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Young lifts Atlanta as Hawks handle business with win over Wizards in regular season home finale

The Hawks inch closer to discovering their destiny.

Washington Wizards v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks returned to winning ways as they took care of the Washington Wizards on home court, 118-103 at State Farm Arena on Wednesday night.

Trae Young led the Hawks with 30 points and 11 assists while the returning Danilo Gallinari scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. For the Wizards, Kristaps Porzingis scored 26 points and collected 18 rebounds, Corey Kispert and Daniel Gafford both added 12 points.

This was the second night of a road back-to-back for both teams and the Hawks were listed as considerable favorites heading into the game, despite the Wizards collecting a handy victory against play-in bound Minnesota.

Despite the Hawks erupting for 40 first quarter points, the Wizards responded in the second quarter and closed the margin. While the Hawks held the lead in the third quarter, the Wizards were still hovering in this game, with the hosts unable to create any large separation.

That would change as the third quarter wound down, and it was Young who finally gave the Hawks the separation that Vince Carter and Dominique Wilkins were calling for.

To begin his run, Young draws a foul on Deni Avdija on the perimeter with the Hawks already in the bonus and leading by just four points:

The Wizards reply through Rui Hachimura but the Hawks reply instantly as Onyeka Okongwu sets a good screen for Young, who pulls up and hits the three-pointer:

Daniel Gafford retrieves two of those points back for Washington, only for Young to add to them again as he punishes the Hachimura switch and gets off his shot inside before Gafford can swat it away:

That basket would eclipse the 7,000 mark for Young in points scored in his young career (pun intended).

The Hawks finally get a stop as Hachimura misses a three-pointer and the Hawks are sure to punish the Wizards for it as Young comes off the Okongwu screen again and rises into the three-pointer despite the contests both behind and in front of him:

A quick trigger from Young and the Hawks finally had their double-digit lead. It always amazes me how teams can keep up with each other for nearly full quarters and one run in a matter of a minute or so just puts that distance between the two sides.

After a made basket from Ish Smith, Young immediately sets off up the floor and draws the foul and free throws, immediately restoring the Hawks’ double-digit lead:

Young had mentioned that the Hawks have wanted to push the pace recently and Young gets two free throws for his troubles.

As the third quarters winds down and the shotclock turns off — off of a missed dunk from Gafford — Young delivers a quick burst to draw a foul from Smith and claiming another trip to the free throw line, where he dispatches both free throws to give the Hawks a 12 point lead heading into the fourth quarter:

A 14 point spurt in the space of the final 2:17 of the third quarter, just a great scoring stretch from Young when the Hawks needed it to finally give themselves some space in this contest.

“I didn’t know that, I was just wanted to be more aggressive” said Young when his 14 point third quarter stretch was brought up postgame. “I saw that Kristaps was more in a drop coverage and I was telling our big man to set the screen and I knew I was going to be able to come off and get a clean look at the three. It’s something I’ve worked on, something I can still get better at. I’m not too comfortable at it, I don’t do it a lot but I knew I was going to have that shot and I was able to hit a couple of them.”

“That’s something we know he can do every night,” added Danilo Gallinari of Young’s spurt. “When he does in those moments he’s impossible to guard.”

In the fourth quarter, the Wizards could not bring the deficit under 10 points — save for one instance — and with five minutes to go held a 13 point lead. Young would quickly end the game with two baskets, the first coming from a long two as Young steps off the Okongwu screen:

To seal the game, Young comes off the Okongwu screen again and steps into a deep three to give the Hawks an unassailable 18 point lead:

A strange play this because you have to wonder what the Wizards were doing. Did they not expect Young to go to the free side of Porzingis where no Wizards defender was coming to help or prevent Young from getting downhill? A very easy basket for Young at this phase of the game.

The Hawks would go on to seal the 118-103 victory to finish their regular season schedule at State Farm Arena, holding the Wizards to just 38 second half points.

Young’s scoring stretch to end the third quarter was so key in securing this victory. It was the first time the Hawks built a double-digit lead and one the Wizards simply could not overcome in the fourth quarter.

The first thing put to Hawks head coach Nate McMillan postgame was Young’s end to the third quarter, where McMillan instead credited the Hawks’ defense as the main reason the Hawks would go on to make shots in the second half.

