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Hawks avoid utter implosion, hold on to beat Magic in season series finale

The Hawks hold on to take a 3-1 season series victory against a red-hot Orlando side.

Orlando Magic v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks notched a second consecutive victory as they held off a late charge against the Orlando Magic — winners of their last six games heading into last night — at State Farm Arena on Monday night, 126-125.

Trae Young led the Hawks with 37 points and 13 assists, while rookie AJ Griffin added 19 points off the bench as seven Hawks hit double-digit scoring last night. For the Magic, Markelle Fultz scored 24 points, Paolo Banchero added 18 points.

The Hawks received two early holiday gifts with the return of both Dejounte Murray and John Collins to the starting lineup, and the Atlanta offense immediately looked so much smoother with John Collins back in the pick-and-roll with Young and with Murray leading the second unit with.

Young in particular looked fantastic in the first quarter finding his teammates and letting the game come to him, scoring 17 points in the third quarter after dishing out 10 first half assists. Young also hit a bombshell three-pointer to give the Hawks a 124-112 lead with 3:05 remaining in the game.

From here, the Hawks should have been safe and dry but instead went scoreless for the next three minutes as the Magic reeled off a 13-0 run to take the lead of the game.

So, let’s take a look at how the Hawks almost inexplicably threw away what should have been a commanding advantage at home.

It started before the Magic even had a chance to reply on the offensive end with Trae Young picking up a technical foul as he and Mo Wagner exchanged words after Young’s three:

“He (official Nate Green, who issued the technical) said I just couldn’t look at him but I don’t think he was knowing what Mo was saying the whole game, his dirty play and the way he was playing the whole game,” said Young of the technical with Mo Wagner.

After a successful Atlanta coach’s challenge that prevented two free throws, the Magic would eventually get their run underway from the line anyways with Franz Wagner drawing a foul on an offensive rebound with the Magic in the bonus:

The Hawks then suffer a 2-for-1 with Wagner creating a turnover on Murray, not only taking a possible shot away from the Hawks but giving the Magic an easy leak-out as Wagner finishes at the rim:

The Hawks work a better opportunity on offense on their next trip as Young draws a crowd and tosses the ball back to Murray, who fakes Wagner off the three-point line (where Murray was 1-of-8 last night) and gets a good look at a mid-range shot that falls short:

A good shot here for Murray, who may have been a bit leggy/gassed by this point in the game, playing a total of 37 minutes in his return.

After a block from Onyeka Okongwu on Banchero, the Magic inbound the ball on the Atlanta baseline, and Franz Wagner is the quick recipient as he breaks away from the Hawks defense for the layup:

Situations like this are where Clint Capela is missed, with the center (Okongwu) stuck near the wing and away from the rim.

The Hawks would cough the ball up again, this time it’s Young’s drop-pass that bounces out of bounds and gives Orlando another opportunity to slice into the lead:

A little too fancy from Young on this play with Murray open on the wing — poor execution from Young on this possession with the momentum slipping from the hosts at this stage.

The Magic cut the lead to two as on the OOB play, Banchero is guarded by De’Andre Hunter, who is floored by the Mo Wagner screen, gets downhill and scores at the rim despite the challenge of Okongwu at the rim:

I’m sure there could be an argument that Wagner should have been called for a foul, but the same could be said for Bogdan Bogdanovic on Franz Wagner before the ball was inbounded — would have not been ideal had a foul been called on the Hawks prior to the inbound.

The Magic do a good defensive job on Young on this next possession as they funnel him to drive into the lane where they close the space and force a tough shot from Young near the rim:

Good rotation from Banchero to close off the path to the rim and the contest, good dig from Fultz in the corner (where the corner shooter is Murray, who you’ll live with taking a corner three) and a good job from Kevon Harris to lead Young to that scenario. From the Hawks’ side of things, they would have benefitted from a screen of some sort to move some of the Magic defenders and with neither of Collins or Capela (for obvious reasons) in the game, the Hawks don’t have their better screen-setters/slippers on the floor and you can see where they would have benefitted from doing so.

