The Atlanta Hawks registered a convincing victory in Phoenix over the Suns on Wednesday night, emerging 132-100 at Footprint Center.
Dejounte Murray scored a team-high 21 points, with the returning Trae Young adding 20 points and 12 assists. For the Suns, Mikal Bridges scored a game-high 23 points, Deandre Ayton added 20 points.
Right off the top here: this was the best game of the season for the Atlanta Hawks. From minute one to minute 48, this was their best game of the season.
Phoenix might be without Devin Booker but the Suns are a top-10 defense and the Hawks, as we’ve seen, have been woefully inconsistent, so for Atlanta to do what they did last night was an incredible surprise. But more on that later.
I thought the way the Hawks began this game was arguably their best of the entire season, especially in those first three or so minutes — their intent was clear-cut from minute one. They sent a very strong message (as did the Suns but not in a good way) and we’ll look at some of those plays to begin that set the tone on both ends of the floor.
This was the first possession of the game: a good defensive start for the Hawks with Clint Capela contesting well the shot from Bridges near the rim with Dejounte Murray scooping in for the rebound:
It would be fair to say Phoenix, for the most part, did not show up to this game (trailing by as many as 43 points at home and never tied or led the game) and this was reflective in their first possession, with Murray walking into a three-pointer with Chris Paul completely lost and not with it defensively to begin as he loses complete track of Murray:
The lack of urgency from Ayton here was also pretty reflective of the Suns’ performance.
On the Hawks’ next possession, Young initially turns the ball over but steals it right back on the attempted pass and finds John Collins open in the corner for three:
Good anticipation from Young, whose defense has been markedly better of late — certainly his effort — and, again, there’s a serious lack of urgency to the Suns’ defense. Cam Johnson points to Collins in the corner to Ayton, who will not be rushed to contest Collins in the corner.
On their next offensive trip after an Ayton basket, Dejounte Murray runs the pick-and-roll with Capela after the hand-off with Hunter, and after the re-screen from Capela, Murray finds Hunter in the short-corner for another Atlanta three-pointer:
This would establish a consistent trend for the Hawks throughout the night: their perimeter shooting. The Hawks enjoyed their best night of the season from behind the arc, shooting 19-of-33 from distance.
The Hawks put together another good defensive possession as Murray puts pressure on Chris Paul (Murray probably should have been called for a foul here but I like the pressure he puts on Paul here) and Clint Capela again strongly contests the inside shot, this time from Ayton:
The Phoenix offense was largely poor last night and this was a decent example of that inside the first few minutes — both teams very much ended up living by the old adage, ‘start as you mean to go on.’
The Hawks were able to fuel some of their offense off of Phoenix turnovers (21 points) and/or defensive stops (17 fastbreak points) and it was the latter on this next possession as Collins does enough to contest Bridges in the corner and the Hawks are just quicker to the ball and out in the fastbreak as the Suns half-heartedly get back but to no avail as Young finds Murray for the slam:
I thought the cherry on the top of this run for the Hawks was their next defensive possession, with Cam Johnson attacking the rim only to be blocked by Collins for one of his three blocks on the night, the Hawks’ first block for seven quarters at this stage, according to the ESPN broadcast:
The Hawks did take a double-digit lead in the first quarter but the Suns responded and it was only a three point game by the end of the first quarter. However, that was good as it was going to get for Phoenix. From here, there was only one team in this game as the Hawks would go on to outscore the Suns 106-77 for the remaining three quarters, beginning with a 40-24 second quarter in Atlanta’s favor as they shot 68% from the field and hit another five three-pointers having hit five in the first quarter.
The Hawks dominated in the paint in the second quarter, they were able to get whatever they wanted — in general, they scored in just about every way.
The defensive scheme that Phoenix ran simply did not work and the Hawks excelled.
To start, Bogdan Bogdanovic drives from the corner and with the help of an Onyeka Okongwu screen, he gets into the paint and hits the jumper:
Just a lack of attention to detail from Bismack Biyombo here who should step up on Bogdanovic.
Off of a stop, Jalen Johnson brings the ball up the floor and lifts it inside to Okongwu at the rim, who is faced with a mismatch in Johnson and before the Suns can even get back they’re picking the ball out of the net:
A lack of urgency to get back as Okongwu beats them all followed by a lack of help for each other once he does.
