The Atlanta Hawks notched their fifth straight win on Wednesday night against the visiting Sacramento Kings at State Farm Arena, 121-104.
Onyeka Okongwu and Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks in scoring with 18 a piece, while Trae Young scored 17 points and dished out 10 assists.
For the Kings — on the second night of a back-to-back and without De’Aaron Fox and Terence Davis — Harrison Barnes scored 28 points, rookie Davion Mitchell added 20 points.
Heading into this game, the focus was more so on the Kings than the Hawks; the Kings coming off of a spectacular 53 point loss in Boston on Tuesday night. However, the early stages of the game showed the potential trap-game scenario as the Kings opened a 14 point lead in the first quarter, looking the sharper and brighter of the two sides offensively, the Hawks struggling to a 9-of-21 shooting quarter, including 1-of-10 from three-point range.
The Kings began the second quarter with a double-digit lead but it was quickly eviscerated as the Hawks — led by their second unit — would go on to outscore the Kings 46-17 in the second quarter (a season-high from the Hawks in any quarter this season) to completely flip the game on its head, from which the Kings would never recover from.
Let’s take a look at some of the plays from the second unit — mostly Delon Wright, Lou Williams, Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and Okongwu — whose intensity was a much-needed departure from that of the first unit in the first quarter.
Here, the Hawks move the ball well between Williams and Bogdanovic, who launches a three-point attempt which is missed but Okongwu crashes the glass and fires the ball back out to Bogdanovic who hits the three:
Off of a missed three from Buddy Hield, the Hawks push in transition with Bogdanovic, who gets into the paint before finding the trailing Williams for a three-pointer:
Bogdanovic scored 13 of his 18 points in the second quarter, including three three-pointers and this impressive drive inside for the basket at the rim:
Delon Wright also got in on the action with this step in transition for the basket at the rim:
The Hawks were also able to turn defense into offense in the second quarter, as Wright hustles to the floor to collect the poor dribble from Hield from which Bogdanovic picks up the loose ball, finds Williams at the three-point who lobs the ball up to the onrushing Okongwu and the second year big finishes with authority:
Okongwu is active defensively on this possession as he knocks away Tyrese Haliburton’s intended pass inside, one which Gallinari collects the ball and pushes up the court, finds Bogdanovic on the wing who in turn finds Okongwu, who catches the ball while simultaneously spinning past Hield to finish at the rim:
Such an impressive move by Okongwu, incredibly fluid motion and finish.
In general, the Hawks’ defense in the second quarter was impressive.
Here, Williams sits in the defensive stance before he hustles to get around the screen to put up a good contest on Haliburton’s jumpshot:
Gallinari moves his feet well on this possession before contesting Haliburton’s three:
On the Haliburton drives off of the double-drag screen, Haliburton kicks the ball back out to the perimeter to Harrison Barnes. Williams attempts to go for the steal and when Barnes attacks the paint, Bogdanovic looks to slide in to take the charge before Barnes kicks the ball to the corner to Haliburton, whose three-point attempt is well contested by Bogdanovic:
This is the kind of urgency that the Hawks have often been missing on defense this season and Bogdanovic hustles well on this possession.
With Barnes guarded by Williams in a mismatch on single-coverage defense, Okongwu is alert to the danger on the spin from Barnes, plugging an easy scoring opportunity at the rim before contesting the shot:
On both ends of the floor, the second unit were excellent and once the starters returned for the remainder of the second quarter they returned with improved play from their first quarter stint to establish a double-digit lead and a 17 point lead heading into the second half.
The Hawks went on to quickly establish a 20 point lead in the third quarter before pushing it to 30 points towards the latter stages of the third quarter. While the Kings immediately reduced the deficit to 23 with a 7-0 run, the Hawks remained in control for the majority of the second half as they eased to a fifth straight victory.
The story of the game, however, was the Hawks’ bench, who scored a season-best 70 points — Williams, Okongwu and Bogdanonvic combining for 51 points.
“I thought they gave us a lift,” said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan. “Our first unit started off slow and the second unit came in and established the defense, was able to get some stops and get out in transition. They had a really good chemistry even though Bogi hasn’t really played with that unit a lot. It was good to see those guys play well.”