Immediately off of that miss, Fultz takes the ball down the floor and goes the distance, finishing at the rim as he gets the step on Bogdanovic to cut the lead to one:

Bogdanovic has struggled a couple of occasions in transition versus Fultz, who showed good awareness of the game here with this bucket coming quick enough to get the Magic another shot before the game is out with no longer a need to foul.

The Hawks again come with Young and they try get a switch with a Bogdanovic screen but that fails and Young drives inside, the rotation comes from Mo Wagner and Young’s shot is rushed and harmlessly dings off the side of the backboard:

A great contest by Kevon Harris here to deter Young’s attempt, and it gives the Magic a chance to go for the win, immediately calling for a timeout.

Out of the timeout, the Magic get the ball to Fultz in the backcourt and the former number one pick drives all the way to the rim and scores to give the Magic the lead:

A weird defensive possession for the Hawks here. The mix-up comes between Hunter and Murray — I think Murray expected the full switch from Hunter on the drive and Hunter probably expected Murray to continue his back-pedal and stay with Fultz once he gets by the body of Banchero but neither of these happen and Fultz easily slips by for the layup, and with Okongwu covering Mo Wagner in the corner and Jalen Johnson on the floor there’s zero shot-blocking for the Hawks at the rim so when Fultz get there it’s an easy layup.

The Hawks, now scoreless for three minutes and with three seconds to find a way to break that duck, take a timeout and coming out of it Young almost runs into the five-second inbounding violation before pinging the ball off of Wagner to give him another attempt. The Hawks keep Young as the inbounder (no Joe Prunty on the bench last night to draw up a play/McMillan doesn’t switch the inbounder) and he gets the ball to Murray, who draws the shooting foul from Banchero on the fadeaway:

The Magic can’t have too many gripes on the call, though part of their bench didn’t seem to be happy with perhaps what they perceived as a kick-out from Murray but it’s very hard with this angle to say for sure.

Murray heads to the line and dispatches both free throws to give the Hawks the lead again, which would turn into the win after Banchero is unable to get a shot off in time after a Magic timeout to advance the ball.

A big sigh of relief for the Hawks, who almost threw away a double-digit advantage inside the last three minutes. Good Orlando execution on defense and some poor decisions on offense for Atlanta almost cost them but they emerge with a victory and that’ll be all that matters given their struggles recently.

That said, the Hawks are looking for growth in an area they know hasn’t been good enough this season — Atlanta are 27th in the NBA in total fourth quarter +/- at -37. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs have worse totals in fourth quarter plus/minus, after the Magic outscored the Hawks 31-22 in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve just got to show growth,” said McMillan postgame. “We’ve got to finish games. It’s a 48 minute game. I thought we started to relax late in that fourth quarter. One play can change the momentum of a game and we’ve just got to show growth. We’ve got to show growth and play a 48 minute game and when you have a lead, or you’re behind, understanding how to finish a game. We got lucky, we really got lucky. Had some turnovers, a technical foul, we didn’t get stops and we really got lucky tonight.”

“We didn’t close it out the way we needed to but we won and that’s what matters,” added Young. “We’ve got to do a better job of finishing the game and being more clear on what we’re running and just getting to our spots and scoring on our matchup. I’ve got to do better scoring and finishing the game.”

Dejounte Murray was a little more blunt in his assessment, saying the Hawks need to ‘grow up.’

“I think we just got sloppy, got comfortable,” said Murray of the final three minutes. “Like I was preaching after the game, we’ve got to grow up. Starting with me. Just what we’re playing for, these type of games show we’re not playing to win and get to the playoffs and try to make noise. We’ve got to grow up. It’s OK to learn from a win, even losses, but you’d rather learn from a win than a loss. We got sloppy and comfortable and almost lost the game.”

