The Atlanta Hawks snapped their four game losing streak with an entertaining victory over the Sacramento Kings at Golden1 Center on Wednesday night, 120-117.
John Collins and De’Andre Hunter led the Atlanta scoring with 22 points apiece, while Trae Young and Dejounte Murray also added 21 points each. For the Kings — on the second night of a back-to-back — De’Aaron Fox led with 25 points while former Hawk Kevin Huerter added 24 points.
In what was a very even affair where neither team led by more than nine points and tied three of the four quarters, the Hawks made a run in the fourth quarter to take a seven point lead with 3:50 remaining. This was a key stretch in this game because Onyeka Okongwu — still the Hawks’ center in the absence of Clint Capela — had picked up his fifth foul having just checked back in the fourth quarter (an awful foul call that the Hawks should have absolutely challenged).
This meant that John Collins had to take the assignment on Domantas Sabonis and coming off of a game where the Golden State Warriors grabbed 23 offensive rebounds (including what would give the Warriors the win at the buzzer) it was a potentially dangerous period of the game, with Sabonis already having a strong game on the boards and inside. Collins was very strong in this period of the game, and while not perfect he put in a huge shift for the Hawks in this stretch.
Let’s take a look at some of those instances from Collins in this stretch before looking at how the Hawks rallied.
Something the Hawks struggled with at times in Capela’s absence with only one of Collins/Okongwu on the floor when the big is away from the paint is switching on guards and then contesting that shot at the rim. Collins does so on this occasion though as he helps to contest the shot at the rim from Malik Monk after Sabonis takes AJ Griffin out of the play with the screen:
Collins again does well to help his teammates when he steps up on the screen to contest the Fox jumper after another Sabonis screen, a good contest helping to force a miss from Fox:
There was a play at the 6:57 mark where Collins fought off Sabonis to grab a good rebound but NBA.com didn’t have the correct play archived for it but it was another good play from Collins.
On this next play, Collins is taken off his feet by Sabonis but recovers to get the slap-down on Sabonis out of bounds, credited with the block:
After securing a rebound after a Fox miss, Collins receives the ball again on the move on the slip and drives to the rim to give the Hawks their seven point lead:
Okongwu would check back in after this Kings timeout and while that wasn’t why the Kings went on their 13-2 run, Collins had been immense down that stretch while Okongwu was off the floor.
Collins got himself a rebound, boxing out Sabonis with 2:16 remaining with a two point Hawk lead and it’s here where we’ll pick it up down the stretch:
Off of that, Murray takes the ball coast-to-coast, attacks Huerter at the rim and scores, giving the Hawks a four point lead, marking the beginning of Murray’s key plays down the stretch:
The Kings get a big response as Fox splits the defense and yams one on Okongwu at the rim:
Big dunk there but Murray getting separated after the Huerter screen to lose him wasn’t ideal.
Nor was the following possession for the Hawks as Fox swipes Young for the steal before Young fouls Sabonis scrapping for the loose ball:
Things would go from bad to worse for the Hawks as their seemingly handy seven point cushion is erased as Huerter hits the go-ahead three-pointer:
Collins didn’t step up on the screen this time and Young’s attempts to get around the Sabonis screen back to Huerter was a bit all over the place, but then again having Young guard Huerter was always going to be a very favorable matchup for the Kings and Huerter, who shot 8-of-15 from the field and 4-of-9 from three.
Young would attempt to trade blows with Huerter with a three of his own but it’s very much a hero three, a poor shot given the clock and game situation and the three is missed from Young:
Things would get even worse for the Hawks as the Kings would firmly put their foot in front with 1:16 remaining as Fox hits the jumper, plus the foul from Collins on the contest:
Fox would hit the free throw after the Hawks timeout to give the Kings a four point lead.
The Atlanta response is immediate as Young gets the momentum heading downhill after a Bogdan Bogdanovic screen and Young shifts gears to accelerate past Keegan Murray to score the layup at the rim, plus the foul:
This was a massive bucket from Young. Had the Hawks come away empty on this possession, you’re talking about a four point Kings lead, who would have possession of the ball to add to potentially add to that lead, with under a minute to go. For Young to not only score but draw a foul for the three-point play might have been the most important basket in this stretch — it’s a different ball-game if this doesn’t drop. Now, it’s game on once again.
