Trae Young scored 30 points to lead the way, with De’Andre Hunter adding 20 points. For the Clippers — without Paul George and Luke Kennard — Kawhi Leonard led the hosts with 29 points. Ivica Zubac added 17 points and 18 rebounds.
Things were looking great for Atlanta in the second quarter when the Hawks shot 70.8% from the field en route to 41 points, pushing their lead to as many as 17 points before taking a 14 point lead into the locker-room after a wild sequence in which John Collins finished an alley-oop play before Hunter stole John Wall’s inbounds pass and finishing at the rim with a monster dunk.
The third quarter was almost as bad for the Hawks as the second quarter was good for them, with the Clippers outscoring the Hawks by 16 points (35-19) to take a lead in this game — the Clippers hitting four threes to the Hawks’ zero certainly as well as nine made free throws helping the hosts swing the momentum — before going on to take a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. With the game slipping away from the Hawks, they responded brilliantly with an 11-0 run to tie the game. The Clippers would take a four point lead with 2:34 remaining through Marcus Morris Sr. and it’s at this point we’ll pick it up from here in another close finish for the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks miss their first chance after this shot from Morris — a catch-and-shoot three from Dejounte Murray — and the Clippers miss a three they would probably very much regret missing, a three point attempt from Norman Powell that would have pushed the Clipper lead to seven points:
Active defensive possession by Onyeka Okongwu there to step in to halt the Leonard drive as well as the closeout on Powell.
The Hawks half the deficit through Dejounte Murray, who drives in on Nicolas Batum, spins and hits the turnaround shot in the paint:
Tough shot from Murray here but does well to take advantage of Batum and with Zubac keeping an open eye on Collins behind the arc, there’s no help for Batum here.
The Hawks produce a stop on the other end as Morris’ attempted pass back to Powell in the corner is read by Murray, who deflects the pass and Collins collects the loose-ball to complete the steal for Murray:
The next play would mark the beginning of Young taking over this game, getting to the free throw line as he draws the foul from Powell, and Young would knock down both free throws to tie the game:
The Clippers find themselves unable to respond as Leonard is defended well by De’Andre Hunter, and Leonard’s fading jumper is missed:
The Hawks would go on to re-take the lead, as Young gets the quick step on Powell and goes to his floater before Zubac can step up:
The not greatest fourth quarter stretch for Powell, as it turned out — the miss to go up seven, the foul on Young and this play where Young easily skips by.
The Clippers use their final timeout at this juncture, with the Hawks having two to spare, which Hawks head coach Nate McMillan deciding he will use whatever the case is after this timeout as he takes Young out of the game for Jalen Johnson in an effort to add some size and defense for this possession before he would use one of this two remaining timeouts to get Young into the game again.
The Clippers get themselves a quick basket out of the timeout as Leonard gets the jump on Hunter and the help from Collins at the rim is unable to prevent the Leonard basket to tie the game:
Leonard seemed to want a foul call, not the first time during this game he felt he deserved a whistle but none came and the Hawks use their timeout to get Young back into the game.
Young would hit another go-ahead basket as he comes off the screen from Okongwu to get downhill and get into his floater again, uncontested, and gives the Hawks the lead:
This was an excellently drawn-up play. The screen from Okongwu was always going to come for Young but what was brilliant was how they freed up so much space for Young to get downhill and not allow the Clippers to crowd Young or help onto him by using Murray to almost psuedo-screen Zubac and take Batum away from the side of the floor Young was going towards. There was also an option to find Hunter completely open in the corner if Zubac prevented the floater from Young — it was just a great action to get Young downhill and in space.
The Clippers, with no timeouts remaining, immediately seek a reply and Leonard doesn’t take advantage of the one time Hunter leaves his feet in the fourth quarter when guarded by him, and the give-and-get-back from Morris leads to little as Leonard then attempts a three:
After that miss, the Clipps come up with the offensive rebound and it ends in the hands of Marcus Morris, who gets Hunter off his feet, steps back behind the arc and gets a look at an open three and misses, and is forced to foul as the secure a clutch rebound through John Collins, who fends off Leonard to secure the board:
An odd decision in one sense from Morris to go for a three when only two was needed and with time on the clock — all of the remaining clock after the offensive rebound — but to be fair it was a wide open shot for Morris who is shooting 38% from three this season and it was probably going to be better than taking anything inside the arc, considering the Hawks are essentially camped there still after the rebound.
Alas, it was missed and when Young is fouled he knocks down both free throws to give the Hawks a four point lead with no timeouts for the Clippers and the Hawks hold on to secure what looked perhaps an unlikely victory having squandered a 17 point lead and fell into an 11 point hole in the fourth quarter on the road, but similar to the Kings game found some way to pull a victory out to finish this road-trip at .500, which is something the Hawks talked about prior to the game.
“I thought our guys came out and they wanted to finish this road-trip .500,” said McMillan postgame, winner of his 750th game in the NBA. “We talked about that in our last game, we still have an opportunity to make this a successful road-trip and I thought they came out focused and played solid basketball from start to finish, it’s a really good team in the Clippers.”
With no Paul George in the lineup, it’s not quite the same Clippers team (perhaps evidenced by the fact they’d lost five in a row prior to last night) and that it made easier to load up on Kawhi Leonard, who scored 29 points but on 9-of-23 shooting from the field. De’Andre Hunter had the assignment of guarding Leonard and he did very well, McMillan praising Hunter postgame for his efforts on Leonard.