“I thought it started with our defense,” said McMillan when asked about Young’s 14 point ignition. “I thought we did a good job establishing our defense in that second half. Third quarter, gave up only 18 points, fourth quarter, only 20. Solid defense to start that second half. Offensively, normally it puts you in a better rhythm because you’re getting out in transition, able to get something easy and our guys were able to knock down those shots to finish the game.”

I thought perhaps that was a bit of a stretch from McMillan to say that, because it was more so the first half that the Hawks turned defense to offense, especially that first quarter where the Hawks scored 14 of their 16 points off of Washington’s turnovers.

The Hawks came up with 11 steals last night, seven of them coming in the first quarter. Let’s take a look at some of these and a few more that occurred after that first quarter.

Kristaps Porzingis played a strong game and shot the ball well, and it may have been an even night for him without the efforts of Clint Capela, who is able to get his hand in on Porzingis’ intended pass inside, a pass that is made because Capela is playing air-tight defense on him:

When Deni Avdija intends to lob a pass inside to Gafford, Capela is on hand to break up the possession. When he does, he sprints down the floor and while he isn’t picked out on this occasion the Hawks make sure that his defensive effort is rewarded with a transition basket, the trailing De’Andre Hunter receiving the ball for a three-pointer:

The Hawks made sure the Wizards were punished for their — at times — carelessness with the basketball. The lob from Ish Smith is unable to find Gafford and the Hawks take possession of the loose ball and set off and Young finds Bogdan Bogdanovic for one of his six three-pointers last night:

In the second half, Porzingis tries to make a play and attempts to round Capela near the rim but his path is blocked as he turns and Capela knocks the ball away to complete the defensive play and create a turnover:

It has been fantastic to watch a clearly healthy Capela in the second third of this season; he is a clear difference maker for the Hawks on the defensive end.

As is Delon Wright.

In the fourth quarter, Wright comes up with two fantastic steals. Here, he manages to get in front of Gafford — who the Wizards want to try to exploit the mismatch through — and manages to snatch the ball away from Gafford for the steal:

On the pick-and-roll switch with Porzingis, Wright is able to get a hand on the pass to Porzingis and it’s another created turnover for the Hawks, the Wizards, again, unable to explore the mismatch thanks to the defensive efforts of WrightL

I remember I wrote about the Hawks’ first quarter of the season that the Hawks were bottom in the league in steals and points off of turnovers at the time. They were fantastic in limiting their own turnovers — and still are — but could not punish teams for their own, nor create opportunities to do so.

For the season the Hawks are tied 18th in steals per game but over the last 15 games the Hawks rank fifth in steals per game and rank eighth in points off of turnovers per game in their last 15 games — a huge turnaround in an area they struggled immensely in the early season, and 15 games is a decent sample size too.

I don’t think what McMillan said was wrong — the defense certainly fuelled the offense in the first half — but it just didn’t line up with Young’s outburst when the Hawks and Wizards traded baskets for a decent amount of that run.

Young deserved perhaps a bit more credit from his coach on this occasion but alas, his 30 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field, 11-of-12 from the free throw line, 11 assists (with just three turnovers) and game-high plus-28 (a stat that very much reflects his efforts) speaks for itself.

Someone who McMillan did credit postgame was Gallinari, who returned to the starting lineup and scored 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from three. When the Wizards took their largest lead of the game in opening exchanges, Gallinari was instrumental in helping the Hawks trim that margin.

“He’s a big part of what we do,” said McMillan of Gallinari. “Normally he’s with that second group but because JC has been out we’ve inserted him into that starting lineup and he’s just been solid for him. I try to set the rotation up so that he can get back with that second group, so that’s why we went to, pretty much, an eight man rotation tonight. He worked out for us, I thought he was good for us.”

“It was very important,” added Trae Young of getting Gallinari back. “Back-to-backs in this league are tough and they’re also trying to get games in near the end with the make up games so we’ve had a lot of back-to-backs recently. Any time you can get a guy back, especially Gallo and what he brings for our team.”

Oddly enough, Gallinari didn’t attempt a single free throw in this game which is odd given his ability to get to the line at times. Six, seven free throw attempts in a game for Gallinari isn’t a surprise for me; he can go do that, so for him to score 26 points without a free throw was impressive.

