The Atlanta Hawks emerged victorious against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday afternoon in a frantic 129-127 victory at State Farm Arena.
Trae Young led all scorers with 34 points, with Dejounte Murray adding 28 points. For the Nets, Cam Johnson scored 27 points, with Mikal Bridges adding 24 points.
The revitalized Hawks looked as though they picked up exactly where they left off after the Cleveland game after pushing their way to an 18 point lead in the second quarter. You’d have been forgiven for thinking that things were going to go like the Cleveland game but the Nets chipped away and cut the lead to five points by halftime and from there it very much a game for the remainder.
What helped the Hawks push their margin to 18 was the play of the their second unit, led by Bogdan Bogdanovic’s four three-pointers in the first half. What helped the Nets close the margin before half was some poor decisions from Atlanta, who may have gotten a little ahead of themselves with their margin and squandered chances to add to/maintain their lead.
Here, an futile attempt on the reverse layup from Young which is easily snuffed out by Spencer Dinwiddie:
Next, John Collins’ hesitance to swing the ball to Murray first time ends up costing him and when he finally does it’s picked off and leads to points in transition for Brooklyn:
This contested drive and shot from Young so early into the clock probably wasn’t the Hawks’ best option on this possession and it gives Brooklyn another opportunity to cut into the lead:
Finally from the first half, on the out-of-bounds play, Young attempts to lob for Collins but the play is broken up by Nic Claxton:
Young was definitely better off attempting the floater here himself on this occasion but credit to him for trying to find Collins here if nothing else.
Possessions like these allowed the Nets to creep back into the game, and most of the second half was close — only on a few occasions in the fourth quarter did any lead go above five points and if it did it did not remain so for long.
Behind Murray, the Hawks put together a number of key plays down the stretch to give themselves a great chance to win this game and Murray was instrumental.
To begin, he helps the Hawks breakaway and push their lead from one to four with a three-pointer after the screen from Onyeka Okongwu provides him with the separation he needs to pull the trigger with the shotclock winding down:
Not long after this, Murray would help increase the lead again as he deflects Cam Thomas’ attempted pass inside before skying-high to collect the loose ball and take it to the rim, where his attempted shot is goal-tended:
Great aerial contest and win for Murray here, and it pushed the Hawks lead to six points with just over just over a minute and a half to go — not unassailable but almost commanding. If six with 1:31 wasn’t commanding then eight with 1:17 probably is, and so it was the case when a pair of Young free throws nudged the Hawks’ lead to eight with 1:17 to go, surely the hosts were home-and-dry now if they weren’t before?
A Dinwiddie dunk brought the lead down to six and following a turnover from Murray on the attempted find of Okongwu at the rim, the Nets come the other way and bring the gap to three points behind a three from Dorian Finney-Smith:
I think you can honestly live with this three — it’s a contested three on a 34% three-point shooter who doesn’t even register a percentage on shots where the defender is within 0-2 feet and 0% (according to NBA.com’s shooting tracking for Finney-Smith?) where the defender is within 2-4 feet.
What the Hawks will have a more difficult time living with was the three that came after this one, but not before Young attempted a three of his own:
I thought this three was fine. Young worked the space on the switch and got a good look at it, it’s more so reflective of the year Young has had from three — solid attempts but just not falling.
Regardless, it gives the Nets the opportunity to tie the game. Out of the timeout, the Nets find their equalizer when the ball is swung to Johnson in the corner for a three with 7.8 seconds remaining:
It matters less knowing what the final result is now but this play was the subject of debate and I think is worth discussing just even from a basketball philosophy point of view.
Game situation: the Nets need a three, otherwise they’re playing the foul game. De’Andre Hunter closes out tightly on Finney-Smith, who had recently made a contested three on Okongwu. This tight pressure from Hunter allows Finney-Smith the opportunity to drive by Hunter and now create an opening in the defense where it has to make decisions now: do they close off the threat they’re essentially trained for and rotate to prevent an easy basket, or do they allow the easy two to happen and play the foul game? Bogdanovic answers that question by stepping in to rotate from the corner onto Finney-Smith, who kicks it to Johnson in the corner.
