“They crazy for leaving me open, that’s what was going through my head,” said De’Andre Hunter about his late three-point shot to ice the game for Atlanta. It was the exclamation point on a hard-fought road victory for the Hawks, their second consecutive win on this road trip. It was a balanced effort, as they showed patience on both sides of the ball, remaining in control for most of the game despite a late run from Utah.
The first quarter began strongly in the Hawks favor, with the visitors sprinting out to an early 14-3 lead. The Jazz Men, after an early timeout from Will Hardy, managed to chip away at the early deficit, finding themselves only down by six with about a minute left. But four quick points from Trae Young renewed the Hawks a double digit lead after one quarter of play.
Offensively, the Hawks showed a lot of teeth in the backcourt, as Dejounte Murray and Young relentlessly attacked Utah’s patented drop defense to the tune of 14 points in the opening period. Atlanta’s defense also showed up in Salt Lake City, as there were multiple active deflections on the perimeter.
Hands. Havoc. Hunter. pic.twitter.com/mXL6r9bE8c— Bally Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnBally) February 4, 2023
Clint Capela’s impact defensively was huge, as he grabbed six rebounds in the quarter and a block. John Collins even hit a three pointer! And he had one of the craziest buckets of the year.
JC SOMEHOW gets the basket— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 4, 2023
(yes it counted) pic.twitter.com/esImv3s6mL
Atlanta’s momentum continued as their lead did not dip into single digits for even one second of the second quarter. Defense and hustle were the story in the first half (can you believe it?), with the Hawks keeping the Jazz just at exactly 50 points, eight points fewer than the 58.6 points they have averaged in the first half so far this year.
The Hawks’ switch and recover scheme on the perimeter seemed to cause challenges for the lack of off-the-dribble creation for the Jazz guards. This was coupled with domination on the boards from Atlanta, showing a hard-nosed grit that is uncharacteristic for this team.
Are we seeing... grit (?), hustle (??), and determination (???) from the Atlanta Hawks right now?— Antonis Papadopoulos (@Whos_Your_Papa) February 4, 2023
NINE offensive rebs with 4:30 left in the 2nd, out rebounding Utah 28-22, and forcing 7 TOs
Young finished with 17 points at the half, leading a balanced scoring effort for the Hawks with multiple players contributing. At halftime, they enjoyed a 62-50 lead, despite shooting horribly from three-point range (3/19). This was one of those three, though:
Four-point play for Trae! pic.twitter.com/8pTbtsUanW— Bally Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnBally) February 4, 2023
The Jazz were not keen to give up, and came out of halftime with a scoring flurry, shooting an impressive 60% for the third quarter as a whole. The Hawks offense was up to the challenge, however, as they weathered the onslaught from Utah behind 12 points from De’Andre Hunter.
Dre hoopin' in the 3rd, he has 10 this quarter pic.twitter.com/kmARtWtQ4I— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 4, 2023
Defensively, the Hawks found it difficult to sustain the energy they exhibited on the perimeter in the first half. Jordan Clarkson and Conley were able to find more seams into the paint, and attacked with more ferocity. Despite this, the Jazz couldn’t eclipse the nine point threshold at any point in the third. This continued through most of the fourth quarter, as well.
Jalen Johnson Magic Johnson— Bally Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnBally) February 4, 2023
No-look passes to cutters pic.twitter.com/UDut1veWxv
But it wouldn’t be Atlanta Hawks basketball without a little drama. With 5:25 left in the game the Hawks had a 106-91 lead, but two minutes later the score was 106-101. Three consecutive three-pointers from Markkanen and Clarkson were the main contributions to the 10-0 that made the game interesting for the Jazz, as the Hawks struggled with Utah’s improved ball movement around the perimeter.
A critical three-pointer from Young after an Atlanta timeout helped assuage some of the anxiety for the Hawks. This was followed by a hard-earned floater from Murray, and the clutch dagger from Hunter, which allowed the Hawks to keep the Jazz at arm’s length. Despite losing the fourth quarter 30-24, they were able to come away with a 115-108 victory.
There was plenty to build on for the Hawks, on both sides of the ball. First, the balanced scoring truly did play out in the box score, with five Hawks players ending in double digits. Young put on the type of spectacle Hawks fans expected after he was “snubbed” from the All-Star game, tallying 27 points, six assists, and four rebounds.
Onyeka Okongwu delivered a yeoman’s performance with 15 points and 11 rebounds (three offensive). Murray still found ways to contribute, despite his hot three-point shooting cooling off in the Utah mountains; he racked up eight assists and three steals.
In his press conference, Coach Nate McMillan had this to say about how the game played out, “You know teams are going to make a run… I thought we did a good job of starting the game solid defensively. They’re big, and we did a good job of keeping them in front.” McMillan continued, “Playing in this altitude, I thought we got a little tired. And we started to get a little sloppy there in that second half.”
When asked about the offensive production, McMillan stressed the importance of having an attacking mindset: “We have to be aggressive. We don’t want to just sit out there and settle for the perimeter shots. We are creating opportunities when we are being aggressive attacking the rim, attacking the paint… we got, I think, 37 attempts from the three-point line. That’s the game plan, to attack the rim every night.”
Young echoed his coach’s sentiments regarding the offense: “That’s gotta be our mindset, we gotta look to attack the paint, but also be ready to knock down threes when we get ‘em. We only made ten tonight, but we put up 37. I like that number… I think we been losing a couple games where we’ve been scoring a lot more twos and teams have been scoring more threes on us. So, I think getting up more threes… has been good.”
This seemed particularly relevant for the Hawks tonight, as they were able to generate 56 points in the paint, ten more than the Jazz, and four more than their 52.2 per game average. They also won the game despite shooting 27% from deep range (10/37), which bodes well for the Hawks moving forward as defenses get stingier towards the end of the year. As referenced earlier, the Hawks were much better than average on the glass, pulling down 14 offensive rebounds, four more than their season average thus far, which sits at 10.4 offensive rebounds per game.
The Hawks seem to be cobbling together some important wins as their western conference road trip reaches the halfway point, edging closer to the trade deadline and the All-Star break. They face the Nuggets in Denver on the second night of a back to back, and then travel to New Orleans to battle the Pelicans next Tuesday.
It would definitely be seen as a success if the Hawks are able to come away with a winning record over these five games. They only need to win one of the next two to make that a reality.