Gallinari’s form in the second half of the season has been a boost for the Hawks. Not only has he helped fill the role vacated by Collins but five of his six 20-plus scoring performances have come after February 15th, the Hawks 4-2 when Gallinari scores 20 or more points in a game.

We touched on Wright and Capela slightly already but they were both fantastic, Capela a quiet 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting to go with seven rebounds and four steals, in addition to his defensive work. Wright scored just two points but defensively was great and has played really well of late too — he has been a great addition to the Hawks’ bench.

There were quieter games to be had from Kevin Huerter (five points on 2-of-9 shooting) and Hunter, who shot 3-of-13 from the field.

It’s been such a strange season for Hunter. He puts in a strong defensive shift but more and more are beginning to get concerned with what’s going on on the offensive end of the floor — it just hasn’t been the season many envisioned for Hunter in his third season.

With this victory, the Hawks wrapped up their regular season at State Farm Arena, finishing with a 27-14 record. The Hawks have finished strongly at home, going an NBA-best (for now, as other teams have played less games at home post All-Star break) 10-1 at home since the All-Star break. While the Hawks didn’t achieve all they wanted to at home this season, their form of late has brought encouragement.

“We’ve always tried to make our building a tough place to play,” said McMillan. “Our goal at the beginning of the season was to win 30-plus games at home. We fell three short of that goal but make this a tough place to play. We’ve done that in the last two years.”

With the Hawks 15-24 on the road, protecting home court has been key for the Hawks. However, a 10-game consecutive losing streak at home — stretching from November 27th to January 17th — really hurt the Hawks this season.

“It’s been important for us to catch up in these standings,” said Young of the Hawks playing at home. “Those 10 straight that we lost are definitely going to hurt us. If we can go back and be a little bit better I think we would. Recently we’ve been playing really well at home, we need to keep it going.”

The Hawks won’t know for certain until the regular season ends if they’ll even return to State Farm Arena this season but the player certainly believe they’ll be back to play at State Farm Arena before the summer.

“I think we all kind of know what the deal is,” said Young on the Hawks’ final regular season home game. “We know who we are, we know what we need to do and take care of business. I think we all have it in our mindset that this isn’t our last home game.”

The Hawks now finish their season on the road: Friday night in Miami and Sunday afternoon in Houston.

There’s a lot to be said for the teams around the Hawks in terms of play-in seeding between themselves, the Brooklyn Nets, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Charlotte Hornets.

Here are some of the permutations.

The Hornets owning the three-way tie between the Nets, Hawks and themselves may also play a key role.

The Nets needing to play the Cavs obviously is hugely important in the scheme of things here, and because of that — and the fact the Hawks need to play the top-seeded Miami Heat on the road, it’s not worth venturing too far down this rabbit hole until after Friday’s action.

Realistically speaking, the tough work for the Nets and Hawks will be decided in Game 81 than it will Game 82 — both teams should take care of business on the final day of the regular season against Indiana (the Pacers facing the Nets on the second night of a back-to-back) and Houston respectively (though, the Hawks have been here before in terms of regular season finale games they should win (cough, 2016’s regular season finale, cough).

The Cavaliers playing Brooklyn on Friday and Milwaukee on Sunday finish is tough and that game on Sunday against the Bucks is likely the one to decide where the Hawks will end up.

For now, the Hawks (43-37) travel to Miami (52-28) to play the Heat, and while the happenings on Thursday between Celtics @ Milwaukee and Philadelphia @ Toronto would influence the Heat’s position in terms of which teams could take the 1-seed off of them if they win out and the Heat lose out (the Celtics currently two games behind the Heat having played 80 games heading in, the 76ers and Bucks both sitting on 49 wins apiece having both played 79 games heading into those fixtures tonight).

Regardless of what happens in those games on Thursday, a win for the Heat on Friday against the Hawks secures them the top seed and you’d imagine that’d be the outcome they will aim for and rest players for their regular season finale in Orlando.

Of course, the Heat could end up facing the Hawks in the first round depending on the seeding and how the play-in tournament goes, and may prefer to see someone like the Cavaliers/Hornets if possible, and may do whatever possible to make sure the Nets end up as the 7-seed? Who even knows; so many possibilities and outcomes, so many aspects out of teams’ control this time of year.

...It’s all very interesting and relevant to the Hawks’ trip to South Beach, in which both sides need a victory to help secure their respective seeding.

Should be fun!

Until next time...