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Hawks triumph on MLK Day behind fourth quarter comeback

The Hawks snap their 10-game home losing streak with a big win on MLK Day.

Milwaukee Bucks v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks returned to winning ways as they snapped both a five game losing streak and a 10-game home losing streak that stretched back to November 22nd with a 121-114 victory over the defending champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, on MLK Day in Atlanta.

Trae Young led the Hawks — without Clint Capela and Bogdan Bogdanovic — with 30 points and 11 assists while De’Andre Hunter added 20 points for the hosts. For the Bucks — without Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez — Khris Middleton scored a game-high 34 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 27 points.

The Hawks, still looking to get their season back on track, fell behind by double digits at multiple stages during this game: in the second quarter, the third quarter and the fourth quarter but in each of those instances the Hawks were able to reduce that deficit to under five points, highlighting that the fight has not left this side.

The Bucks took a 10 point lead (99-89) in the fourth quarter with 7:02 remaining after a George Hill layup leading to a Hawks timeout. It’s from here that the Hawks, again, cut into a double-digit deficit but the difference this time being that the Hawks were able to take a lead from it.

After free throws from Young and Antetokounmpo, the Hawks come again on offense with Young, who makes the short pass to Onyeka Okongwu who in turn passes the ball to the corner to Danilo Gallinari and he attacks the closeout, takes the hit as he converts the layup and draws the foul:

The Hawks come up with the defensive stop as Young anticipates the pass back to the perimeter when Middleton drives inside and comes up with the steal:

The Bucks put a lot of pressure on Young off of screens and sent help on drives when possible and when Hill and Pat Connaughton switch, Middleton keeps Gallinari close in his sights and Young punishes the Bucks with a pass to the open Kevin Huerter as Hill recovers after the screen, and Huerter hits the three:

After Middleton is fouled by Okongwu on a three pointer — and after Middleton hits all three free throws — the Hawks respond immediately as Young splits the defense and hits the floater:

This was a really important response from the Hawks having made a big three from Huerter the possession before only to have some of the life sucked out of the building with that foul on Middleton and those three free throws cancelling Huerter’s three out.

Middleton was the man for the Bucks last night on offense, scoring those 34 points on 50% shooting, but his pass for Antetokounmpo on the alley-oop is a tad long and the Hawks catch a break as they recover the ball:

Coming immediately the other way, Gallinari drives to the rim and draws the foul and free throws to reduce the Bucks’ lead to two points:

Middleton would go on to commit back-to-back turnovers as he’s called for a push-off on Hunter on the drive, returning the ball to the Hawks:

The Hawks take their first lead of the night as Young probes off of the screen before Huerter receives the ball, attacks the closeout and finds Gallinari for three to give the Hawks the lead:

The Hawks come up with their third consecutive stop as Okongwu does wonderfully to force a jump-ball as he challenges Antetokounmpo at the rim:

This is just a fantastic play from Okongwu, who was fantastic last night in general. He struggled at times with Antetokounmpo’s spins and pace but played this possession wonderfully.

After a made basket from Middleton and two free throws from Young, the Hawks catch a break as Antetokounmpo gets an open look at at a jumpshot near the baseline which is missed:

Antetokounmpo hit a few jumpshots last night and with how relatively close this was to the rim, the Hawks got lucky on this occasion.

The Hawks ensure they take advantage of these empty trips as Huerter and Gallinari exchange the ball and Huerter gets into the paint and hits the floater to give the Hawks a three point lead:

Again, the Hawks catch a break defensively as Middleton gets a great look at a three-pointer above the break as Hunter gets taken out of the play with the big Bobby Portis screen:

While the Hawks may have gotten fortunate at times that it was the Bucks’ missed opportunities more so than their own defense that got them stops, what the Hawks did do was make sure they scored off of those opportunities and, again, they do so the following possession as Young hits the deep three-pointer to give the Hawks a six point lead:

After Portis responds with a three for the Bucks, the Hawks are able to get into their offense with ease as Young jets by Hill and feeds the ball to Okongwu, who scores at the rim:

What Okongwu does really well here is slide in front of Antetokounmpo to box him out of the play, so to speak, and make Young’s choice an easy one as Portis has already rotated.

The Bucks attempt to respond with a pass from Middleton to Antetokounmpo on the roll but is challenged by Hunter and Okongwu, who come up with the deflection and the ball falls out of bounds back to the Hawks:

A missed three from Young and a split pair of Antetokounmpo free throws later, time is running out for the Bucks and a floater off of glass from Hunter all but ends their chances as the third year wing is found by Young:

A great first step from Hunter to get the jump on Grayson Allen here.

Young would go on to ice the game at the free throw line (taking his fourth quarter tally to 15 points, 10 of which came from the free throw line) and the Hawks secure a much-needed victory to end their respective losing streaks.

Postgame, Hawks head coach Nate McMillan praised both Okongwu’s defensive efforts on the floor on Antetokounmpo as well as Young’s handling of the offense in the fourth quarter.

