The Atlanta Hawks notched their fourth consecutive victory as they secured a 130-122 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center.
Dejounte Murray led the Hawks with 30 points, with Trae Young adding 18 points and 12 assists. For the Mavericks, Luka Doncic scored 30 points with Christian Wood adding 22 points.
In an offensive-first showing from both sides it was a close contest for much of the game, and when the Mavericks took their first lead — which quickly ballooned into a 10 point Dallas lead behind a 13-0 run — the Hawks immediately responded with an 8-0 run of their own, Dejounte Murray spearheading that effort, as he would again in the fourth quarter.
Again, it was a close game that came down to the final stretch, so we’ll take a look at how the Hawks emerged on top here.
It started with the Hawks holding a three point advantage with just three minutes out of a timeout, with a chance to increase their lead. The Hawks execute a good play out of the timeout with the Mavericks worried about the Young-Capela pick-and-roll and Young kicks it to De’Andre Hunter in the weakside corner for a wide open look at a three but can only hit the top of the backboard:
Hunter struggled for rhythm last night, on both ends of the floor as he ran into foul trouble but you would expect him to do a little better in this situation.
Hunter is exploited on the following possession as Doncic attacks, and with Hunter on five fouls he’s probably not at his best defensively and Doncic gets enough room inside to get the floater to go:
It’s probably on Collins — defending Dorian Finney-Smith in the corner — to rotate and help on Doncic inside with Capela proving to be a little too far to prevent Doncic scoring here.
The Hawks respond, not initially as the shot from Collins is missed, but with Capela coming up with an offensive rebound, the Hawks come again through Murray, who hits the pull-up three-pointer over Finney-Smith to give the Hawks a crucial four point lead as the clock winds down:
The Mavs almost get an ideal switch with Young being switched onto Dinwiddie but the screen from Reggie Bullock doesn’t quite get the switch and Hunter is able to stay with Dinwiddie and contest his three, which is missed:
The Hawks will take any possession down the stretch that isn’t in Doncic’s hands, though, a Dinwiddie shot on a Young switch would not have been ideal.
Atlanta is unable to add to their lead with a hero-shot from Murray as the clock winds down missing:
I think Collins would have been a good option here in the middle, with Capela on one side near the dunker’s spot and Hunter on the wing, who had already made a couple of good cuts during the game for baskets. I get why Murray took it, he was very much feeling it and 4-of-5 from three at the time and had obviously just made a massive three.
The Hawks blitz Doncic on the next Dallas possession (as they had done all game) and Doncic gets rid of it quickly to Wood, who swings it to the corner to Finney-Smith who misses the corner three as Murray rushes to contest:
Finney-Smith gets his own rebound and the Mavs reset, with the ball quickly moved to the perimeter as the Hawks reestablish their defense. A good rotation from Young and Murray to close out the perimeter forces the drive inside from Bullock, who is met at the rim by Collins for the block:
Clutch defensive play from Atlanta. Minus the offensive rebound, they force the Mavs to go to someone they wouldn’t prefer to go to in the clutch and the Hawks’ defensive rotations where strong on this possession, both possessions.
Young had a quiet game offensively after the first quarter but came up clutch as he attacks Finney-Smith and gets to his floater and sinks it, giving the Hawks a six point lead with 41 seconds to go:
Out of the Dallas timeout, Doncic is unable to hit the quick three over Collins and while Finney-Smith follows through with the putback:
Finney-Smith scoring is of little consequence ultimately — the Hawks have a crucial four point lead forcing the Mavericks to foul the Hawks, who ice the game at the free throw line to take an impressive victory on the road again.
The Hawks have begun their road-heavy stretch well, with three road wins in a row and all against solid teams, this one arguably the most impressive of the bunch. When the Mavs took their lead, it ended up in a double-digit lead — the only one of the entire game — but the Hawks were able to overturn that by the end of the third quarter to take a one point lead into the fourth.
“That’s what I saw, fight,” said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan postgame. “Our guys these last few games they’ve been bringing the fight to the floor and continuing that from start to finish. I thought tonight, again, we got off to a good start, established the tempo we wanted to play with. Defensively, offensively we got into a rhythm and we were consistent with our effort and our style of play for the entire 48 minutes.”
Have to chuckle when McMillan talks about a ‘defensive rhythm’...there was not a lot of defense last night. The Mavericks shot 52% from the field, hit 16 threes and went to the free throw line 24 times. The Hawks shot a whopping 57% from the field en route to 130 points, 40 of which came in the first quarter — a season-high for the Hawks having just tied their season-high of 38 on Monday against Miami, with 36 coming against the Pacers last week. It’s been an improving trend for the Hawks of late, who have often started first halves too slowly, giving themselves too much work to do in the second half — they come close at times but poor first halves have been costly this season, so this recent trend has been a welcome boost for Atlanta.
“I think we did a great job of starting the game out fast again,” said Trae Young postgame. “Last few wins, starting the game fast is important and we’ve been doing a great job doing that. Obviously we wish we could have led from beginning to the end like the last couple of games but that’s not realistic all the time. I’m just glad that when they took the lead we were able to still fight and stay in it and take it back. That shows a lot from us.”
What helped the Hawks stay in the fight was a consistent and balanced scoring effort — eight of the nine Hawks who played (with the ninth, Jalen Johnson, only entering in the second half for five minutes to cover for foul trouble, and even then he still scored five points) registering double-digit scoring.
AJ Griffin scored 10 off the bench, De’Andre managed 11 despite his troubles, as did Onyeka Okongwu who also struggled with foul trouble. Bogdan Bogdanovic shot 2-of-8 from three but the 5-of-13 he did hit all felt like big shots when they went down while John Collins added 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting.
