The Atlanta Hawks notched a second consecutive victory as they defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 134-122 on Wednesday night at State Farm Arena.
Trae Young led the way with a remarkable 37 points and 14 assists display, while De’Andre Hunter added 22 points as he continues his fine form. For the Timberwolves, D’Angelo Russell scored 31 points, Anthony Edwards added 20 points before his ejection mid-way through the third quarter.
The Hawks started the game slow in a few regards, especially on the glass and in transition as the Wolves — on the second night of a back-to-back — began affairs as the much more lively side as they quickly ran out to a double-digit lead before scoring 42 first quarter points. The Wolves held a double-digit lead for most of the second quarter, entering the halftime break with a 12 point lead.
Trailing by 12 points to begin any half/quarter is always a precarious situation in the NBA as a quick run for the opposition (and a cold start for one side/a hot start for another) can put the game in blowout territory, or a lead that is too far to recover from. Not so last night. The game flipped in the third quarter as the Hawks came out of the locker-room with a vigour that the Wolves could not match. Something that the Hawks have struggled to do for much of this season is create turnovers/procure steals but they did this to great effect — as well as capitalizing on said steals on the other end of the floor — to start the third quarter as the Hawks went on a 20-2 run to take their first lead in this game.
Let’s take a look at some of these instances.
To start, Karl-Anthony Towns is pressured by Onyeka Okongwu and when he finds himself off of the floor and forced to get rid of the ball before he comes down, Towns has to force a pass which floats out of bounds for a Wolves turnover:
To respond, Young weaves around an Okongwu screen and hits his second three of the quarter, having hit one at the start of the third quarter:
The Hawks come up with a stop this time as Okongwu challenges Jaden McDaniels at the rim and the challenge from John Collins on Towns’ offensive rebound attempt comes off of Towns and out of bounds to the Hawks:
The Hawks are a little fortunate on their next offensive trip as Young’s pass comes back to him and on his second opportunity he delivers the ball to De’Andre Hunter in the corner for another three:
A Russell and Okongwu basket later, the Wolves struggle again on offence as Russell is unable to find Towns, who stumbles over Kevin Huerter, and the turnover is committed. The Hawks pick up the loose ball with Hunter, who finds Huerter to cut the Wolves lead to one point and a Wolves timeout; their lead eviscerated:
However, said timeout did little to solve the Wolves’ issues as Russell commits another turnover out of the timeout:
Okongwu did a great job here disrupting Towns’ space on the entry pass to help create that turnover.
The Hawks, again, ensure they punish the Wolves for their turnovers as Hunter gets Towns back-pedaling on the drive and hits the floater to give the Hawks their first lead:
The Wolves’ struggles continue as Edwards’ three is missed and the Hawks run out and score in transition as Young finds the unmarked Collins for the transition dunk:
The Hawks’ defense continued to fuel their offense as Collins is credited for the block on Jared Vanderbilt, with Young rescuing possession:
The Hawks run their lead to six as Young backs out and hits a three over Towns:
Young scored 23 points in the third quarter alone, hitting five three-pointers while dishing out four assists in the quarter as the Hawks scored 45 points in total (after much confusion and review at the end of the third quarter), outscoring the Wolves 45-20 to flip the game on its head.
In addition to the Hawks hitting their stride in the third, Edwards was ejected to add insult to injury for the visitors after being hit with two quick-fire technical fouls.
The Hawks found themselves in the same situation at the start of the fourth quarter that the Wolves faced at the start of the third quarter but the Hawks were the ones to make that quick burst to begin the fourth quarter to throw the game open.
A steal from Collins as Naz Reid fumbles the ball fuels the fastbreak and the finish from Delon Wright:
A three from Danilo Gallinari after a missed Reid three puts the Hawks up by 18 points and in total control:
The Wolves made a late push to reduce the gap to six points but two Young free throws and a highlight nutmeg ices the game for the Hawks as they picked up a deserved victory for their second half efforts.
“That’s the way you hope your team responds to a challenge,” said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan postgame. “I thought we were playing on our heels in that first half and not applying any pressure to the basketball. We allowed them to do whatever they wanted to do: reverse the ball, isolate, score over the top. They scored in pretty much every way you can imagine in that first half. Second half, we did better challenging every catch, every dribble and getting pressure and disrupting their rhythm. I thought that led to probably our best third quarter scoring 45. It started on the defensive end of the floor.”
