The Atlanta Hawks notched an impressive victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night at State Farm Arena, 124-116.
Trae Young led the Hawks with 41 points and nine assists while Danilo Gallinari recorded a season-high 25 points. For the Cavaliers, Darius Garland scored 30 points, while rookie Evan Mobley added 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Still without John Collins, the Hawks entered Tuesday’s contest against one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference in an interesting spot. The Hawks need as many wins as they can get their hands on but the Cavaliers — as they showed very early in the season, before the NBA knew they were set to be one of the NBA’s most improved teams — would prove a challenge.
In a close game up until this point, the Hawks had taken a nine point lead in the fourth quarter with 4:58 remaining after a De’Andre Hunter three-pointer, putting the hosts in the driving seat. The Cavaliers responded with a Garland three and a Jarrett Allen hook shot to bring the Cavaliers within four points with 4:08 remaining; game firmly on.
The Hawks have been shaky at times in the fourth quarter this season and would need to rally again to see this one through. They’re helped by the fact they’re in the bonus, and Isaac Okoro’s fifth foul sent Young to the free throw line where he would split the pair to give the Hawks a five point lead.
The subsequent offensive trip for the Cavaliers was an important one. A three-pointer brings them within two points and a two-point basket still brings the game to a single possession lead. However, the Garland drive inside and attempted pass to the corner is intercepted by Bogdan Bogdanovic, who takes the ball in transition — is not picked up — and takes the above the break three to give the Hawks a huge swing in this game:
A huge swing here for the Hawks; instead of a potentially one possession lead (had the Cavaliers scored) the lead is now a significantly more comfortable eight points. Just a huge shot from Bogdanovic at a sorely needed time to relieve any lingering pressure for the Hawks. Not only that, but it was the fourth steal from Bogdanovic on the night.
The Cavaliers respond as Allen is fouled and sent to the free throw line after a foul is called on Hunter:
The Hawks were calling for a travel here and I can understand Hunter’s confusion in addition; it didn’t look as though he did a ton wrong here, staying consistently vertical throughout the contest. Allen knocks both free throws down to bring the Hawks’ lead down to six points.
The Hawks were unable to add to their lead after attempts from Young and Hunter were missed. The Cavaliers, with a three, have the opportunity again to bring the lead to a one-possession game. Fortunately for the Hawks, Caris LeVert comes off of the Allen screen and rises into a three-pointer which is missed:
This was a really well executed defensive sequence from the Hawks from Hunter and Clint Capela in particular. Hunter does really well to get through the Allen screen, Capela switches initially until Hunter comes through, and drops back into the lane seamlessly, with Kevin Huerter himself floating back towards the wing having covered the middle in Capela’s absence. Finally, the contest from Hunter on the LeVert shot is a strong one and the Hawks secure the rebound.
On the next offensive trip, the Cavaliers show Young an extra body on the screen and Capela dives inside the lane. Young zips the ball inside and Capela makes a great read and pass to Kevin Huerter in the corner, who hits the three to bring the Hawks’ lead back to nine points:
The Hawks had struggled with the Cavaliers’ offensive rebounding and second chance scoring and it bit them again on this next possession as Garland’s three is rebounded by Mobley, who kicks it back out to Garland and the All-Star hits the three:
Again however, the Hawks respond and this time it’s Young, who uses the Capela slip and the back-pedalling Allen to throw a floater aloft and give the Hawks an eight point lead:
With time running out for the Cavaliers, they move the ball around the perimeter before Okoro drives into the lane and into Capela, who is initially called for the foul:
The Hawks subsequently challenged this call and upon review, the foul — which would have sent Okoro to the line — was changed to an offensive foul (Okoro’s sixth). On live viewing, it did look as though Capela may have been in the restricted area but he did a great job covering ground quickly and setting himself to take the charge, just a brilliant charge from Capela.
The Hawks were able to seal the game from this point on — despite a late turnover from Young — with a Gallinari dunk as the Cavs attempted to pressure and force a turnover and pick up a much-needed victory.
And this was a really good win for the Hawks. For those who believe in the ceiling in this team, it’s perhaps a game that you might expect the Hawks to win at home but the fact of the matter is that these are the kinds of games the Hawks have not always fared well in.
