The Atlanta Hawks ran their winning streak to seven games as they came from behind to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 129-121 at State Farm Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Trae Young led the Hawks with 36 points and 12 assists, while John Collins added 20 points and 11 rebounds.
For the Lakers — without LeBron James — Malik Monk scored 33 points, behind eight three-pointers, to go with 10 rebounds. Anthony Davis added 27 points.
The Lakers entered this contest knowing that they, no matter the result, were heading home; their final game of a six game road trip taking place in Atlanta. They also entered this contest as notable underdogs as the Hawks were favored to win this game. The Lakers, however, made it known early that this would not be an ‘easy’ game for the hosts.
The Lakers shot 71% from the floor in the first half and enjoyed a lot of success at the rim in the first half, shooting 88% at the rim, en-route to 71 first half points.
The Hawks were able to keep relative place with the Lakers but trailed by nine points heading into the second half. The Lakers found themselves with their first double-digit lead early in the third quarter but the Hawks responded well after the Lakers established that lead to retake the lead.
Then the good work the Hawks had accomplished slipped away as a rough end to the third quarter — not helped by some of the questionable officiating at times — led to the Lakers re-establishing their double-digit lead to end the third quarter, leaving the Hawks with a lot of work to do if they were to extend their winning streak.
The Hawks’ response to begin the fourth quarter was immediate, and arguably the most important run of the game as the home side made early inroads into that 10 point lead and laid the groundwork for when Young returned to the game with 9:30 left.
More specifically, it was Bogdan Bogdanovic who gave the Hawks life to begin the fourth quarter; his imprint on the Hawks’ comeback might not get the full appreciation compared to Young and Onyeka Okongwu (as we’ll soon see) but Bogdanovic got the ball rolling in the final frame.
To begin, Bogdanovic brings the deficit down to single digits as he hits the long jumper:
Bogdanovic links up with Okongwu in the pick-and-roll as the second year big dives to the rim for the alley-oop:
Bogdanovic slices further into the lead himself with a transition three-pointer as he pulls down the rebound and hits the above-the-break three to reduce the Lakers’ lead to four points:
Bogdanovic and Okongwu again link up in the pick-and-roll, and Davis contests Bogdanovic’s apparent shot, Bogdanovic lifts a pass inside for Okongwu for another alley-oop:
The Lakers’ help defense from the wings, or lack thereof (from Austin Reaves and Carmelo Anthony) really hurt them on pick-and-rolls like this where Davis is occupied up-top.
Now very much back in the game, the Hawks’ offense from this point forward became mostly about Young and Okongwu.
Okongwu scored 12 points in the fourth quarter alone as his athleticism shone magnificently, leaping bounds above the Lakers’ defense in multiple scenarios.
On this possession, Young has Davis on a switch and when Okongwu comes over to set the screen, Young uses his arrival as his cue to launch a three-pointer. The three itself is off-line but Okongwu strolls into the paint and rises above everyone to thunder home the offensive put-back:
Faced with Davis on the baseline this time, Young attempts to break him down off of the dribble, is forced to give the ball to Bogdanovic in the opposite corner, whose touch-pass back to Young frees him in the corner for the three-pointer:
Although Davis was the one guarding Young initially, Stanley Johnson probably should be the one to switch onto Young and ensure he doesn’t end up with this sort of look.
On the feed from Lou Williams this time, Okongwu is found on the roll and is able to roll down the lane to finish at the rim:
Statue-esque defending from Davis here as he essentially watched Okongwu roll to the rim.
This time, Young is guarded by Monk as the floor is cleared for the All-Star to go to work. Johnson wanders into the paint and away from Okongwu momentarily and Young throws the oop for him, which Okongwu collects and finishes on the other side of the rim:
As the Lakers respond with a three, the Hawks come down the floor with Young in a tie game. Reaves picks up Young as he crosses the floor and looks to blow-by him with haste, drawing Johnson away from Okongwu and Young throws the lob for the emphatic Okongwu dunk to re-take the lead:
From here, Young took over proceedings, first hitting this step-back long two-pointer:
With a three point lead with just over two minutes to go, Young takes a very poor three-point attempt and this three-point attempt moments later is arguably worse but, despite that and the contest from Russell Westbrook, Young gets the friendly bounce as he hits the dagger three:
This was a really poor shot selection but Young nor Hawks fans will care, and they seal the game from the free throw line.
In total, Bogdanovic seven points and dished out three assists in the full 12 minutes in the fourth quarter, Okongwu was a perfect 6-for-6 as he scored 12 points in the fourth in the full 12 minutes and Young scored 13 points and dished out three assists in the final frame as the Hawks outscored the Lakers 38-20.
