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Hawks rally from 18-point deficit to even series with Sixers

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The Hawks looked as though they were out of it before a huge second half

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks evened their Eastern Conference semi final series at 2-2 after a remarkable comeback victory at home against the Philadelphia 76ers at State Farm Arena on Monday night, 103-100.

Trae Young led the Hawks with 25 points and 18 assists, tying a career high, while Bogdan Bogdanovic added 22 points. For the Sixers, Tobias Harris led the way with 20 points while Seth Curry and Joel Embiid added 17 points.

The Sixers began this game the way the previous two games had gone as the Sixers looked the better side, running out to an 18 point lead in the first half as the Hawks shot 17-of-51 (33%) in the first half, missing a number of easy shots at the rim, with plenty of other opportunities squandered.

The Hawks, however, crucially ended the first half chipping into that 18 point lead which the Sixers held with 1:43 remaining in the second quarter. A basket from Bogdanovic and two big baskets from Kevin Huerter — inserted into the starting lineup in place of Solomon Hill — got the Hawks within striking distance, this three-pointer from Huerter cutting the lead to 13 points heading into the half:

The third quarter was where the Hawks burst into life, outscoring the Sixers 31-20 as the Sixers shot 38% in the quarter. After shooting 1-of-7 in the first half, John Collins exploded into life in the third quarter. Seven points in the third quarter may not scream ‘exploded’ but in terms of his activity and athleticism, Collins certainly did that.

To start, Collins screens for Young and rolls to the rim for the dunk, with Embiid electing not to challenge Collins at the rim:

On the miss from Danilo Gallinari, Collins steams in from the three-point, past multiple Sixers, to emphatically follow on the offensive putback:

Again, off of the miss jump shot, Collins steams in past Embiid to thunder the ball home:

All of these plays were high energy, high impact plays that got the crowd into the game as the Hawks still trailed in the third quarter.

The Hawks quickly took the lead in the fourth quarter before both sides went back and forth as both sides struggled shooting the ball in the fourth quarter and both squandered good opportunities for baskets. The Sixers went for five minutes without scoring but the Hawks couldn’t take full advantage but took a four point lead with 2:44 to go as Furkan Korkmaz hit the three-pointer:

A huge shot from Korkmaz and the Sixers but one the Hawks replied to instantly as Collins grabs the offensive rebound off of the Bogdanovic miss before Collins relocates to the three-point line. Young drives inside, draws the defense at the rim before delivering an unbelievable pass to Collins in the corner for the clutch three-pointer:

Both sides proceeded to trade missed baskets before Young comes off the Collins screen before getting into the lane and hits the go-ahead floater:

On the other end, the Sixers do a good job moving the ball around the perimeter before it ends up in the hands of Korkmaz who misses the three-pointer:

Korkmaz wanted the foul call on Young and on first viewing it did look like Young made contact on a mini-push on Korkmaz as he shot that three. It’ll be interesting to see what the Last Two Minute Report will say about it but obviously nothing will change now.

Off of Korkmaz’s miss, the Hawks turbo in transition with Young, who gets all the way to the rim and gets hammered by Embiid at the rim who is eventually called for the foul, sending Young to the free throw line:

Embiid would get to the free throw line himself after a foul by Collins, bringing the Sixers within a point. After a timeout from the Hawks after said free throws, the shotclock winds down and Collins’ pass to Capela inside zings through his hands and out of bounds for the critical turnover:

A bad time to come up with an empty trip and the Sixers use their last timeout. Out of it, Embiid gets by Capela on the pick-and-roll but misses at the rim:

A point-blank miss from Embiid and an absolutely crucial late contest from Collins is probably the reason Embiid misses that shot like that, as he was already past Capela and the contest from Collins forcing Embiid to adjust.

The Hawks used their final timeout to advance the ball and ensure they could inbound it to Young, who is fouled and sent to the line where he dispatches both free throws to give the Hawks a three point lead.

With the Sixers not having any timeouts remaining, they’re forced to bring the ball all the way up the floor with 6.6 seconds remaining. The Sixers try to get Seth Curry coming off of a screen after Shake Milton brings the ball up but the shot is missed from Curry and the Hawks take Game 4:

This shot didn’t appear on NBA.com’s play-by-play, and it’s very tight on closer inspection whether Curry actually got the shot away in time so this may not have counted but it ultimately matters not as the Hawks even the series.

Down 18 points in a series that, up to that point, the Sixers had been the significantly better side in the series, for the Hawks to rally like that when they could have given up says a lot about how they’ve grown this season.