The Cavaliers are a good team — they rank 1st in the NBA in fewest points allowed per game at 102.5, 4th in defensive rating and they’re 1st in the league in free throws allowed with just 18 opponent free throws per game,
Last night, the Hawks scored 124 points on just 80 shots and attempted 27 free throws (making 24 of them).
“Cleveland is a really good team,” opened Hawks head coach Nate McMillan postgame. “I thought our defense in that first half did a pretty good job of defending those guys. I think they had six, seven offensive boards, those are the things we want to clean up. Our defense was solid from start to finish and I think we got better with our pressure in that third and fourth quarter. I thought Kevin and De’Andre — really just a team effort — getting pressure on Garland and making it difficult for him, not allowing him to come off the screen and get a clean look; the pressure was turned up. The offensive execution I thought was really good. They’re a big team, they’re physical, they do a good job of mixing in their zone and I thought our guys were ready for it tonight.”
It was a game of two halves in regard to the Hawks’ scoring inside versus outside.
In the first half, the Hawks scored 38 points in the paint but shot just 5-of-15 from three. The Cavaliers shot 10-of-20 from three in the first half and scored 20 points in the paint. In the second half, the Cavaliers racked up the second chance points (14 points) and 28 points in the paint and 6-of-18 from three while the Hawks scored just 14 points in the paint in the second half but shot 9-of-18 from three.
“That’s always the game-plan for us is to not settle on the perimeter, try to attack the paint, get into the penalty early, we were able to do that,” said McMillan when asked about the paint points. “When you’re able to do that then the defense has to relax a little bit and we were able to then run our offense. In the first half we didn’t knock down some shots that we normally knock down but those shots started to fall in the second half.”
Going back to the Hawks’ fourth quarter, the hosts outscored the Cavaliers 30-26 and perhaps more notably only six of Young’s 41 points came in the fourth quarter. Multiple players stepped up in the clutch, including Bogdanovic (six points in the fourth), Hunter scored five points, Huerter hit a clutch three-pointer and Capela drew that charge.
Not needing to shoulder the load in the fourth quarter to win the game, Young was fantastic last night scoring 41 points on 13-of-22 from the field, 4-of-7 from three and 11-of-13 from the free throw line. Just Young doing Young things. It feels odd to say, but given how the fourth quarter went and how others stepped up, it almost seemed like a quiet 41 points from Young. Might be just my imagination.
Young wasn’t the only one to stand up last night. Filling in for Collins, Gallinari scored a season-high 25 points on 8-of-17 from the field, 3-of-7 from three and 6-of-6 from the free throw line. However, it’s more than just numbers that Gallinari brings to the table.
“That’s what he brings is leadership,” said McMillan of Gallinari. “I thought tonight he stepped in and gave us a lift, his ability to read situations offensively as well as defensively. He has that experience and his voice was really good for us tonight.”
“Gallo has been in this league for a long time so it’s nothing that surprises me at all,” added Young of Gallinari. “He was in OKC with CP(3) and doing well and been on other teams that have done well and started and played in this league for a long time, so I’m not worried when he steps in and has to fill that void for John even though we’re missing a big piece.”
Obviously the Hawks miss Collins and would be in a much larger bind if this injury had happened earlier in the season compared to now where Gallinari is at full strength. In his place, Gallinari further outlines his leadership qualities.
“Of course John brings so much stuff that it’s not an easy task (to fill in for him) but just trying to help the team any way I can,” said Gallinari. “Offensively, defensively, making sure everybody is in the right spots and the right rhythm and making sure we execute the game-plan offensively and defensively.”
A strong game from Gallinari, and most of the Hawks who played it must be said. A big win for the Hawks, who look to finish strong on the second night of their back-to-back on Wednesday.
The Hawks (27-30) are back in action tonight in Orlando against the 13-46 Magic to finish their action before the All-Star break. The Hawks may use the opportunity to rest a few players — Bogdan Bogdanovic and Delon Wright were listed as questionable before being made available for last night’s game — but at the same time can’t afford to take too many liberties given their ranking in the Eastern Conference.
We shall see. Until next time...