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Hawks avoid collapse, excel in second chance scoring in win vs. Thunder

The visitors almost let an 11 point fourth quarter lead slip but held on to secure victory.

Atlanta Hawks v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks ended their mini-skid of a two game losing patch with a 137-132 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in a high-scoring affair at Paycom Center on Wednesday night.

Trae Young led the way with 33 points and 11 assists, while Dejounte Murray added 21 points. For the Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 36 points with Jalen Williams adding 24 points.

Offense was very much the name of the game, with somehow both teams being tied at 77 apiece at the end of the first half, a season-high for the Hawks in points in a half, and while that should have been enough to take more than a double-digit lead in most games Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had other ideas.

The Hawks did a poor job limiting Gilgeous-Alexander, who scored 26 points in the first half on 9-of-11 shooting and 7-of-7 from the free throw line.

At the start Gilgeous-Alexander was making some difficult shots, such as these:

It soon got out of hand, however, and with no De’Andre Hunter (missing a second consecutive game with asthma) to take the challenge, Gilgeous-Alexander thrived. Dejounte Murray had a particularly torrid time with Gilgeous-Alexander (particularly to end the half) but too often Gilgeous-Alexander got the run on the Hawks.

Here, Gilgeous-Alexander gets the jump on Murray with the cut and though Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t receive the ball on the cut, Murray’s positioning allows him to simply turn and dunk at the rim:

Heading down the floor, Gilgeous-Alexander gets the jump on Murray and pulls up in the paint, with John Collins likely not wanting to close out too soon to contest the jumpshot with the threat Gilgeous-Alexander attacking the rim:

Aaron Holiday found a little more fortune in the second quarter guarding Gilgeous-Alexander briefly but here he’s driven by and Murray’s attempts to contest/block as the help defender are in vain as he finished at the rim:

Again, Gilgeous-Alexander gets the better of Murray, displacing him with a little bump to create the space he needed at the rim and finishes, plus the foul:

To end the quarter, and cap off a stretch where he scored 13 points straight to end the quarter and inside the final two minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander again gets the better of Murray on the drive and Murray is again called for the foul:

Murray by this stage had been rinsed by Gilgeous-Alexander in this first half and was clearly frustrated with the whistle and his disagreements ended up with the earning of a technical foul.

As much as Gilgeous-Alexander was going off to end the second quarter, Trae Young also put together an impressive run of nine points in the final 40 seconds of the second quarter en route to 22 first half points before scoring another 10 points in the third quarter, key to giving the Hawks a five point lead heading into the fourth quarter as he scored a couple of baskets to end the third to give the Hawks that advantage.

It was how the Hawks began the fourth quarter that effectively decided this game, giving them a margin to survive the Thunder’s run after falling behind by double-digits and when they recovered from that run it was enough to save the Hawks from their capitulation late on.

The second unit’s point total may not have been high for the game but their impact to begin the fourth was instrumental, beginning with Jalen Johnson scoring an easy dunk after being found by Onyeka Okongwu:

Neither Trae Young or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are on the floor at this point and the Thunder’s offensive opportunities aren’t as strong, beginning their fourth quarter with a corner three from Ousmane Dieng, a 29% three-point shooter prior to last night, that is missed:

AJ Griffin had a quiet game but had some good moments to begin the fourth quarter, starting with this drive on which he draws the foul and free throws, knocking down both:

Following a missed three from Josh Giddey and former Hawk Mike Muscala, Griffin basically goes to the exact same move from the same spot but this time goes to the runner and gets it go:

A tough shot from Griffin here but four key points from the rookie here to put the Hawks up by double-digits.

A good defensive trip for the Hawks would follow after Okongwu contests Jalen Williams (who shot 11-of-16 from the field, hitting the majority of his shots) at the rim and helps force the miss:

The Hawks add to their lead on a somewhat broken play, a pass from Bogdan Bogdanovic to Murray on the wing, who drives to the rim, draws the defense and finds Okongwu for the dunk to put the Hawks up by 13, leading to an OKC timeout:

On a number of occasions the Hawks have been on the other side of situations like this — a seemingly innocuous four/five point lead for the opposition balloons out of control due to a poor start to the fourth quarter, leaving the Hawks too much to overcome in the final quarter, whatever is left of it.

It’s fascinating to see the dynamics of rotation at this time. Having played all 12 minutes of the third quarter, the Thunder obviously needed to rest Gilgeous-Alexander at some point but without him to begin the fourth quarter the Thunder’s offense slowed to standstill in his absence and the Thunder fell behind by 13 points as a result. It wasn’t until the 6:32 mark in the fourth until Gilgeous-Alexander returned to the game. Some teams ensure their best player are in at the start of the fourth. It’s just interesting how teams handle playing their best players.