“We’ve been fighting all year,” said Young of the Hawks’ resilience. “This team, nobody gives up. No matter what the score is throughout the game, we know it’s a long game. The NBA, it’s a long game, 48 minute game. For us, we stay level-headed throughout the whole game. Every team is going to make runs. I love the way we fight and proud of our team tonight.”

“It’s something we’ve done all year,” added Huerter of the team’s resilience. “Guys in and out of the lineup, COVID, really just haven’t made excuses all year and tonight was another example of that. We’re down 18, we could have folded, we didn’t make shots in front of our home crowd, came together and slowly got back into the game and made enough plays at the end to win.”

Game 4’s momentum shifted in the third quarter, where the Hawks have had issues in the series so far as the Sixers’ class becomes too much for them to contend with and the game gets away from the Hawks. Not in Game 4, where the Hawks outscored the Sixers 31-20, fueled by Collins’ energetic plays, which was described as ‘infectious’ by Young.

“It affects us all, just like a long three can affect our team in a positive way and get the crowd going and get our team going, JC’s dunks and his putback dunks are the same way,” said Young of Collins. “They’re infectious. The way he plays, his energy is big time for us. We’re going to need him to continue to bring that energy on both ends and I’m happy with the way he played tonight. Big reason why we won tonight.”

“That was huge,” added Capela of Collins’ energy. “We were playing big, Gallo in the post, me in the short and I knew that every time they were putting a lot of attention on my for rebounding, Two or three times, JC really came in and gave us those putback dunks. It was awesome. He was alert, he was ready, he got a corner three too at the end, it was huge. It was big time for us.”

Collins was having a very difficult game up to that point, shooting 1-of-7 from the field in the first half, leaving a poor taste in Collins’ mouth.

“I don’t like playing the way I did offensively, in any game,” said Collins of the third quarter turnaround. “On my end, to help my team, I just figured I’d try anything and try to use some of that frustration to help propel the team in any way I can. If I’ve got to use my athleticism, so be it.”

Collins finished with 14 points on 6-of-15 from the field but his impact in Game 4 went beyond the boxscore.

“I don’t necessarily feel like ‘I’m the toughest dude ever, the toughest guy on the court,’ I’m not trying to be,” said Collins in response. “ I’m just trying to go out there and play hard and compete. If I come off a little tough, I definitely like that, I appreciate that from whoever but it’s not something I’m going out and trying to do. Just trying to be a leader and be a strong beacon of strength for my team at all times.”

Huerter alluded to the Hawks’ missed shots last night. He is...not wrong. The Hawks missed a lot of shots last night, 37-of-101 for 36% — the lowest shooting percentage in a Hawks victory all season.

“Our defense,” said Young on what won the game for the Hawks. “You don’t shoot that poorly and win the game if you don’t play good defense. We played really good defense and we took care of the ball, only four turnovers. That’s big time for us, that’s a big reason why we won. Even though we only shot 30% in both categories, we had over 100 possessions. That’s big for us.”

The Sixers shot 52% in the first half but just 32% in the second half as their offense dried up, particularly Embiid who shot 0-of-12 in the second half.

Let’s take a look at some of those misses and what the Hawks did to make things a little tougher for Embiid.

Clint Capela did a much better job on the single coverage defense on Embiid in the second half, standing his ground on this possession for the contest near the rim:

In the post, Embiid spins but can’t hit his shot over Capela as the help comes from the baseline:

From the three-point line this time, Embiid backs into the paint but his fadeaway jumper over Capela is missed:

Late in the fourth quarter, Embiid is on the block but still cannot hit the face-up jumper over Capela:

It wasn’t just Capela that played a part in slowing Embiid down in Game 4, the Hawks as a team did their part too.

On the three-point line, Embiid fakes his way by Capela but between Bogdanovic and Collins, the Hawks contest the shot at the rim and Embiid doesn’t get the foul call inside:

On the re-entry pass, Embiid gets the jump on Capela but Collins does a great job sliding over to get in front of Embiid and cut the drive off and Capela smothers Embiid’s shot:

“I thought Clint really did a good job of trying to force his catch out,” said McMillan of Embiid. “I thought our weak-side did a good job of being in their shift and mixing up their coverages as far as double teaming Embiid. He’s a tough guy to guard but it started with Clint, Big O (Okongwu), John and those guys who were guarding him just trying to get him off of the block, force his catch out. We did a good job of digging and mixing up our double teams on him.”

“It was a great team effort tonight,” said Collins of Embiid. “Obviously a great job by CC, pretty much guarding him in isolation all night and trying to make every single shot he got as tough as possible. As well as the weak-side, us all being on a string, understanding our game-plan and I feel like we did a great job of executing it tonight.”

Capela has had a tough series but this was arguably his best game of the series so far and Young was pleased to see Capela stay on the court and stay out of foul trouble in Game 4.