“I thought his defense was really good,” said McMillan of Hunter’s defense on Leonard. “Players like Kawhi, you’re not going to stop those guys. If you can make it tough on them and don’t allow them to get to the free throw line, that’s about as good as you can do and I thought De’Andre was solid all night. I wanted to try and match his minutes with him. The thing was to try stay in front of him and I thought most of his shots were contested, good contests without fouling.”
In the fourth quarter especially, I thought Hunter was at his best defensively on Leonard, who shot just 2-of-6 in the fourth quarter.
You might wonder, perhaps, how this game was as close as it was when you see Leonard only had 29 points when the next highest was 17, and then you see the shooting numbers — 49% shooting from the Hawks while the Clippers shot just 38.9% from the floor.
Neither team shot the three-ball well (8-of-26 for Atlanta, 10-of-30 for the Clippers) but what made the difference to help the Clippers hang in this one were their free throws (making eight more than the Hawks) and, much more significantly, 21 second chance points.
Again with Clint Capela absent through injury, the Hawks struggled on the boards and were out-rebounded 59-43, with the Clippers grabbing 21 offensive rebounds — without Clint Capela a matchup with Ivica Zubac is a terrifying thought, and there’s very little the Hawks can do to solve this issue when Capela is out.
“We need to get our big-guy back,” said McMillan of the rebounding battle and second chance scoring. “We’ve been getting pounded on the boards. We’re small when we have Onyeka and John in there, and need for all of our guys to get in and help rebound the ball. Tonight, we got a break at the end, we made the plays and we got the rebounds when we needed to those last couple of possessions.”
When Hawks found themselves in trouble on the boards in the first quarter, they brought in Frank Kaminsky at the end of the first quarter in a desperate search for size and, to be fair, Kaminsky was solid at the end of the first quarter and briefly to open the second quarter.
“Second quarter we got a run, I thought our bench really gave us a lift,” said McMillan. “End of the first and start of the second Frank came in and gave us really good minutes, Jalen came in and gave us some good minutes along with Aaron and the second group and was able to have a good quarter.”
Another big off the bench that enjoyed a good game was Jalen Johnson, scoring 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, including 2-of-3 from three to go with four rebounds and two steals.
“I thought he was just calm,” said McMillan of Johnson. “I thought he played a really solid game, he allowed the game to come to him. When the ball was rotated to him he didn’t hesitate, he shot the ball with confidence, knocked down his shots, was able to get on the glass. Defensively he gives us length, that’s was the reason I really wanted to get him in the lineup, it’s to try and help when we had Onyeka out of the game. Pair him with Frank, pair him with John to try get some size, some type of length in there to defend and rebound. I thought he played really good minutes both halves.”
The bench has struggled to see time on the court during this road-trip but when Johnson got his chance at an extended run he took advantage of it and his play in the second quarter helped the Hawks stretch their advantage. Sadly, it wouldn’t last as the Clippers came out strong to begin the third and cut the lead away in a hurry.
“They do what good teams do,” said McMillan on the Clippers’ third quarter. “They came out much more aggressive in that third quarter looking to attack more and they won that third quarter.”
Similar to the Sacramento game, McMillan was pleased with how his team responded after the Clippers made their run.
“I thought we stayed with it,” McMillan said. “They made their run and we were able to execute in that fourth quarter to make our run and eventually win the game. I loved the fact we stayed calm, stayed poised. We knew it was going to be a tough game, a tight game and our execution on both ends of the floor was going to be big, We didn’t rebound well until the last minute or two in this game and we made plays and got the rebounds when we needed them.”
The star of the show, of course, down the stretch was Trae Young who made consistent floaters and got to the free throw line in the fourth to help the Hawks take a lead and then ice the victory and the Hawks did well to work openings for him to do so, and Young took advantage of that.
“We wanted to get some movement in our actions, in our offense I thought he did a good job getting us into our sets, looking to attack, and closing,” said McMillan of Young. “A guy like that, he’s really one of our closers and we’re going to put the ball in his hands and allow him to make decisions and I thought tonight he made some good reads and he was able to finish.”
Young, I thought, did a much better of job of letting the game come to him. Sure, a couple of shots weren’t great, but overall he did a much better job of letting his offense come to him and I think that was reflective in his efficiency — 30 points on 9-of-17 shooting and 3-of-6 from three to go with 9-for-9 at the free throw line.
His backcourt teammate Dejounte Murray enjoyed a solid game too, as did Hunter of course, while both Okongwu and Collins were solid in the front-court. A tough game for Bogdan Bogdanovic, who shot 2-of-13 from the field and 0-of-7 from three — it just wasn’t his night.
The low number of minutes for AJ Griffin continues to be confusing. Griffin scored seven points on 3-of-3 shooting in just under 11 minutes and has barely played on this road-trip (since the start of 2023, Griffin has not played more than 17 minutes in a game). Three of these four games have been close in the second half, including this one, but it’s not as though the Hawks shot lights out in this game: they could have used Griffin’s shooting. It’s just an odd one, we’ll see if it changes when the Hawks return home.
All-in-all, a good victory for the Hawks here and a decent trip overall. Sure, they could have been 3-1 on the trip had any one of the many things had gone differently in the double overtime game in Golden State but they could have easily gone 0-4 on this trip too, both on paper prior to the trip and in actuality — they rallied against the Kings where they threw away a lead in the fourth quarter, and threw away a 17 point lead here before coming back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to get this one done.
The Hawks (19-21) return home to take on the Milwaukee Bucks (25-14) on Wednesday, the first night of a back-to-back for the Bucks.
A tough fixture for the Hawks to return to after a West Coast trip but a matchup always with the potential to be a thriller.
Until next time...