The Bucks, for example, play Giannis Antetokounmpo to start the fourth before taking him out a few minutes later (even if you look at the Bucks’ play-by-play in last night’s game against the Denver Nuggets, he dominates the page with activity, be it baskets, free throws etc. and helped the Bucks extend their lead to double-digits against the 1-seed in the West). In the past, the Hawks have rested Young at the start of these periods and how often did they find themselves either having to bring Young back in earlier than they wanted or falling behind by too much before he even got back in?

It’s just interesting to see how teams handle this underrated crucial stretch of a game when a team holds a minor lead heading into the fourth. The Hawks had Dejounte Murray to begin the fourth quarter but what was encouraging to see was that it was the others who made the plays to extend the lead, especially the bench who have struggled at times this season to be productive at times.

It would have been encouraging as a whole to see the Hawks be the ones to pull away to begin the fourth quarter and hold it...had they not almost blown it at the end, letting a nine point lead with 1:54 remaining slip to just one with 15 seconds to go following a steal and dunk for the Thunder.

However, the Hawks did have possession of the ball after said basket, and with the shotclock off the game was still in their hands so long as they could ice it from the free throw line. Normally it’s Trae Young who the Hawks make sure they get the ball to and Young is excellent at icing games at the line, but this time the Hawks had to get the ball into John Collins, and it was Collins who hit two big free throws to give the Hawks a three point lead.

Dejounte Murray had not had the most amazing fourth quarter (four fourth quarter turnovers) but came up with a huge defensive play as he blocks Gilgeous-Alexander at the rim before icing the game himself:

A close call for the Hawks but they eventually got the job done, and needed to get back to winning ways.

Postgame, Hawks head coach Nate McMillan credited the second unit that began the fourth quarter for their efforts that gave the Hawks the buffer that would protect them from themselves en route to victory.

“Oklahoma City is a tough team, they make you work on both ends of the floor and I thought our second unit came in and gave us a lift — both halves — certainly to start the fourth quarter, getting some stops and building a lead for us,” said McMillan postgame. “We just needed to execute down the stretch. We had some turnovers, I think we had seven turnovers in the fourth quarter and was able to hold them off and get this road win.”

77 points at the half should have been more than enough under normal circumstances for things to be a little more comfortable but the Thunder — not just Gilgeous-Alexander — scored with ease, shooting 57% from the field and while the Hawks’ shooting increased over the second half, the Thunder shot 47% from the field in the second half, with Gilgeous-Alexander scoring just 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

McMillan singled out Aaron Holiday’s efforts defensively and how they inspired the team.

“We just needed to do a better job of keeping the ball in front of us and coming to the ball, helping,” said McMillan when asked about the halftime message after conceding 77 points. “We didn’t play in our shift defense the first half and they were pretty much walking into the paint and walking to the basket on us most of the game. Second half, we did a better job. I thought Aaron (Holiday) really came in and got some good pressure on the basketball, didn’t allow them to get downhill and I thought our guys basically responded to Aaron establishing the pressure and the control of the ball.”

Another factor that saw the Hawks score 77 first half points was the Hawks punishing the Thunder’s small-ball lineup — 18 of their 21 second chance points came in the first half, with both Clint Capela (18 points, 8-of-8 from the field on the game and 10 rebounds) and John Collins (19 points on 7-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds) were instrumental in the Hawks’ hammering home an advantage on and end that the Hawks have been brutalized on recently in Capela’s absence.

“I thought our bigs did a really good job in the first half of pounding the paint, the offensive glass,” said McMillan. “They’re playing small-ball and our bigs did a good job of keeping us in the game pounding the boards in the first half.”

Capela and Collins enjoyed fine games, efficient games, and they were not the only ones.

All five starters — Bogdanovic again starting for Hunter — scored 18 or more points, with Bogdanovic scoring 20 points as he hit 4-of-7 from three and Dejounte Murray (despite shooting 1-of-8 from three) added 21 points on 9-of-19 shooting.

On his return to his native Oklahoma, Trae Young starred scoring 30 points on 10-of-20 from the field, 3-of-6 from three and 10-of-11 from the line to go with 11 assists, joining some elite NBA company when it comes to double-double point/assist games, as well as 30-10 games:

Young was quiet in the fourth quarter after his strong third quarter but with Bogdanovic and Murray and the second unit doing their bit, Young’s two points in the fourth went under the radar somewhat. Young played a strong game, as did most of the team last night to be fair, and they shot a fantastic percentage from the field: 59.5%, a season-high for the Hawks.

Hitting 11 threes behind strong nights from Bogdanovic and Young as well as getting to the free throw line for 33 attempts, a really strong night offensively for Atlanta. Defensively of course it wasn’t ideal, but the Gilgeous-Alexander matchup without Hunter was going to be difficult, and the Jalen Williams matchup turned out to be more problematic than it should have been.

Nevertheless, the Hawks will welcome any victory and move on their merry way as they chase a playoff-berth. A solid victory last night, even though they came close to giving it away.

The Hawks (25-24) are back in action on Saturday for a quick pit-stop home against the Los Angeles Clippers (26-24, winners of three straight) before heading back out west.

Should be fun.

Until next time...