Murray was one of two major pieces returning to the rotation and it’s been a while since the Hawks have been as ‘complete’ in terms of their roster — only Clint Capela remains out for the Hawks currently. When asked about Murray and Collins returning and finding a chemistry, McMillan was insistent that the game was one that was in their hands regardless of Collins and Murray not having their rhythm yet.

“Those guys have been off for a week or so and they’re not going to have their rhythm but that game was in our hands,” said McMillan. “It’s just a matter of executing and understanding what you need to do, what plays you need to run and finishing a game — finishing a game solid, defending, doing all the things that got you that lead late in the fourth. Just finishing the game, not relaxing and playing like that game is over.”

The Magic shot 47.4% from the field last night (only 0.1% more than what teams have averaged against the Hawks this season, ranking 20th in the NBA) and after 31 games McMillan is still searching for a more consistent effort defensively.

“We’re not where we want to be,” said McMillan. “We’ve got to continue to work on it. I don’t think any team is where they want to be right now but we’ve got to get more consistent with how we play the game and working to establish defense in the game. We put up 126 points tonight, that should be enough points to control a game and we gave up 125. We’ve just got to continue to work on getting that commitment to defending from start to finish.”

“We’ve just got to be more communicative and be better on that end,” added Trae Young.

Having both Murray and Collins back will help the defensive communication, and when Capela gets back this should also improve matters in this regard. But even when McMillan outlined some of the areas he was pleased with last night he couldn’t help but mention, again, the defense.

“I thought we did some good things,” McMillan added. “We scored 126 points and we had 62 points in the paint. We did a good job, for the most part, taking care of the basketball. Defensively, they were able to score and score fairly easily late in the game. Just establishing a defensive presence and being able to sustain that throughout the game. Tonight, we’ll take the win but we know we’ve got to be better and we’ve got to finish better in order to continue to win ball games.”

Speaking of Murray and Collins, their return was very welcome.

Collins started at center with Capela still sidelined and when he was in the pick-and-roll with Young and how easily things flowed when he was there you really got a sense of how much the Hawks missed Collins in this time without him. Trae Young certainly did.

“I think John is one of the best bigs in the league at finishing above the rim,” said Young of Collins at the five in pick-and-roll as a means to getting him ‘warmed up’. “When he catches lobs he’s one of the best bigs at catching the ball, whether it’s down-low or up in the air. Getting him some touches early and seeing the ball to go through the rim, getting to the foul line for him was good and we’re going need him to be good for us. We needed that tonight, for sure.”

You can see it in action how easy the two make life for each other. Here, you can see Young give Collins the nod to come over to him where Collins slips the screen, Young delivers a sweet left-handed bounce-pass to Collins who finishes at the rim, adjusting to evade the long reach of Bol Bol:

It just looks so easy when the Hawks are able to go to a ‘bread-and-butter’ play.

This next play I think showcases their respective strengths as Collins slips the screen, Young delivers the bounce-pass and Collins puts pressure on the rim on the roll and finishes with his athleticism:

To end the first half, the dive from Collins, the find from Young, the finish from Collins:

Collins finished with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and seven rebounds in 20 minutes of action — some good rebounds too against a tall Magic side that gave the Hawks some issues on the glass in their last meeting in Orlando.

Especially with Capela out right now, this is an invaluable partnership the Hawks need to utilize more. However, that will be difficult for now with Collins on a minutes restriction, playing just 20 minutes last night.

“He was limited and restricted by the minutes,” said McMillan of Collins. “I wanted to stay with Bogi and De’Andre in the lineup. With Clint not playing — puts John at the five — I wanted to start him because coming from warming up and going right into play is a best for a situation like that as opposed to bringing him off of the bench.”

Dejounte Murray was not under the same limitation, returning with no restriction. Murray scored 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting, 1-of-7 from three to go with his two game-winning free throws in 37 minutes of action, which Murray certainly felt towards the end of the game.