Bogdanovic’s return off the bench was notable, having missed the last five games due to a knee injury and scored 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field. McMillan praised both Bogdanovic’s aggressiveness as well as the rest of the second unit’s aggressiveness, picking up defensively where the starting unit failed to start the game.
“I thought he was aggressive,” said McMillan of Bogdanovic. “I thought all of our guys in the second unit were really aggressive, they had a chemistry playing off of each other but I liked the fact they established the defense. They got some stops, we started to get pressure on the ball. I thought the first six, seven minutes of the first quarter we really had no pressure on the ball and Sacramento was doing whatever they wanted to do, go wherever they wanted to go. But the second unit came in and gave us a big lift.”
“We love playing with Bogi,” added Okongwu. “He knows how to play basketball, plays the right way. We get good energy from Bogi, it’s always fun playing with him.”
The starters did play much better when the second unit exited the game in the second quarter and while Young was the only starter to score double-digits the starers did not play very heavy minutes last night as the game was quickly blown-open in the second half.
Williams enjoyed one of his better games of the season, scoring 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field. Williams has been playing to a much higher standard of late than he had been for much of the first half of the season and the Hawks are benefitting.
First 27 games for Lou Williams before falling out of the rotation:— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) January 27, 2022
46.5% TS, -5.7 net rating on the court, 17.2% AST
Last 6 games for Lou Williams after rejoining the rotation:
68.1% TS, +15.0 net rating, 30.3% AST
“He came in last year and was a guy who provides some scoring, made some big shots when we needed a bucket, he was the guy delivering,” began McMillan on Lou Williams. “This first half of the season he was without some of the guys that he was playing with last year. He was playing a different role, Delon became the backup (point guard), he was playing off of the ball. I thought he was trying to allow other guys to get involved and as I told him, ‘We need Lou to be Lou.’ His ability to score, his ability to create offense for us, make decisions with the basketball; we want him out there being aggressive. Normally what we try to do is play through him or Gallo. Having Bogi or Kevin (Huerter) out there gives you another option. I like the fact he’s getting back to being aggressive, looking to put the ball in the basket.”
Okongwu was another member of the bench to provide immense energy off of the bench as he, again, showcased his credentials on both ends of the floor, scoring 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 6-of-7 from the free throw line and a game-high plus-22.
There’ll be some who will object to Okongwu returning to the bench as Clint Capela returns to the starting lineup but with Okongwu’s level of play added to the second unit, the Hawks’ bench — who underperformed for most of the first half of the season — is bolstered significantly and the Hawks are now finally enjoyed the benefits of a fully healthy roster and a deep roster: one of the advantages praised by many heading into the season.
“I think it is getting healthy,” said McMillan of the improved bench play. “I think they’re in better shape. A lot of these guys started the season—our conditioning I didn’t think was good enough, then all of a sudden we have injuries and COVID and all those guys are coming back from that and the conditioning was just not there. It takes you to be good shape to play both offense and defense and play the pressure defense we want to play and then get up and down the floor offensively. I think they’re in better shape than they were to start and the chemistry is getting better the more they play with each other.”
“Second unit, we’re always playing together and we know each other’s tendencies,” added Okongwu.
McMillan talked about the Hawks’ conditioning often during the preseason and his concerns were more than justified. The Hawks are finally beginning to gain some traction on their season which, for many reasons, hasn’t gone to plan so far and the return of multiple and key rotation members has not only helped the Hawks’ starting lineup but also their bench as those who had to step up into the starting lineup return to the bench.
Now, the Hawks have won five straight games as they begun a five game homestand with their victory last night as they continue to make up ground on the rest of the Eastern Conference, now half a game back on the play-in tournament and six games adrift off of an automatic playoff berth.
“We’re a playoff team and we’re starting to play like one,” said Okongwu.
The Hawks (22-25) are back in action on Friday night against the Boston Celtics (25-24) at State Farm Arena.
The Celtics are not only one of the teams the Hawks are looking to overtake in the East but it marks one of a number of important tests during this homestand, with visits from the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns to come very soon.
Nevertheless, Friday’s contest against the Celtics could prove to be one of the more important games on the Hawks’ schedule.
Until next time...