This is not indicative of course, but I always find in plays like this in a ‘who should be helping here’ scenario is how urgent the closeout and contest to be a pretty telling sign as to whether something was in the scheme or whether it was a defensive lapse/breakdown on the help. To better explain, if someone is scrambling in a help/rotate situation then I always find the chances are that player hasn’t done enough to help/closeout sooner and they know it. You can tell in the body language sometimes of the closeout that the player knows they should’ve done more. When it’s more of the defensive scheme and ‘live with the percentages/know your personnel’ type of situations, the closeout is either non-existent or more casual/not as urgent, because the player knows the game-plan and it’s not essential for them to get out there. At least, that’s my interpretation.
With Saddiq Bey, I get the feeling that he knew he should’ve done a better job rotating to Johnson, a 41% three-point shooter, it was something that was probably discussed prior to the play: the Hawks would have/should have expected the ball to go to Johnson for a three. The alternative question is should Bogdanovic have rotated to try prevent a two pointer and leave a 41% three-point shooter in the corner alone when you’re up three? No, probably not, but I think the Hawks primarily wanted a defensive stop and employed standard NBA defensive rotations etc. to try and prevent a basket. I think the Hawks lost sight of the game situation and Bogdanovic rotated as he would have at any point in the game to try prevent an easy basket and Bey was behind in his rotation. Again, should those basic principles be disregarded in a situation like this and just say ‘rotation be damned, just let them have the easy two?’ That’s the debate. The Hawks I think just got caught following game-long defensive principles in a situation where sometimes those principles need to go out the window for the sake when the game basically comes down to one possession.
The specifics of the play do draw your attention from the larger issues at hand, one being the Hawks just blew an eight point lead with just over a minute to go, but also the question of why — after a Brooklyn timeout on a critical defensive possession, with the Hawks having a timeout to use themselves make or miss — why are Bey and Bogdanovic in the game to begin with? That was certainly perplexing, but does nothing of course to change the situation now the game is tied.
Shotclock off, overtime looming, the Hawks go to Young out of the timeout. Young does brilliantly to shed the excellent Bridges with the shot fake and gets the shot away in time to beat the buzzer and win the game:
Dinwiddie came ever so close to blocking this from behind but came up short in his contest, and the Hawks secure another buzzer-beater on the season and move back above .500 once again.
“Joe just wanted to give me space and gave me the top of the floor and I got to a spot and just tried made him (Bridges) jump,” said Young of the final play. “I know he has a lot of length and with his long arms he’s going to try to contest. I just wanted to try make him jump, try get a floater up and shoot the last shot.”
Interim head coach Joe Prunty singled out Young’s ability to remain calm in a pressure situation with one of the NBA’s better defenders guarding him.
“I think one of the things that’s important to notice in a situation like that is the level of calm Trae has to drive the ball hard against arguably their best defender, pump-fake, step-through, do all of the things and keep his composure to make a shot like that,” said Prunty of the final possession. “That’s a great player making a great play.”
Those final two points may have been Young’s 34th on the game but Prunty praised an overall team effort.
“Obviously great win, extremely hard fought,” opened Prunty. “From beginning to end — I know we had an 18 point lead in the first half and I think you have all watched enough basketball to know that 20 point leads in the first half are not anything, the way the game is played with threes, player’s abilities to score. Loved our fight and loved so many contributions from everybody tonight. Good team win, big shot obviously from Trae but a lot of people made a lot of plays.”
Prunty would discuss at length the nature of the team victory when he was asked about the team coming together in the second half and keeping accountability. This ranged from the long stint of Okongwu, decisions regarding rotation of Hunter — who was struggling with foul trouble — and the hot hand of Bogdanovic, to playing John Collins above his minutes restriction.
