The Atlanta Hawks won the first of their two consecutive games in Detroit with a 118-113 victory over the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday night.
Trae Young led all scorers with 35 points while John Collins added 19 points. For the Pistons, Bojan Bogdanovic poured out 33 points behind six three-pointers, Cade Cunningham scored 26 points.
With the Pistons entering this contest on the second night of a back-to-back — after being steamrolled by Washington — the first part of the first quarter unfolded as perhaps expected as the Hawks ran out to a double-digit lead as Trae Young picked apart the Pistons in the pick-and-roll en route to 16 first quarter points.
The Pistons’ second unit did a good job reducing the deficit and once they cut into the lead and made a game of it and even stretched a lead as far as eight points in the third quarter.
This time it was the turn of the Hawks’ second unit to reduce the Pistons’ lead, the Hawks’ bench doing a great job to begin the fourth quarter to keep the offense rolling with Trae Young on the bench. Aaron Holiday scored five points and dished out two assists in the fourth, Jalen Johnson hit a three-pointer and Onyeka Okongwu came up with a block.
With 6:29 remaining in the fourth, a Jalen Duren dunk puts the Pistons ahead 100-99, prompting Hawks head coach Nate McMillan to call a timeout. A 9-0 run from Atlanta put them in control of this game, so let’s take a look at that stretch.
Dejounte Murray gets the Hawks on the board splitting a pair of free throws after drawing this foul from Cory Joseph:
Clint Capela — who checked into the game during the Murray free throws — made his impact immediately as he blocks the drive from Joseph at the rim:
Following on from that block, Young finds Murray, who slips the bounce-pass to John Collins who glides through the air to finish at the rim:
Collins makes an impact on the defensive end on the following possession, contesting the Bogdanovic mid-range and forcing the miss:
After a Young lob to Clint Capela is broken up for a turnover, the Hawks return the favor as Cunningham’s attempted lob is disrupted by the onrushing John Collins, creating a turnover:
The Hawks come the other way with De’Andre Hunter, who drives into the lane as the Pistons get back and scores at the rim, plus the foul:
While Hunter missed the free throw, the Hawks again come up with another defensive stop as Collins contests the corner three from Isaiah Stewart draws air:
The Hawks would extend their lead to six points as Hunter gets downhill off of the Capela hand-off and his runner of the glass is good:
Again, the Hawks produce another defensive stop as Murray avoids the Stewart screen to contest and block the Cunningham jumper:
Capela again makes his mark as he grabs the offensive rebound for Young’s three-pointer, as well as his own miss, before hitting a reverse layup high off glass to give the Hawks an eight point lead:
Bojan Bogdanovic struck from downtown to bring the Hawks’ lead to five points and McMillan took another timeout. Bogdanovic would hit another three-pointer after a number of Hawks missed shots and a split pair of free throws from Hunter to reduce the lead to six points and then hit another three-pointer to bring it to three points.
The next swing was arguably the most important of the game. Collins is blocked by Cunningham, who races away in transition to score what will be a certain basket to reduce the lead to one but Collins makes up for his error and emphatically blocks Cunningham at the rim:
Nate McMillan would call this the play of the game, while Collins was determined to make amends for the previous possession.
“I was just mad as hell I got that turnover,” said Collins of the play via Annie Finberg of the Hawks. “So I wanted to make up for it in any way I could. I had no doubt in my mind I wasn’t getting that one. Another block for me.”
The Hawks restore a two-possession lead as Bogdanovic tries to garner a charge call on Murray, doesn’t get it, and Murray leans in for the easy layup:
Just when it looks as though the Hawks are in relatively clear air again, out of the Pistons timeout Bogdanovic hits a three-pointer and is fouled by Hunter, who fouls out of the game:
The Hawks are able to restore some parity as Joseph fouls Young on the rip-through, giving Young two free throws and a three point lead:
The Hawks catch a break as Saddiq Bey misses both free throws on the other end, and the Hawks punish the Pistons for this, with Young’s attempted lob for Capela guided by Capela to Collins to put the Hawks up five points:
To seal the deal, Capela blocks the drive from Cunningham at the rim, forcing the Pistons to play the foul game:
Bogdanovic did have one more three left in the locker to bring it to a three point game, but Young iced both free throws at the line to give the Hawks a five point margin they would hold onto.
Quite the fourth quarter for the Hawks, who made their run and then came up with a number of defensive plays and blocks and they needed every single one of them. Had they not come up with some of the plays they did when they did, the Bogdanovic outburst could have easily flipped this game on its head. As such, the Hawks had enough of a buffer to withstand Bogdanovic’s 13 points and four three pointers.
It also speaks to the depth of the roster to make plays and still be able to come out with the win.
The Hawks’ two predominant ball handlers did not shoot well in the fourth quarter, with Murray shooting 1-of-5 in fourth quarter while Young was 0-of-2. But the Hawks had enough help across the board between the bench play earlier in quarter, De’Andre Hunter attacking the rim for five fourth quarter points, John Collins scoring another four points to go with a steal and a block, and Clint Capela producing two blocks.
The entire nine-man rotation played in the fourth quarter and only Justin Holiday went scoreless, with Aaron Holiday and Hunter leading the way with five points.
Postgame, McMillan reflected on a better performance from the Hawks after a dud at home on Sunday evening, McMillan pleased with his side’s defense and improved ball movement, as well as the second unit.