“Legs are tired, which I expected,” said Murray postgame. “Just trying to play hard and do the right things on both ends of the floor. I’ll get back to it.”

The Hawks went back to their Young/Murray rotation of 12 minutes per 1st/3rd quarter for Young and 12 minutes for Murray in the even-quarters (with an exception for Murray in the fourth, playing 10:56 instead of the full 12) and Murray looked good in his opening stint in the second quarter as he led the second unit.

It was also one of the only times this season that we got to see the second unit feature Murray and Bogdanovic together, with Bogdanovic also playing all 12 minutes of the second quarter. When Collins is off of his minutes restriction, we could see Collins, Bogdanovic, Murray and AJ Griffin on the floor together as part of the second unit in stretches and all of a sudden that adds so much to the dynamic of the Hawks’ second unit. The beginning of second quarters could get very fun indeed, but we’ll have to wait and see how this develops as everyone begins to get healthy and lose their restrictions. But a tantalizing prospect nevertheless.

Speaking of AJ Griffin, 19 points off the bench and while 3-of-4 from three was impressive, what was arguably more impressive was how he was able to slither in to space to get off some of his other successful makes.

A nice hesitation move from Griffin and the finger-roll to go high off glass to beat Mo Bamba for the bucket:

Another hesitation move from Griffin, this time in the fourth, as he again gets around Bamba to finish at the rim:

And for the best of the bench, a beautiful lean-in from Griffin — again coming off that corner spot — to beat Terrence Ross with first the little fake before leaning in to get the space needed for the crafty finish:

Fantastic contribution from Griffin — 19 big points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field.

Elsewhere, a bit of an off-night from Bogdanovic (10 points on 4-of-12 from the field and 2-of-8 from three) but a solid night from De’Andre Hunter (especially in the first quarter where he hit three threes), Aaron Holiday had some good minutes in the third quarter, and Onyeka Okongwu was solid too in 27 minutes last night.

Trae Young enjoyed his best game from an all-around efficiency standpoint in a while, scoring 37 points on 11-of-22 from the field, 3-of-7 from three to go with 12-of-12 from the line, as well as 13 assists. Last night felt like the least Young has tried to force things (with exception of the fourth quarter stretch) and the game seemed to come a lot more naturally to him.

There was a quite a bit the Hawks did well last night — they scored 126 points on 51% shooting from the field, shot 37.5% from three (well above their season average), got to the free throw line on 20 occasions, 62 points in the paint, 19 fastbreak points and 29 assists with just 10 turnovers.

However, the last three minutes will take away a lot of the shine from all that and perhaps rightly so — it would have been a monumental implosion had the Magic actually stolen this one. Arguably, it didn’t even need a Magic victory for this to be an implosion of sorts — the Hawks should never have allowed themselves in such a situation where they needed those Murray free throws to win the game.

In the end, a win is a win, and it represents another team on a streak that the Hawks have managed to put a halt to, adding to the victories over the Bucks, Kings, and Nuggets that have had their respective winning streaks ended by Atlanta.

A commendable effort from the Magic, who were on the second night of a back-to-back having taken another victory in Boston on Sunday. By rights, that Young three should have served as a dagger but they rallied well and made it a game when it had no right to be under normal circumstances. They’re a fun team, especially with the likes of Banchero, Fultz, and their bigs, and it’ll be interesting to see what they do for the rest of the season. I say that because the Hawks won’t see their fellow Southeast Division opposition again in the regular season, the season-series wrapped up before the New Year with the Hawks 3-1 victors.

The Hawks (16-15) continue their homestand on Wednesday with a matchup against the Chicago Bulls (11-18). It will serve as the second night of a back-to-back for the Bulls, who travel to Miami to take on the Heat on Tuesday night, giving Atlanta another rest advantage.

Until next time...