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Hawks forced to dig deep into their rotation in win against Magic

A straightforward game in terms of the scoreline but in the rotation it was a bit of a struggle for the visitors.

Atlanta Hawks v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks snapped their three game losing streak as they won comfortably in Orlando 125-108 on Wednesday night, extending the Magic’s losing streak to six.

Trae Young led the way with 30 points and 14 assists while his backcourt mate Dejounte Murray added 27 points. For the Magic, Franz Wagner scored 22 points while number one draft pick Paulo Banchero added 20 points.

The Hawks were in for a different night in their rotation before this game even began, with Jalen Johnson ruled out with right ankle soreness and Justin Holiday out due to health and safety protocols. The Hawks were then dealt more significant blows when De’Andre Hunter exited the game with right thigh soreness in the first quarter and would not return before John Collins sprained his ankle at the end of the first half and also would not return.

What the Hawks could be fortunate for is that this game was already well within their control by the time Collins sustained the injury and that was largely thanks to the Hawks’ domination in the paint, scoring 62 paints in the point.

Before we talk about the supporting cast the Hawks had to call upon, let’s look at some of the first half baskets to see how the Hawks excelled in the paint to pull away from Orlando, shooting 58.3% in the first half from the field and 80% at the rim.

You could actually narrow this down to the first quarter, where the Hawks made 16 field goals in total (all from inside the arc) and 13 of those came around the restricted area:

The Magic were without Wendell Carter Jr. and his absence was missed as the Magic lacked an intensity and attention to detail on defense coming out of the gate.

The Magic’s help defense is absent here as Clint Capela gets this shot to go against Banchero inside with Bol Bol — who averages 1.7 blocks per game, block-less in this game —taken away from the inside for most of this affair by John Collins:

As the Hawks come up with the steal, Murray attacks the paint but the Magic are too late to step up to him and this shot is right in Murray’s wheelhouse and it’s too easy for him to get to this spot:

Banchero can’t step up on this play because the lob threat to Capela opens up, so it has to be Wagner that has to do so in this case.

Banchero is on the hook for this next play though, as he softens his defensive help on the driving Trae Young, who gets to the rim coming off the Capela tag far too easily, and Bol Bol can’t get there in time to block the shot:

At the end of the first quarter, the Magic get their coverage all mixed up and it allows Capela basically a walk-through to the rim on the find from Young:

Between Mo Wagner and Admiral Schofield (still the best name in the NBA), a horrid way to end the quarter defensively.

Of course, there’s those instances where Young breaks down the defense and forces the collapse, and Young is excellent in this situations at finding his teammates, as he does here for Onyeka Okongwu as Young draws Bol Bol away from him before the dish:

On the switch onto Schofield, Young shifts gears to shed him before drawing Wagner away from the rim and Young finds Capela on the lob:

Young and Capela were a deadly force in the first quarter, combining for 20 of the Hawks’ 38 first quarter points, Capela scoring 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting.

Rolling to the rim off the screen to Murray, Capela receives the ball in his stride and covers ground wonderfully to finish at the rim with ease:

In the pick-and-roll with Young, Capela is left all alone in the paint at the rim and again you can see the Magic defense struggle with indecision and miscommunication as the guards (Markelle Fultz and Gary Harris) aren’t sure to switch to cover the rim and Banchero’s track-back is too slow and Capela ends up with an easy look at the rim off of a great find from Young:

Off of the double drag screen at the top, Capela just muscles through Schofield on the roll and the delivery of the bounce-pass from Young is perfect and Capela finishes with authority at the rim:

Again, a double screen causes the Magic all sorts of trouble and with no guard wanting to rotate, Capela is again free for a roll and finish off of the dime from Young:

An absolute domination from the Hawks in the paint and at the rim in the first quarter but the Magic did a much a better job of forcing the Hawks longer distance shots, and from that point of view their adjustment was successful the Hawks found other ways to score and found their footing from distance:

With McMillan reverting back to his preseason rotation of Young and Murray playing full quarters, Murray played all of the second quarter and was able to find a rhythm, scoring 12 points in the second on 5-of-11 shooting.

Young and Murray took over to end the first half: two threes from Murray — sandwiched by Capela free throws — a three from Young coming before a jumpshot and a reverse layup edged the Hawks to a 20 point lead heading into halftime. The offense to begin the second quarter had been slow in the second unit but the final 3:37 certainly ended in a flurry.

From that point on, the Hawks never really looked back. The lead dipped below 15 points just once in the second half but this was quickly remedied and the Hawks stretched the lead to as many as 25. While the Magic made a little run in the fourth to cut the lead to 15 on a few occasions (this was probably what prompted Hawks head coach Nate McMillan to keep his starters in for as long as he did), it never fell below that threshold and the Hawks eased to a 17 point victory in the end.

While Young and Murray shouldered the scoring load, the Hawks had to rely on contributions from across the board (not necessarily apparent in the boxscore) in the absence of Hunter and Collins as McMillan and the Hawks had to run deep into their bench.