The Hawks would catch a break on their next defensive trip as Sabonis is fouled and sent to the free throw line, where is 6-of-6 up to this point but would miss both free throws to give the Hawks a chance to re-take the lead with 50 seconds to go. After that, the Hawks initially get a foul call for Young with a foul from Huerter that would have sent Young to the line, but the Kings challenged the call and won that challenge, returning possession of the ball to Atlanta out from the side with eight seconds on the shotclock. They get the ball in to Murray, who steams to the rim and draws the foul from Sabonis to earn a trip to the free throw line:
A really nice ATO from the Hawks using Young as the decoy and give-and-go between Murray and Hunter to get the jump on Huerter and forcing the defense to rotate and draw a foul — a costly play from Huerter here as he positions himself to challenge an inbound to Young before leaving his feet, leaving himself and the Kings very vulnerable for the exact type of play that ended up transpiring.
Murray again produces a clutch play as he knocks the ball from Fox and heads in transition to finish at the rim to give the Hawks what proved to be a decisive three point lead:
The Kings wanted a push-off call and there is a replay where it does look like Murray uses his forearm. Fox absolutely embellishes the contact but given some of the natures of the calls in this game I am almost surprised this wasn’t called an offensive foul because Murray does seem to push off a little with his forearm — if they had called it it wouldn’t have even come close to the worst foul calls in this game. Nevertheless, a clutch defensive play from Murray to put the cherry on top of the cake for his plays in the final minute.
After a timeout, the Kings end up going for a two, take far too long to do so, miss both attempts and then don’t proceed to foul in the corner, allowing the Hawks to secure the victory:
Having Murray guard Huerter was the best option in this situation given that you would have assumed the Kings would try to find him and there’s a moment on the Fox spin where Huerter could have been found for a good look but Fox’s decision making I think let him down on this one. The Sabonis attempt is desperation.
Surprising the Kings didn’t go for a three (or perhaps Malik Monk wasn’t in the game) but it’s a much-needed victory for the Hawks to break a four game losing streak and to do so after losing in the manner they did in Golden State.
‘’Feels great,’’ said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan postgame. ‘’That’s what we have been talking about. To close out game and we have to make plays down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Tonight we did. We did a good job of getting stops when we needed them. I thought DJ’s steal was a big play, you’ve got to make big plays like that when you’ve been in situations we’ve been in. I thought the last shot, big rebound — Onyeka and John Collins were big on the boards for us tonight. I thought our guys executed offensively, stepped up and knocked down our free throws and made plays in the fourth quarter to win the game.”
The Hawks had lost five of their last six games before this victory and have been losing significant ground in the Eastern Conference standings. While it won’t vault them back into the playoff positions, every victory will count come the end of the season — a season that still has more than half of its course to run.
“It’s been a long week, dropping four games,” said Dejounte Murray via the AP. “This is the NBA. It’s a long season. You get to redeem yourself. …we are going in the right direction.”
Given how things have gone for the Hawks at times this season, you would be forgiven for not being confident in the Hawks bouncing back in the last minute, on the raod — fans very much engaged in the game — after the Kings made their run to take the lead. McMillan reiterated his ‘Three C’s’ that the Hawks dug in after that Sacramento run, referencing the quick Young basket to cut the game to a single possession and Murray’s defensive play at the end of the game.
“We put three C’s on the board every night,” said McMillan when asked about the Kings’ run. “Three C’s in that situation: you’ve got to remain calm, you’ve got to be clear about what you need to do, and you’ve got to play connected basketball. They did make a run but the game wasn’t over, it wasn’t out of reach. We were able to keep our poise, go down, get a score. Trae had a quick attack to the basket and got an and-1 in that situation to put us down a (single) possession. We kept our heads and just stayed with it. We were clear about what we needed to do, we needed to get a stop and as I mentioned DJ’s steal was a big play.”