“Like with any great players, you’re not going to be able to stop them,” said Young of Embiid. “Tonight, what Clint did and what our team did — mainly Clint — on that end was great, just showing his hands. Joel is really good at drawing fouls and getting guys in foul trouble so making sure he (Capela) was on the court being able to play, staying out of foul trouble was big for us. Hopefully we get the same type of energy going into Game 5 against him because obviously he’s going to play a lot harder and a lot better at home.”

“Definitely by making his job tougher,” added Capela of limiting Embiid. “Contesting everything, making him work. I saw that whenever you wear him out, everything becomes tougher for him. It’s how I know. It’s a long series. When the fatigue comes in, it’s a different ball-game.”

Embiid wasn’t his normal self last night. Not only has he been dealing with a slightly torn meniscus, but last night he went to the locker room during the game with what appeared to be back issues — he looked limited both offensively and defensively. The concern for the Sixers is that there’s a shorter turnaround from Game 4 to Game 5 than there has been so far in the series, with two games off between Games 3 and 4, with Game 5 taking place on Wednesday night in Philly.

If this is the version of Embiid that the Hawks see going forward, it could end up swinging the series. The Sixers are already missing Danny Green and while Embiid’s leg would basically have to be falling off for him not to play, if he’s limited in this capacity it opens the door for the Hawks on the road again in this series.

Embiid wasn’t the only one playing through discomfort. Young began this game sporting tape on his right shoulder and it seemed to limit Young early in the game, shooting 0-of-5 in the first quarter and even missing two free throws.

“I got hit last game and it’s been kind of sore,” said Young when asked about his shoulder.

“It wasn’t a bother, just fighting through it, knowing it was sore,” Young elaborated. “Just trying to work it out and keep it warm throughout the game. That’s pretty much what it was. I’m not blaming my shooting on my arm. I felt like I had a lot of good looks, shots weren’t going in. I got to be better at knocking down my shots.”

The tape and the news of any shoulder concerns was news for McMillan coming in and it didn’t escape his notice in the first quarter that it may have affected him.

“He was missing some shots he normally makes,” said McMillan of Young. “The ball wouldn’t fall for him but he stayed with it. He’s a tough kid and I thought he established a tempo that we needed to get a win tonight. I thought he established that tempo early in the game, he stayed with it, his shot started to eventually fall for him. He missed some shots, it could’ve been the shoulder, I really don’t know because some of those same shots he missed in the first half he started to knock down in the second half.”

Young finished with 25 points on 8-of-26 shooting from the field to go along with those incredible 18 assists with just two turnovers. Young’s fantastic retention of the ball highlighted the Hawks’ general ball security in Game 4, committing just four turnovers on the game — a season-best on that side of the ball.

“It is (the stat of the game). That’s something they hang their hat on defensively, being able to turn you over, get out in transition,” said Huerter of the Hawks’ four turnovers. “Something we talked about coming into this series, it’s been a big key for us is taking care of the ball. Four turnovers, I don’t know if that’s a season-low but it feels like it. So in a must-win game at home with everything like this on the line, to have four turnovers is pretty good, especially for us.”

“I think the biggest key is the fact that they didn’t get out in transition because we were taking care of the ball,” added McMillan. “Only four turnovers is major for us. We’re getting possessions, shots at the basket. I thought that was a big key. Your transition defense a lot of times starts with your offense. If you’re shooting quick shots and turning the ball over it’s tough to get back and get stops in transition defense. We didn’t do that tonight. We took care of the ball, we did a good job of making them work defensively, shot selection was much better tonight where we had a balanced floor and we could get back in transition. It really started with good execution offensively, taking care of that basketball but working harder to keep the ball in front of us tonight.”

As Huerter put it, to produce that performance when it comes to turnovers in a must win game is hugely impressive and the Hawks needed every bit of it because they missed a lot of shots last night. That said, the Hawks did just enough to get the job done. They were helped by Embiid’s injury problems and a poor game from Ben Simmons but the Hawks deserve credit for their spirit in a very competitive and physical contest, as well as a mental challenge too.

“I think they continue to show growth in all areas,” said McMillan. “This was a mental challenge for our guys. We talked about that after Game 3 when we dropped that game and we looked a little beat up. This is a mental challenge, just as much mental as it is physical. I thought our guys responded tonight with great effort, lots of energy, they played with urgency but I thought the execution on both ends of the floor was really good. I felt we were connected out on the floor tonight.”


The Hawks (tied 2-2) are back in action on Wednesday when the series shifts to Philadelphia for a pivotal Game 5.

Should be a fascinating contest.

Until next time...