The Hawks shot 68% from the field in the final quarter compared to the Lakers’ 31.8% as they probably tried to ride the momentum and hot shooting of Monk, who shot 3-of-8 in the final quarter (but did shoot 3-of-7 from three).
On the balance of play, the Lakers were arguably the better side on the night for more of the game than the Hawks were but when it counted in the fourth quarter the Hawks were able to produce the plays they needed on both sides of the ball but particularly offensively where they returned to some of the avenues of success they had in the first quarter with Clint Capela and Collins near the rim, with Okongwu feasting at the rim in the fourth.
Postgame, Hawks head coach Nate McMillan described the Hawks as ‘emotionally drunk’ in the first half, and their ability to settle themselves down in the fourth quarter led to their breakthrough.
“I thought we settled down,” said McMillan on the difference in the fourth quarter. “I thought we started to calm ourselves down and got back focus on what we wanted to do. We talk about our ‘Three C’s.’ Being calm, being clear about what we need to do, and being connected out there. I thought we got that in the fourth quarter and we settled down. I thought the hype of the game, playing the Lakers in that first half I think we were playing emotionally drunk out there. We were so in attack mode that we weren’t seeing clearly what we needed to do. We were turning the ball over like crazy in the first half, I think we had nine turnovers, we only had three or four in the third quarter and had zero in the fourth. Our defense showed up in time in that fourth quarter giving up 20 points. We did a good job of executing down the stretch and scoring the ball. I thought both units, again, played well. Lou and Onyeka, Gallo, Bogi; they gave us a lift again.”
“We were just able to figure it out,” added Collins. “That’s what we need to do more of is slow down, read the matchup, read what’s open and try to make the right play, which we did tonight.”
Young disagreed with McMillan’s ‘emotionally drunk’ assessment, nor did Young — often on the end of some tough calls this afternoon — particularly care for official Tony Brothers’ lectures during the game.
“We can agree to disagree,” said Young on McMillan’s ‘emotionally drunk’ comment. “Me and Nate, we do that a lot. It’s good. I think sometimes we disagree, I disagree with that. I think my emotions with certain people start with other people most of the time. When Tony Brothers mentions to me how many years he’s reffed this league I don’t give a damn. That just gets me fired up. I don’t think I’m emotionally drunk, I’m just competitive. I think it brings the best out of me and my teammates and ultimately it did.”
In general, the officiating left a little to be desired on Sunday afternoon. Not to harp on about it for too long — because it’s a thankless job — but it wasn’t brilliant at times, particularly from Brothers. Young commenting what he did about Brothers probably doesn’t help long term when Brothers takes on another Atlanta game but alas...
Young finished with 36 points on 12-of-22 from the field, 4-of-10 from three and 8-of-11 at the free throw line. A few uncharacteristic free throw misses and some questionable shots at times (in addition to six turnovers) but a game that many come to expect from Young, now a two-time All-Star.
Young is also continuing to build his chemistry with Okongwu and that hasn’t changed despite Okongwu returning to the bench.
“I’m definitely learning (his tendencies) and our chemistry is growing and getting better the more we play this game with each other,” said Young of Okongwu. “Got to continue to get better. He’s a smart player. Our connection and chemistry is going to keep getting better.”
Again, the topic of conversation on Capela vs. Okongwu continues to rage on. Capela played a solid game on Sunday afternoon and Okongwu played a good game off the bench. The old adage of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ rings true here, especially during a seven game win streak, with McMillan alluding to a similar sentiment last week when it came to Bogdanovic coming off of the bench.
Speaking of that bench unit, the 5-man lineup of Delon Wright, Williams, Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and Okongwu have posted a plus-24 in just 32 minutes together in two games played. Not a huge sample size but there’s enough there to continue to roll with to see if the Hawks truly have something there. In a playoff scenario, all-bench units shouldn’t really be something people see but McMillan did do it last season after all.
Without James, this is of course a different Lakers side but the Hawks did well to recover from a double-digit fourth quarter deficit to take victory and now run their streak to seven games and have jumped back into the play-in seeds, rising to 10th in the Eastern Conference.
The confidence, you can sense, is growing once again.
“If our mindset is right I believe that if we get stops and we focus on the defensive end — there’s going to be some nights where our offense just isn’t there — our defense can help us win that game,” said Young. “We’ve had that mindset like we’ve been having these last seven games, even nine games — the first two we lost — I think we have a good chance of winning any night.”
“We just know that, now, we have what it takes to win games,” added Okongwu. “No matter how much we’re down, no matter how the game is going, as long as we lock in and play how we play we can beat anybody.”
The Hawks face a test tomorrow as they are in action again on Monday night against the Toronto Raptors (24-23), where they can not only return to .500 but also gain ground against an opponent just above them in the standings, the Raptors sitting in eighth position.
Should be interesting. Until next time...