McMillan is absolutely correct when he says defense fuelled the Hawks’ offense. The stops they generated in the third quarter led to their good work offensively, whether it was the Wolves’ turnovers — which the Hawks did a good job forcing — or the Hawks’ own stops.
Young praised the defensive energy in the second half while acknowledging that the starters didn’t bring that energy to begin the game and praised the second unit for keeping the Hawks in the game in the first half.
“I think the energy on our defensive end was great in the second half,” said Young. “Start of the game, I think the starters didn’t do a great job. I’ve got to do a better job coming out of the gate leading and giving our guys more energy but I think our second unit did a great job of getting us back into the game and even keeping it around 10. We got into halftime, really just wanted to flip the narrative and bring some energy so that’s what we did.”
Gallinari’s efforts in the first half comes to mind when Young mentioned keeping the lead around 10 points. Particularly at the start of the second half, Gallinari kept the Hawks close and enjoyed another solid game, scoring 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field and 3-of-7 from three.
Gallinari played crunch time in the Hawks’ last outing against the Bucks in place of Collins but normal service was resumed as Collins’ defensive role also changed during this game.
McMillan discussed the adjustment the Hawks made at halftime that saw Okongwu and Collins switch roles with Okongwu guarding Towns and Collins taking more of a help defender role, McMillan describing Okongwu as a little ‘confused’ with the off-ball/help assignment.
“The way we played them last game, we played Clint off the ball, John did a pretty solid job of guarding Towns and we wanted our 5-man to be a help defender,” explained McMillan. “I thought O got a little confused with how to play off the ball and give help. We switched that rotation in the second half and put him on Towns to allow him to guard the ball and John became the help defender. He is much better guarding the big and he’s done that in the last few games so we switched the matchups and put O on Towns and he did a solid job of staying attached, guarding him, keeping him off the block. I thought that, along with the rest of our guys applying pressure changed things.”
It was clear to see this yielded results; we’ve looked at a number of plays where Okongwu disrupted Towns and in the third quarter alone Okongwu registered four of his career-best five blocks. Collins himself blocked two shots in the third quarter alone.
Okongwu’s high level of play continues as Clint Capela sat once again due to an ankle injury but McMillan was clear as to who his starting center is when Capela returns to the court.
“Clint is our starter,” McMillan affirmed. “Onyeka, I think he makes us stronger. Do we have to go there right away? We’ll see but he’s done some good things, his play will challenge Clint to get out there and play because Clint is seeing what this young guy is doing and he can come in and play. Clint is our starting 5. We’ll see when Clint comes back how we work him back into the lineup.”
In his last two games Okongwu has taken the defensive challenge of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Towns and has impressed in both outings against some of the league’s elite offensive talents despite being undersized at the center position. Young also highlighted Capela’s importance to the defense but in doing so outlined the next step for Okongwu to take as a defensive leader.
“Clint is the back-line of our defense and he’s always talking, I think that’s the next step for O is being more communicative,” said Young.
There will be a section of the fanbase that will not be happy when Capela returns to the starting lineup over Okongwu but the Hawks’ depth will certainly be bolstered as he comes off the bench and the more defensive looks/options McMillan has at his disposal the better that will be for the Hawks, and with Capela and Okongwu, as well as Collins, McMillan certainly has all sorts of defensive options and looks, as well as a much better-looking of late Gallinari to compliment on offense.
Most of the Hawks that played last night played very good/solid games. Hunter scored another 22 points, Collins notched a double-double, Huerter dished out six assists as the Hawks dished out a season-high 34 assists. All five starters scored in double-digits, the Hawks shot 52% from the field, just under 40% from three and attempted 33 free throws.
Of course, at the heart of it was Young who scored 37 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field, 6-of-10 from three, 11-of-11 from the free throw line to go along with 14 assists. Young’s fantastic season continues to seemingly go from strength-to-strength as his second All-Star nod beckons.
After a slow start because of the rule change, this is Trae’s last 31 games:— StatMuse (@statmuse) January 20, 2022
39 3P% on 8.1 attempts
He had 37 points and 14 assists tonight. pic.twitter.com/A4yV2Du1rn
All-in-all, a good win for the Hawks though they’ll want to avoid falling into holes as they did last night and conceding 122 points won’t win games every night, but last night their in-game adjustments, strong team-wide contributions and Young’s outburst in the third quarter sent the Hawks on their way as they continue their home-happy schedule.
The Hawks (20-25) are back in action on Friday as they seek revenge against the Miami Heat (29-16) at State Farm Arena.
Until next time...