“The word I’d use right isn’t necessarily accountability, I’m not sure how to phrase it,” began Prunty. “More respect for your teammate or what needs to be done, even though you may not like it this is best for the team. For example — and I’m not saying guys did or didn’t like decisions that were made but a lot of tough decisions were made, meaning Onyeka played 48 minutes for a stretch there!
“He comes in, literally may have played 17 straight minutes. With that, I know he’s tired and I know there’s some situations where he’s had to switch onto the ball and he’s had to run from the perimeter to go and rebound, and I kept asking him in the timeouts we were taking, ‘Are you good? Are you good?’
“His ability to step up and do that because they were small out — now they did have stretches where Claxton was out there too but for the most part they were small. Bogi had it going, ‘Dre had a tough night in regards to he gets two fouls early, we leave him out there again, he comes in the second half and now he’s got four and he’s sat for a while. I made a decision where I pulled him out and brought Bogi back and I told him, ‘Be ready,’ and we brought him in for defense, we were rotating offensive, defensive situation. But it’s not easy, but it was a read that Bogi’s had a good game so we went that route.
“John Collins was going to be limited minutes-wise and we knew that but we were in a tough situation where they were making a run and we ended up burning up his minutes earlier than we would have liked to but he helped us like we ended up having an eight point lead. I’m not sure that was exactly when he came out but he helped us go from a deficit or a tie game to a lead. A lot of tough decisions were made and the guys stood with one another.
“That’s way too long winded of an answer but I hope you understand the commitment the team made to one another was really big.”
As Prunty himself admitted, a very long answer but one worth printing to show how he really felt about this being a total team effort and the degree in which the team was together, and this sentiment was echoed by Trae Young when asked about Bogdan Bogdanovic post game.
“Whenever Bogi has nights like tonight it helps our team,” said Young. “The starters, we didn’t do our job as far as extending the lead and making sure we had the lead, obviously we were all in the minus. If Bogi plays the way he did tonight we’re going to be a really good team because we’re not going to play the starters the way we did tonight the rest of the year.
“Big O was great too. Rebounding, talking on defense, it was really good for us. Dejounte obviously being efficient and hitting threes, it was great for us. It was a total team effort for us tonight.”
To Young’s point about the starters’ plus/minus, they combined for a minus+64. Plus/minus can be a strange stat but Young’s attention was certainly drawn to it yesterday.
Okongwu played 28 minutes and was a key contributor off the bench but the star off the bench was Bogdanovic, who scored 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 from three and was a plus-28 on the game. Bogdanovic hit four threes in the first half and was key to the Hawks pushing their lead to 18 in the first place.
Murray and Young both played strong offensive games, combining for 62 points on 24-of-47 shooting from the field.
Murray had the three-ball going, shooting 12-of-21 from the field and 4-of-7 from three en route to 28 points. Murray had some key plays down the stretch at timely moments and looked great offensively. Young scored 34 points on 12-of-26 from the field, 1-of-5 from three but did shoot 9-of-9 from the free throw line to go with eight assists, and a buzzer-beater of course.
This was a particularly important victory as the Nets are one of the teams the Hawks are trying to overhaul in their quest for an automatic playoff berth. They’ve started well after the break here but face a tough stretch once this homestand wraps up.
In many ways this game was overshadowed by the announcement after the game that Quin Snyder would become the next head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and expected to be on the sidelines as soon as Tuesday’s game against the Washington Wizards, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. It’s going to be a bit of chaos in terms of figuring out new rotations, any changes to schemes etc. but it’ll be fun to watch all of that unfold down the stretch.
Two quality victories after the break against good opponents has been a welcome boost the Hawks’ playoff hopes (31-30) and have two more games to finish their homestand, the first of which takes place on Tuesday when they’ll meet their Southeast Division rivals the Washington Wizards (28-32) for the first time this season.
Should be fun.
Until next time...