Jarret Culver got to play the most significant time he has played all season, Trent Forrest was again the backup point guard (Aaron Holiday only featured in garbage time) and Vit Krejci played all 18 of his minutes in the second half, to go along with more minutes for AJ Griffin.

Starting with Jarrett Culver, he scored nine points on 3-of-7 shooting and grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds in 30 minutes of action — by far the most minutes he’s played this season having featured in just two prior to this, playing one and three minutes respectively.

Culver produced a number of quality plays last night, and we’ll have a look at a few plays from each Hawk that stepped up last night that wouldn’t normally be called upon in normal rotation minutes.

A strong drive and finish in traffic from Culver on this play in transition:

Nice hang-time and adjustment from Culver for a difficult finish here.

I liked this next play just from a simplicity point of view. Culver — a 28% career three-point shooter (and 0-of-2 last night) — turns down the three, takes a few steps inside and hits the jumpshot:

Culver was able to add to his scoring by getting to the free throw line, and he did so off the back of two offensive rebounds:

Culver also had this great defensive possession on Terrence Ross as he blocks the fadeaway effort:

Trent Forrest also enjoyed a solid outing — he’s just a solid guard and is an ideal third guard in basically any NBA team I believe. For the Hawks’ roster construction, you could argue Forrest should be their backup point guard.

Just the two baskets for Forrest but they were nice; including an offensive rebound and putback:

And a nice drive, splitting two defenders, before hitting the runner:

AJ Griffin was solid out on the floor, scoring 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 3-of-6 from beyond the arc — that’s three of the Hawks’ eight total threes from last night. Griffin is now shooting 38% from three on 3.9 attempts. It was quite the surprise that Griffin didn’t start the second half. Jarrett Culver and Vit Krejci started the third quarter instead.

Krejci’s play wasn’t as, pretty, will we say, as Culver or Forrest or Griffin but for a guy who doesn’t play other than garbage time he put in a shift and gave effort and that’s all you can really ask for, that was all the Hawks could ask of their guys on a night where numbers became thinner than usual. But in thanks to the combined 57 points from Young and Murray — as well as the others stepping up — that the Hawks were able to emerge with a comfortable win, and Nate McMillan was sure to praise not just his guards and his starting five, but those who stepped up too.

“I thought our guards did a good job of establishing the tempo from start to finish,” said McMillan postgame. “Trae and DJ did a nice job of establishing the defense. We were able to get out and get into transition and we kept that pace the entire night. We had some guys who go down and we had players who step in and be productive but it started with our guards doing a good job of establishing the tempo, knowing that we needed to get this game and just playing solid basketball throughout the game. Did a good job of getting us into our offense, only 12 turnovers — we had five at the half — and I thought those guys did a real solid job. Clint was solid on the defensive end of the floor defending Banchero, guarding, really, a guard, and rebounding the basketball for us. Those starting five did a solid job of getting us started.”

McMillan also praised his coaching staff and how they kept those who saw time last night ready for action.

“It’s our coaches,” said McMillan when asked about Jarrett Culver. “Our coaches do a good job of keeping these guys ready to play. We talk about it all the time: be ready to play. You never know when that opportunity is going to come. With Aaron going down today early and JC and Dre not being able to finish the game we really needed those guys. Vit, Jarrett, everybody stepped up and played well, played solid basketball.”

But this wasn’t McMillan deflecting praise away from those guys. When asked about Trent Forrest and Jarrett Culver, McMillan praised their productivity and how without those guys, and Krejci, the Hawks wouldn’t have won this game.

“They were good,” said McMillan of Forrest and Culver. “They went down to the G League and played well and really gave our guys some good minutes down with the SkyHawks and I wanted to find a way to give them minutes. We were able to get Trent in the rotation the last couple of games and Jarrett got his opportunity tonight. They both were productive. We don’t win this game if those guys don’t go out and contribute the way they did tonight, along with Vit.”

“He played really good,” said Trae Young of Culver. “I was telling him to be aggressive and when he got out there he was aggressive and making plays, rebounding. 12 rebounds is big and his scoring, he didn’t score over 10 but those nine points were big for us. It was good to see him get some minutes and play really well.”

Culver’s impact on the game will shine through more than Forrest’s, but the work Forrest has done in his short time with the Hawks has not gone unnoticed.

“Trent’s been playing great,” said Young postgame. “He was playing really good for our G League team the first couple of games so it was really good to see him come up here and play well for us. He’s been guarding guys and controlling the offense when they’re denying me and still making plays too. It’s great to see him making plays and I know he’s going to keep doing it for us.”

As for Hunter and Collins, McMillan is hopeful both will be OK, revealing both would undergo MRI scans today.

“I’m hoping they’re going to be OK,” said McMillan of Hunter and Collins. “They’re going to get MRI’s tomorrow and we’ll know more on those two injuries tomorrow.”

Brad Rowland of the Locked on Hawks podcast asked McMillan postgame if it was a recurrence of injury that the Hawks listed Hunter as originally questionable prior to last night’s game (right hip flexor service) and McMillan indicated that it indeed was.