Next, a great block from Okongwu at the rim fuels the fastbreak and the Hawks come quickly through Murray, who finds the onrushing AJ Griffin, who finds Jalen Johnson in the corner for the three:
The Hawks are doing a great job putting pressure on the Suns to collapse but Griffin shouldn’t be allowed to basically run down the middle and almost be open for a layup in this situation.
Speaking of Griffin, here, he drives into the paint, gets the better of Josh Okogie with the spin and sticks through the floater for another basket in the paint:
With the Hawks now running their lead high now, they come again, this time it’s the Young-Capela pick-and-roll masquerading the back-door cut by John Collins (who completely gives Chris Paul the slip) and Young finds Collins for an easy one at the rim:
Again, Collins would get another comfortable basket in the paint as he receives the ball from Murray in the pick-and-roll and sticks through the runner:
The Hawks did well whenever there was a mismatch on the floor and De’Andre Hunter punishes Chris Paul in the post:
After a dominating second quarter, the Hawks were arguably even more dominant in the third, outscoring the Suns 36-20 as they built an unassailable lead, a lead that would prove to be the Hawks’ largest of the season at 43 in the fourth quarter. A quick look at the game chart from the Portland game versus the Phoenix game only helps hammer home what it was the Hawks did last night and the contrasts between the two games.
Every year when the Hawks make their trip to Phoenix, I always say the yearly game in Phoenix should be an interesting one — and it’s one of the more interesting games on the Hawks’ schedule in general — largely because it’s been a fixture that is either a close game, filled with a bit of controversy (you might remember the weird ‘charge’ game where the Suns got a lot of charge calls)...it’s just been a game where the Hawks’ haven’t had a lot of success, even when the Suns were one of the worst teams in the league (and before this iteration of the Suns, they were pretty bad for most of the 2010’s and the Hawks a regular playoff team and they still had issues).
This is the scale of what the Hawks were up against heading into last night’s fixture in terms of success in Phoenix:
hey @BobRathbunTV, i'm pretty sure the hawks haven't won by double-digits in phoenix since 1969— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) February 2, 2023
(and i'm not kidding) https://t.co/2ft7fhYSwL
Those are incredible stats.
With a season-high 19 threes, a season-high 32 assists and field goal percentage — after threatening a few times recently to set a new season-high field goal percentage — to go with 58 bench points, this was the most complete performance for the Hawks this season, who also praised the Hawks’ start to this game.
“A full 48 minutes,” said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan postgame. “I thought we got off to a good start, we established our defense early. We had really good ball movement in that first half, 18 assists in that first half. We were doing a better job of defending without fouling. We were just consistent with that play for the full four quarters.”
“We played a great game,” added Dejounte Murray. “I think we executed on the defensive end, taking away a lot of threes. We had a great game.”
The Hawks obviously did a lot of good things offensively but also defensively too, holding the Suns — a top three team in three-point percentage prior to last night’s game with 38.8% — shoot 4-of-28 from three, 14%.
“I thought the pressure was better,” said McMillan. “We did a good job of getting up into the ball. Our bigs were up, we did a good job of keeping them out of the paint and not allowing them to break us down to force help and kick-out for the perimeter three. It starts with controlling the basketball. Our guards did a better job of doing that, our bigs did a better job of getting up and helping our guards.”
We saw it in a number of clips from that second quarter but the Hawks getting defensive stops was extremely beneficial to their offense last night — something they were aware of prior to the game.
“We wanted to win really bad and we knew it had to start on the defensive end, and defense will take care of offense,” said Murray.
Going back to the offense...132 points for the Hawks on 57% shooting from the field, 19-of-33 from three for 57.6% and only 9-of-11 from the free throw line — perhaps the only aspect the Suns actually won, shooting 26-of-31 from the line.
It was good to see Dejounte Murray follow his career-night in Portland with another strong game, scoring 21 points on 8-of-13 from the field and 4-of-7 from three continuing his fine form, averaging 25.7 points per game on 54.7% shooting from the field and 45% from three on over six attempts in his last 10 games.
