMillan. “We had some open look that we were passing up looks, shots overpassing for that first five minutes, we missed a couple of open looks. One of the things I talked to our guys about is coming out with that sense of urgency, certainly the start of the third quarter, and playing another 24 minutes. This game is not over, we know Orlando is going to scrap for 48 minutes and I thought we came out passive in that third quarter, not looking for our offense, not going through our offense hard and we ended up missing some shots. For the first five minutes of that quarter, we didn’t score. Called a timeout, we executed a play and we put some points on the board.”
“We just stuck with it, stuck to the game plan,” added Young on putting the game away despite the slow starts to the first and third quarter. “They made some runs, we couldn’t get a shot to go early in that third quarter. We stuck with it and everything went in our favor as we kept playing.”
Last night was a different game of sorts for Young, not in terms of performance but in appearance, sporting protective goggles to protect his eye after taking a hit from Onyeka Okongwu on Sunday afternoon’s game splitting a double-team, Young revealed postgame.
Googles Trae pic.twitter.com/tKmszPSskH— Bally Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnBally) April 20, 2021
While Young didn’t have an opportunity to get used to goggles earlier in the day, normal service was resumed as the game progressed.
“Yeah, for a second there,” said Young on if wearing the goggles was odd. “Today was my first day I actually got to wear them, I didn’t get to wear them in shootaround this morning, they didn’t get them in in time. Kind of just had to go on the fly today with shooting it. Felt good as I got into a rhythm with them.”
Young scored 23 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field, 2-of-5 from three and 9-of-10 from the free throw line. Having had a strong game in terms of limiting turnovers last time out — something McMillan praised Young for — it was a step backwards last night as Young committed five turnovers for seven assists.
While McMillan acknowledged that five turnovers is too many for Young, he was at least pleased with how Young has progressed in getting the Hawks “organized” in the fourth quarter of late.
“I think he’s too good,” said McMillan of Young. “I think he’s such a dynamic player, can create, that five turnovers is too many turnovers for him to have in a ball-game. That’s something he and I have talked about. Getting us organized, I thought he did that, certainly in that fourth quarter. Getting us organized, controlling that game, that tempo in the fourth quarter and executing the offense. he came in, stepped it up and knocked down a big three. Organizing us down the stretch is where we want to see growth and I think we’ve seen that in the last few games with Trae.”
McMillan would go on to say that he has challenged Young to cut his turnovers to two or three per game. Young is averaging over four turnovers per game.
“I want him to take care of the ball,” said McMillan when asked about Young balancing aggression. “It’s not taking away his aggressiveness, that’s how he plays. Sometimes you are trying to thread the needle when you’re playing in traffic, dribbling passing in traffic. You’re playing against professionals, really good players. They’re going to get their hands on that and sometimes he doesn’t have to make those passes, just keep the game simple. With the spacing that we have out on the floor, I think he is good enough to cut those turnovers down, two or three a game is what I’ve challenged him to do.”
Lou Williams led the scoring effort for the Hawks off the bench, scoring 22 points on 6-of-14 from the field, 2-of-7 from three and 8-of-9 from behind the arc.
McMillan has been looking for Williams to be more aggressive on the offensive end, also praising Williams’ defensive efforts last night too.
“I thought he did a good job of both ends of the floor,” said McMillan of Williams. “Tonight, I thought he was aggressive on the offensive end of the floor, really looking for his shot and making shots. I thought defensively he made an effort on the defensive end of the floor to defend the basketball. What we want from him is to feature him when he’s in that second unit, allow him to play with the ball and create offense for us. I thought he did a good job of that tonight.”
Williams revealed that McMillan wanted him to be more aggressive offensively and take a lesser role in terms of facilitating off of the bench and it’s been showing of late, averaging 10 field goal attempts in his last three games.
“Tonight just felt good,” said Williams. “Coming in being aggressive. Had a conversation with Coach Nate this week, I was facilitating a little too much for his liking, he just wanted me to more aggressive on the offensive end and be myself. Last couple of games I’ve tried to do that, had success with it tonight just being aggressive at the rim and creating opportunities with guys fouling. Hopefully that snowballs into tomorrow, it’s going to be a great challenge for us. A young team, playing against another young team, both groups trying to turn the corner and become their own success story. We look forward to it, about to jump on this plane and get to it.”
Williams also baited the Magic into multiple fouls on three-point fakes, something Williams, postgame, revealed he looks to exploit.
“Absolutely,” said Williams when asked if he looks to take advantage of first, second year players. “It’s literally the first thing I think when they put a rookie or a second year guy on me. I understand that I can be a challenge to guard with the things I’ve done over my career so that’s a big assignment for young guys. That’s the first thing I’m going to test, whether they’re going to stay down and pay attention to the scouting report and not giving me the opportunities to get some free ones at the free throw line. That’s absolutely my mindset when I see younger guys guarding me.”
Just a fantastic quote.
There’s honestly not a ton else to say about this game. Williams’ 22 points helped, in addition to all five Hawks starters scoring in double-digits, especially after two tough games from the bench against the Bucks and the Pacers.
The Hawks were worth their win. They didn’t play overly well to do it, especially in the third quarter, but they took care of business as they should have. Nothing more to be said about that, and things shift to Wednesday.
The Hawks (32-26) take to the floor again on Wednesday evening in what is arguably their biggest game of the season so far as they face the New York Knicks (32-27, winners of seven straight games) at Madison Square Garden, with the Knicks a half-game back of Atlanta for the No. 4 seed.
The Knicks are also on the second night of a back-to-back but did play at home on Tuesday night as they defeated the Charlotte Hornets.
A hugely important game in the context of the Hawks’ season...
Until next time...