McMillan also credited John Collins’ efforts in this game after he was asked about Onyeka Okongwu’s foul trouble on illegal screens, with McMillan also providing some insight as to how the Hawks teach their guys to improve on such instances before highlighting Collins’ performance having to step in for Okongwu at the five after his illegal screen for his fifth personal foul.
“We pull all of those types of plays for all of our guys,” said McMillan when asked about Okongwu’s offensive fouls on illegal screens. “Guys who are getting called for illegal screens, defending, movement. We have someone that we work with that we pull those videos and we show our guys what they’re doing — whether they’re sticking out a hip, or their legs are too wide, or they’re pushing off. All of those things we pull for our players and we show them the video to teach them on that. John stepped in and played really big for us tonight. He played 40 minutes, had to guard big Sabonis, did a good job of scoring for us but also rebounding the basketball. John really stepped in and played well, playing big minutes for us tonight.”
The 40:33 that Collins played last night marked a season-high (having just set his season-high for minutes played in the Golden State Game, granted, it took double overtime to do so). Offensively he was great — 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, 2-of-4 from three, 6-of-6 from the line, 12 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals. Collins level of play on this road-trip is very encouraging and with Capela still absent it’ll need to continue.
The Hawks saw a number of good performances last night, De’Andre Hunter also starring — 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field, including 12 in the third quarter. Hunter showed strong aggression in the third quarter and eight rebounds in addition is exactly what the Hawks need from him.
Bogdan Bogdanovic also provided a great lift from the every seemingly decreasingly used bench outside of Bogdanovic, scoring 11 of his 17 points in the first half before finishing on 7-of-13 from the field and 3-of-7 from three. Bogdanovic is currently shooting 40.9% from three and given the struggles of the Hawks behind the arc that is extremely valuable for this Atlanta side.
Trae Young and Dejounte Murray enjoyed efficient games, Murray scoring 21 points on 8-of-17 from the field, coming up with three steals on the night too including of course the decisive one at the end of the game. Young was quiet in terms of his field goal attempts with just 12 but shot an efficient 7-of-12 from the field and 1-of-2 from three. The Kings’ defense forced the ball a little out of Young’s hands but this time basically all of his main running mates (Murray, Collins, Hunter, Bogdanovic) stepped up offensively. In fact, every major member of the Hawks’ rotation (with the exception of AJ Griffin) shot 47% or above from the field — this was very much a victory by committee.
There were some interesting rotation tid-bits from last night’s game when it comes to Young and Murray’s rotation. We did see Young exit in the third quarter in the Golden State game when Young has largely played entire first and third quarters, with Murray playing all of the second and fourth quarters.
Last night, neither followed this rotation as McMillan and the Hawks switched their rotations for their guards — resting briefly in those periods where they normally play all of the quarter — with McMillan wanting to give his guards a breather so that they would have more energy to expend on the defensive end of the floor.
“Those guys have been playing the whole quarter in our games and I told them I’ve got to give both of them a breather because I want them playing both sides of the basketball,” said McMillan of the rotation change. “I thought we were looking fatigued late in the quarters so I changed the rotation to give them a breather. It’s a short breather but it’s a breather because I need them playing both sides of the basketball. I don’t need them resting on maybe the defensive end of the floor, I need that energy, that urgency on both sides of the floor and tonight we’ve changed our rotation as far as how we rotated those guys in.”
Young played just under 32 minuted in the end, with Murray playing just under 35, and it’ll be interesting to see how long this rotation with them continues. In terms of McMillan’s bench outside of Bogdanovic, they’ve played very little over these last two games. Part of this could be attributed to how close the Hawks’ last two games have been in the second half, and it was a close contest.
Not too often do you see teams draw three of the four quarters, and while the Hawks led for the majority of this contest, both sides were very equal on the night. It was an entertaining game and a good victory for the Hawks against a good team. They responded well when the Kings went on their run and to do so on the road and to take the sting out of a rowdy Kings crowd deserves credit.
A good victory for the Hawks and a good performance from most of the roster, and a badly needed win given their form of late.
The Hawks (18-20) are back in action on Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers (17-21), the Hawks spending a weekend in L.A. with a bout with the Clippers to come on Sunday.
Should be fun.
Until next time...