Coming off the bench on a 23 minute restriction, Clint Capela was active: 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Capela is still a little rusty after missing 10 games prior to the Miami game but still adds so much to any Hawks lineup he features in (reflective in the plus-10 he posted last night) and McMillan discussed postgame that Capela may need a few more games for his conditioning to return but is just pleased to have both Capela and Okongwu available again.
“Of course his conditioning, we have to get that back,” said McMillan of Capela. “That’s going to take a couple of more games to do that but it’s good to have him back, to have him out there for the minutes that we have him with Onyeka and have some size out on the floor defending the paint and rebounding the basketball.”
Dejounte Murray was the star of the show, scoring 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting and 4-of-6 from three. Murray was instrumental in the Hawks’ immediate response to falling behind double-digits with that 13-0 Mavericks run but also in the fourth quarter where Murray scored 11 points and dished out three assists.
Murray took a more prominent role in this contest with Young being limited somewhat last night to 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Young played well in the flow of the offense, getting off the ball when he needed to and did well compared to other occasions not to force the issue offensively. McMillan was happy not just with this but also with Young understanding when his teammates have the momentum and getting them the ball.
“I think Trae is really doing a nice job of when we have a hot hand, he’s feeding the hot hand,” said McMillan of Young. “He’s allowing those guys who are knocking down shots to play with the basketball. DJ had it going tonight and Trae was calling his number down the stretch when I put those two back in the game. These are the things that we have been looking for with DJ and Trae. There’s going to be some nights where Trae has it going. We want to feed the hot hand. Tonight, we felt we had a matchup with DJ and Trae did a good job, when he came back into the game, taking his opportunities when he had them but also understanding that DJ had a hot hand, was feeling it, was in a rhythm and we tried to milk that.”
Young described what the Mavericks were doing defensively and what it opened up for his teammates, whom Young reiterated it was his responsibility to find.
“They were in a drop coverage, I saw them in helping a lot on rolls and bigs and if they didn’t I was able to get to the lob but if they were sinking in on the roll I was able to hit the corner three,” said Young. “I knew J-Kidd wasn’t going to let me go off. He was doing a lot of mixing things up, trapping, being more aggressive on me. It was my job to get everyone involved. This is why DJ is here, DJ carried us tonight so I’m glad he did that for us.”
Young wasn’t the only one who had to get off the ball last night. Mavericks star — and the NBA’s leading scorer — Luka Doncic also had to get the ball out of his hands a lot last night as the Hawks blitzed him most of the night. Doncic scored 30 points last night on 9-of-19 shooting, four fewer than his NBA-leading 34 points per game. However, only 11 of these came after the first quarter, in which he scored 19 points as he punished Capela and others who switched onto him.
Blitzing Doncic had mixed results last night.
Mixed in the sense that, yes, the ball was out of his hands but the Mavs swung the ball well when it left Doncic’s hands, and either Doncic was able to make some plays off of the blitz, or Christian Wood made plays inside attacking the rim, as did Spencer Dinwiddie. There were high percentage looks the Hawks gave up in this coverage too, including threes for Reggie Bullock. The Mavs scored on a lot of the possessions Doncic was blitzed and gave up the ball but there were also some occasions where the Hawks got the result they wanted and the Mavs committed a few turnovers in these instances, but more often than not they were able to score when Doncic got the ball out of his hands.
To be fair, on another night I think the Hawks would have had a lot more success employing this strategy — almost everyone was hitting almost everything last night, it was one of those nights. I’d like to see the Hawks do this again because I really do believe that they would have better luck with the Mavericks missing shots on another occasion. Again, like the Giannis matchup last week, you’ll live with others making plays and shots. The Hawks ultimately held Doncic below his (very high) season average and that can be considered a success of sorts, especially to hold Doncic to 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting in the final three quarters, despite Hunter running into foul trouble with Dejounte Murray stepping up defensively to challenge Doncic.
“He’s good,” smiled McMillan when asked about Doncic. “We had to, with De’Andre getting in foul trouble, switch DJ to Luka and that really helped us in the sense that DJ could get underneath him and pressure him, coming up full-court and stay attached to him. It’s not one guy that’s going to be guarding him. We were trapping and hitting him most of the game, he did a good job of getting the ball out. I thought the second half, we put DJ on him and he did a good job staying in front of him and making him turn his back, not allowing him to face-up and get downhill on us.”
Like McMillan said, it wasn’t just one guy — it wasn’t just Hunter, or Murray. There were good efforts from John Collins and Jalen Johnson on contests, a good slide by Bogdanovic to help, a block from Capela...it was a team-effort, and a team victory, with each one mounting in significance as the Hawks continue to catch-up.
“I think all of them from here on out are going to feel like that,” said McMillan when asked if this win was special. “These are the things we talked about a week ago: getting to the second half of the season everybody is in shape now, teams are in shape. These teams that have added new players they now have a rhythm now and everyone is playing better basketball. Teams are going to start to pay attention to the standings because you are in the second half of the season, so you’re going to see this type of basketball, this type of atmosphere for the rest of the season.”
The Hawks’ four-game win streak returns them above .500 at 23-22 and are 1.5 games behind the Miami Heat and New York Knicks for the 6th and 7th seed respectively, moving ahead of the Indiana Pacers into 8th, the Pacers on a five-game losing streak.
With the Hawks’ core seemingly returning to health, it’s not too late for the Hawks — as they have the last two seasons — to make a run in the second half of the season to salvage some seeding in their playoff quest.
Victories like last night go a long way in that regard.
The Hawks (23-22) are back in action on Friday against the New York Knicks (25-21) at State Farm Arena.
With how close these two are in the standings, this is a huge game for the Hawks in what should be an entertaining, lively fixture.
Should be fun.
Until next time...