Murray also posted a plus/minus of plus-40 which, per Hawks PR, has only been done in the league this season on nine other occasions:
In tonight’s win, Dejounte Murray finished with a career-high +/- of +40. Murray is one of only nine players to finish a game with a +/- of +40-or-better this season (done 10 times).— Hawks PR (@HawksPR) February 2, 2023
Trae Young — scoring 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting and 3-of-3 from three last night — has also posted good percentages in his last 10 games, averaging 25.4 points per game on 45% shooting from the field, 36.7% from three on 4.9 attempts as well as 86% from the line on nine attempts per over his last 10 games. Interestingly, during that 10 game stretch, Young has shot 21% from three in the Hawks’ four home games and 46.7% from three on the road in six games, both on 4.8 and five attempts per — fascinating the contrast between the percentages home and away on a similar volume.
Young also made some personal history last night en route to victory:
With his 11th assist tonight, Trae Young has 3,000 in his career … At 24y/135d, he is the second-youngest player in NBA history (LeBron James, 24y/67d) to have over 8,000 pts, 3,000 assts and 1,000 rebs, and in 326 gms, is the second-fastest (Oscar Robertson, 291 gms) to do so.— Hawks PR (@HawksPR) February 2, 2023
There was a wholesome moment between Young and Murray postgame when this was relayed to Young, and his coach Nate McMillan believes it’s not the last assist record Young will break.
“Some people I think take it for granted that he’s averaging 10 assists per game, that’s hard to do,” said McMillan of Young postgame. “He’s been doing that for a long time. He’s a playmaker. He’s a guy that can score the ball but also create opportunities for his teammates. I think he’s going to break a lot more records, especially in that assist department. It’s just something that he does very well.”
The supporting cast last night also played very well. De’Andre Hunter added 15 points on just 6-of-9 shooting, John Collins and Clint Capela were great defensively and Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 18 points off the bench (and is quietly averaging 40.9% from three on seven attempts over his last six games).
Onyeka Okongwu was fantastic too, scoring 17 points on 7-of-7 from the field, including his first career three-pointer:
Dejounte Murray revealed postgame that Okongwu wanted a three-pointer and Murray had run a play prior to this three to make that happen, except Bogdanovic actually ended up making the three instead:
“O actually told me he wanted a three before all of that,” said Murray postgame. “I was trying to run a play where he sets a screen and he could pop to the corner. He came to me in the timeout and I was like, ‘Imma get you one,’ and the first play Bogi came off and shot it and made the three and he was looking at me like, ‘Well, he made it.’ The next one I made sure Bogi curled and he was open in the corner.”
“I had the same (thought), I’m going to be in the corner,” said Okongwu when asked about the three-pointer Bogdanovic made that was going to be for Okongwu before his own three. “Then they’re like, ‘O, what are you doing in the corner?’ They don’t realise why: I’m about to shoot a three! DJ said ‘Imma find you, you better shoot it.’ Laced it!”
Okongwu was all smiles when asked about it postgame but his first career three has been somewhat in the making. He’s taken a few this season in rhythm of the offense, and while he has expanded his jumpshot this season he has gone away from the occasional attempt in a game (his last attempt coming back on December 7th against the Knicks), which is more so the side that McMillan was drawn to when he was asked about it.
“I haven’t seen him take a three in a long time and haven’t seen him make a three in a long time,” said McMillan of Okongwu’s three. “We had a lead, he was out there. We’ve allowed him to take that shot tonight. He made that shot.”
McMillan didn’t appear to be as enthused as others when asked about Okongwu’s three but even outside of that if that wasn’t to his liking, Okongwu played an excellent game on both ends of the ball.
In the end, there was plenty of garbage time to go around for the likes of Frank Kaminsky (who used his extended time to pick up a technical foul), Vit Krejci, the Holiday’s as well as Trent Forrest.
Again, the most complete performance of the season for the Hawks and it comes at a good time where they need the confidence ahead of one of the toughest back-to-backs in the entire league: the Utah-Denver road back-to-back.
The Hawks (26-26) are back in action Friday when they take on the Utah Jazz (27-26) at Vivint Smart Arena.
Should be interesting.
Until next time...