“Tonight, I thought we were solid for the 48 minutes,” said McMillan postgame via Bally Sports. “We didn’t play perfect basketball but I felt we were locked into our game-plan. Defensively, we did a good job making them work and contesting everything. We didn’t really give up big quarters tonight as we did in our last game and we were pretty consistent with that. Offensively, we had better ball movement, did a better job of taking care of the basketball, tonight we had balanced scoring with that starting unit. I thought both units played good basketball. In the second half I thought our second unit came in and gave us good minutes.”
The bench in second half was impressive, especially in that fourth quarter. Holiday and Onyeka Okongwu both scored 10 points to lead that effort. Okongwu had a bit of an up-and-down game at times but that was Holiday’s best outing in a Hawks jersey so far.
While the Hawks bench played well last night, I think it’s still fair to have concerns about their bench, and McMillan is still having to lean very heavily on Young (playing just under 38 minutes) and Murray (39 minutes) in particular. At the moment, Murray is averaging 39 minutes, Young and Collins both averaging 36 minutes per game — McMillan hopes to find a way that involves playing some of his starters fewer minutes.
“We’re still working on rhythm, and a chemistry and rotation,” said McMillan. “I want to find a way to give our starters less minutes. They’re playing pretty heavy minutes in these first few games. Coming up with a rotation that we can have a balanced rotation is what we’re looking for but it certainly helps when our second unit comes in and gives us good minutes so we can rest some of our starters.”
McMillan was again asked about AJ Griffin postgame in the context of three-point shooting, with McMillan alluding to matchups as the reason Griffin didn’t play. The Hawks’ three-point percentage was a little better last night, Atlanta shooting 8-of-22 for 36%. That said, there has only been one game in the entire NBA so far this season in which a team has shot fewer than 22 three-pointers, the Hawks are 29th in three-point attempts and 26th in percentage. Those numbers are not great, and the Pistons 14-of-32 showing from distance certainly played a part in this game being as close as it was.
Young and Murray again struggled from deep, with Murray shooting 2-of-6 from three, Young 1-of-7.
With Young, he was able to make up for this at the free throw line where he shot 16-of-17 and gave the Hawks a five point difference in free throw shooting (20-of-25) compared to the Pistons (who shot 15-of-22).
McMillan was pleased with Young’s decision-making last night, Young dishing out six assists with just one turnover as he finished with 35 points on 9-of-21 from the field.
“Really happy with his decision-making,” said McMillan of Young. “I thought he did a good job of managing the game. He did a good job of getting guys involved while staying aggressive and keeping pressure on their defense. I really was pleased with his play.”
Murray struggled from the field last night, scoring 14 points on 5-of-18 from the field but did add eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocks.
“He’s a playmaker,” said McMillan of Murray. “He’s trying to find his rhythm, we’re trying to find that chemistry out on the floor with both of those guys being able to playmake with the ball. The balance and the flow— ‘Where are you going to get your touches, what plays—’ all of that is still early. I thought De’Andre had another solid game of scoring so we have an opportunity to go to players that we feel we have a good matchup and allow those guys to play with the basketball. That is something that I think will come; our guys will continue to figure each other out, learn each other’s tendencies. I thought tonight, I liked the communication on the defensive end of the floor. We were pretty solid on the defensive end of the floor.”
Hunter did have a good game offensively, scoring 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting but did struggle with foul trouble, including what could have been a very costly foul on Bogdanovic’s four point play for his sixth foul. Collins was the one who had strong matchups for most of the game, scoring 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
Collins is currently averaging 2.3 blocks per game — currently in the NBA’s top 10 — as he continues to help shore up the backline with Capela (averaging two blocks per game), who also blocked four shots last night; all coming in the second half.
“Some games you just have to be patient, stay the course, keep talking keep bringing energy,” said Capela on his second half, via Bally Sports. “I was able to do it by blocking shots, grabbing rebounds and we end up winning the game. Just by being consistent defensively I always feel I make a big impact.”
Capela’s impact on this game — a plus-22 — was undeniable.
He was strangely held out for a period of the first half after he first went to the bench and didn’t return to the game before the end of the first quarter as he has done so far this season, but when he came in — while he missed some bunnies near the rim — he made life a lot more difficult for Isaiah Stewart (grabbing five offensive rebounds), the Pistons on-ball defenders on screens (eight screen assists leading to 17 points) and Cunningham at the rim.
Cunningham and Young were engaged in an entertaining first half where they score 22 and 23 points respectively. While Young would kick on to add another 12 points, Cunningham scored just four points in the second half.
“We saw that he was getting in the paint a lot and scoring over us so just trying to be more aggressive in the second half and make it hard for him,” said Capela of limiting Cunningham in the second half. “It worked really well tonight. Hopefully we’ll be able to stay consistent on it for the next game and hopefully we’re going to be able do it in the first quarter.”
The Hawks cleaned up on their turnovers compared to the Charlotte game, committing just 12 turnovers for the game, as well as shooting 49.5% from the field and their six steals/12 blocks outing means the Hawks are still top five in the NBA in both steals and blocks.
They may have expected a more definitive victory over the Pistons, who were on the second night of a back-to-back, and it will be interesting to see how the teams adjust for the second game in Detroit on Friday night.
Players were asked about this schedule quirk this season where a team plays two consecutive games on the road and if they viewed it similarly to the playoffs, but both Young and Capela said the Hawks were taking it one game at a time. While that may be true right now — two road games in October against the Pistons — but it could be very different in Miami in March.
A solid win for the Hawks, not spectacular by any means, but a win nevertheless.
The Hawks (3-1) are back in action again in Detroit on Friday in a rematch with the Pistons (1-4), who will not want to drop to 1-5 so early in the season.
Should be interesting.
Until next time...