Time will tell what the MRI’s will reveal for both Hunter and Collins. If I had to guess (and it’s purely speculation) I’d guess perhaps Collins’ injury seemed the worse of the two and if both were to miss time I’d suspect it would be Collins. The Hawks were up 20 at halftime before Hunter was ruled out for the rest of the game — zero point putting him back in this one. We shall see...

The Hawks were left in capable hands behind Young and Murray, who both enjoyed strong games.

Starting with Murray, he scored 27 points on 11-of-23 shooting from the field and 3-of-8 from three. Murray was key in the second quarter as he was able to make those jumpshots that the Magic forced a little more of in the second quarter and helped nudge the Hawks to their 20 point lead which was obviously key to get done in the first half.

Young, however, was the star of the show. 30 points on 12-23 from the field — 10-of-12 from two point range when you throw in the fact he was 2-of-11 from three as he shred the Magic’s defense in the lane and at the rim.

Young elaborated postgame about the Magic’s defense and the differences between last season and this season and how he’s taking advantage of that.

“We see them a lot,” said Young on the looks he was getting. “Obviously they’re in our division, so understanding what type of defense they would be in. They’re doing a lot more switching this year but they have a lot of tall guys, so trying to use my speed to get around them or just my agility to make the move a little bit just to keep them off balance I think is important because they have a lot of guys with length over there who can alter shots so it’s important to keep them off balance.”

And yet, the best part of his game last night wasn’t even that — it was his passing. 14 assists with just two turnovers and some delightful dimes, including his final assist to Clint Capela:

“It’s about seeing things before they happen.” said Young of his final assist. “Making the right read. I saw Clint rolling, they were kind of switching and kind of not. My man was coming back to me but his man was staying up with me so I knew I was going to be able to have him on the roll because I knew I had a shooter behind me shaping up too. It’s tough when those guys are down there and having to choose to go out to the shooter or pick the roll man, I just try to make the right read and the right pass.”

“Sometimes I’ll make a pass and it’ll surprise me or sometimes I’ll make a pass and be like ‘Why did I throw that?’ and it’ll be a turnover,” smiled Young. “There’s times like tonight when I make that play at the end, if it was turnover people would hate it but since it went through and Clint got a layup everyone loves it. It’s about picking and choosing what you like and what you don’t like but at the same time I’ll play the same way because I know I can make those plays and my teammates are going to roll and set screens and expect the ball because they know they can get the ball too. Sometimes — it may sound weird — but getting turnovers looking for my teammates is OK with me sometimes because I know they know I’m looking for them too. It’s all about building that kind of chemistry.”

Young can give a lot of default answers in postgame interviews but when he’s asked about specific aspects of the game he really opens up and can give fantastic insight into what he sees and how he sees it, and this is a fantastic example.

One of the reporters present postgame mentioned the word ‘underrated’ when it came to Young’s passing in the NBA and Nate McMillan was left to smile as he answered.

“He’s not underrated,” smiled McMillan. “This is what he does. He does a good job when teams are trapping of getting the ball out of the trap and getting to our shooters, our scorers in rhythm. He’s seen this a lot. It’s not a surprise to him what teams try to do. A lot of times they’re trying to hit him or trap him — get the ball out of his hands. He makes them pay. It’s just a matter of you making the shot when you receive the ball.”

The guards were great last night but so was Clint Capela — 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting and 12 rebounds in just under 30 minutes. He was so good last night on the court, he looks great and that wasn’t exclusive to a favorable Orlando matchup.

“Clint is great and when he plays like that and he’s rebounding, running, he’s one of the best bigs in the league,” said Young. “He’s a very underrated big for what he does for our team. It’s big when he’s out there.”

Overall, the Hawks played well and took care of business and that’s what this game was about. The Magic have now lost six in a row and are 5-17 on the season. But it was good to see the Hawks come out strong and keep a relatively consistent performance together across the game and that’s what pleased them too.

“It was good to put one full game together,” said Trae Young. “We’ve had leads in a lot of our last games and haven’t been able to hold on and finish the game. Tonight it was good to have our lead early and still stay with it for the full game.”

“48 minutes, you don’t mess with the game,” added Nate McMillan. “I think the basketball gods will punish you for that. I thought our guys, from start to finish, they were locked in and played 48 solid minutes of basketball.”

The Hawks obviously needed to halt their three-game skid and while a home matchup on Friday against the Denver Nuggets loomed they were firmly focused on last night.

“We needed a win,” said McMillan. “We weren’t thinking about what’s ahead. We talked about tonight, both teams needing a win, and we needed to show we were hungry for a win and I thought our guys did that tonight. Put up 36 points in that first quarter, defensively did a good job of making them score over the top — I think they only had 20 points in the paint at the half — and we were defending without fouling. The last game we played them they were marching to the free throw line, we did a better job tonight squaring up and keeping the ball in front of us.”

The Hawks (12-10) take on the Denver Nuggets (14-7 and winners of four straight games) at State Farm Arena on Friday night.

Should be a good one.

Until next time...