“Execution on the defensive end of the floor, I thought we did a solid job,” said McMillan on what stood out to him in the fourth quarter. “Big O did a really nice job on Giannis, just keeping him in front and not allowing him to get to the rim. There was a few times where he was able to get to the rim and we had to send help but for the most part he did a solid job of being able to guard him with single coverage and it allowed us to stay with those perimeter shooters. Defensively that’s the defense we need to play in the second half. I thought offensively Trae did a really nice job of slowing down in the fourth quarter and getting what we wanted as far as our set calling and getting matchups that we wanted and we were able to finish this game.”

McMillan wasn’t the only one to draw notice of the Hawks slowing down and being more patient offensively.

“We got a lot of stops,” said Hunter. “We got stops and on the offensive end we took our time in the fourth quarter. Usually with five, four minutes left that’s when we start falling apart. I feel like today we did a lot better job running the plays and getting the matchups we wanted.”

The Hawks shot 52.9% from the field, 4-of-7 from three and 14-of-14 from the free throw line, with eight of the Hawks’ 10 field goals being assisted in the fourth quarter. The Bucks shot 8-of-18 from the field and committed seven turnovers, six of them coming from Middleton.

“We all knew we had to play pinpoint basketball,” said Okongwu. “Limit our mistakes, execute on both ends of the court, capitalize on defense. They’re a talented team offensively so we knew that we had to buckle down on defense.”

Speaking of Okongwu, he received a lot of plaudits for his display last night. Okongwu scored 12 points, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots and dished out three assists in just under 36 minutes. Okongwu was a presence on both ends of the floor but especially defensively as he guarded Antetokounmpo, who shot 8-of-20 from the field. In general, Okongwu was disruptive on the defensive end.

“He’s strong, he’s really strong,” said McMillan of Okongwu. “He understands leverage and he understands angles. He does a good job of getting leverage, getting underneath those guys so they’re not able to walk him or back him down. He’s very strong. He doesn’t have the size, that length but he understands leverage and he does a good job of keeping his body between man and basket. We’ve seen him be able to defend Giannis and a guy like Embiid but sometimes he needs some help. I thought tonight he did a solid job.”

Listed at 6’8, Okongwu is undersized as a center but is able to make up for that lack of size in other areas, with Young also praising Okongwu’s intelligence defensively.

“He’s a lot like me in a lot of ways,” said Young of Okongwu defensively. “We’re small but we’re smart. He’s small for his position as a big, and undersized, but he’s very smart. He knows angles, he knows when guys dunk they bring it back and he knows to go grab the ball. That was a big play when he got on the jump-ball with Giannis late in the game. I think he’s a very smart player and he’s only going to get better as the years go on. He’s a very cerebral player.”

“I’ve always been undersized playing basketball growing up,” added Okongwu himself. “My freshman year of high school up until now, I’ve always known how to play bigger guys and how to defend them. I feel I have the physical stature to guard these top players that are bigger than me overall. It’s always a mental thing, knowing how to guard, having a good IQ, knowing what to do on the defensive end on the fly.”

There’s a great thread on Twitter from Peachtree Hoops’ own @bowser2bowser that I thoroughly recommend, going into better detail than I could on Okongwu’s night last night:

As good as Okongwu was last night and as encouraging as his performance was against a top tier team, the Hawks certainly do still miss Capela, who missed his fifth straight game with an ankle injury.

Okongwu wasn’t the only one to enjoy a good game. Young’s 30 points and 11 assist game — as well as his 14-of-14 performance from the free throw line — obviously helped carry the Hawks in the fourth quarter offensively. Hunter may have struggled shooting the ball (6-of-17) but scored some timely baskets and got to the free throw line on six occasions, highlighting his aggression.

A lot of praise should go the way of Gallinari, who scored 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Gallinari played the entirety of the fourth quarter as the Hawks made their run and Gallinari essential to the Hawks’ comeback, scoring nine points in the fourth quarter. John Collins was left to cheer his teammates from the sideline as McMillan went with Gallinari and Okongwu in the front-court for crunch-time, playing just under three minutes in the final frame.

McMillan spoke of Collins’ support for his teammates when asked about the energy and urgency postgame.

“It starts with believing,” said McMillan. “You’ve got to believe you can win a game and I think we’ve had some doubt with all the guys being out for the last, really, two months. You’re looking at Clint is out, Bogi is out and we’ve been playing this way a lot this season and sometimes you can doubt that you have a chance to win the game. You’ve got to believe. You’ve got to believe you have a chance to win and then you have to go out there and perform. I thought tonight our guys did that. They were together, they were connected. We finished with a team we haven’t finished all season long with as far as Gallo, Onyeka, ‘Dre and Kevin. John was very supportive of his teammates being out there playing and finishing the game. That is what we need.”

Speaking of belief and doubt, it felt as though the Hawks just needed any win that came their way to snap those losing streaks, in many ways similar to how the Hawks ended their first west coast trip of the season where they went winless on the road and began a run at home. The Hawks enjoy a heavy-home schedule for the rest of the month and the need to take advantage of such a schedule is obvious. But this was a good start in that regard: a good comeback victory against one of the Eastern Conference favorites.

The Hawks (18-25) are back in action on Wednesday when the Minnesota Timberwolves (21-22) come to town. The Timberwolves will enter Atlanta on the second night of a back-to-back, taking on the New York Knicks at Maddison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

Until next time...