The Atlanta Hawks emerged on the right side of a narrow victory after collecting a 122-120 win over the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on Wednesday night.
Trae Young scored 28 points and dished out 10 assists, while Dejounte Murray added 17 points as seven Hawks scored in double digits. For the Wizards, Kristaps Porzingis scored a career-high 43 points. Kyle Kuzma added 25 points.
It seemed likely based on the first quarter that this was going to be an offensive affair, and the Hawks threatened to establish an early double digit lead but behind the play of Porzingis the Wizards were able to hang around.
The third quarter was a dominant one for the Wizards, running out to a 15 point lead in a game the Hawks couldn’t afford to lose with Washington very close in the standings and already with a 1-0 lead in the season-series. The Hawks chipped away and a 14-0 run between the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth gave Atlanta a six point lead, the play of Jalen Johnson in particular in this stretch was instrumental.
This game was decided in the stretch plays, so let’s take a look at how the Hawks took this one, having fallen behind to this Porzingis three-pointer to give the Wizards a one point lead with 3:04 remaining:
This was a poor look for the Hawks to give up, given how Porzingis shot all game long.
Between Delong Wright and Bradley Beal the Wizards don’t get tight enough to Young on the following possession and it encourages Young to pull up from deep, and he converts the three to give the Hawks the lead again:
If the defensive possession prior from the Hawks was poor to allow that shot from Porzingis, it’s the same story here for Washington, who knew Young was having a very good game and allowing him an open shot like this is not an invitation he needs twice.
The Wizards then try to get a favorable switch and have Young guard Beal but De’Andre Hunter and Young do well between them to not only stay with their man but also not to be disadvantaged where Beal/Corey Kispert get an easy look. Beal drives inside and, with the clock winding down, is forced to put up a shot, a shot that is blocked by Hunter and although Beal gathers the ball again he realizes too late that he had enough time to go back up with the ball and the shotclock expires:
A clutch defensive possession from the Hawks here and a great block from Hunter here. In a sense the Hawks are fortunate Beal doesn’t realise there’s just over a second on the clock but they’d done enough for the first 23 seconds defensively to earn a break.
The Hawks, however, allow an easy equalizer following a miss from John Collins from three, as Beal easily escapes Murray after the Porzingis screen and scores at the rim:
I would tend to lean towards the opinion that this was Murray’s fault. Clint Capela is understandably not inclined to follow Beal and stick close to Porzingis (who has 40 points now) and while Hunter probably could have helped a little more it’s not as though Porzingis’ screen took Murray out of the play. It’s poor defense to allow such an easy basket in the clutch.
Following a miss on a shot that wasn’t ideal from Murray, Hunter is in place to collect the offensive rebound (ironically, his one and only rebound in the entire game) and backs out behind the three-point line. When he passes it off to Young, Young is doubled and when Young swings the ball back to Hunter he drives into the space and rises into the runner, scores and draws the foul:
A pretty easy basket in the end for Hunter with no challenge coming from Porzingis, mostly because Beal had fallen into him after the forearm of Hunter clears Beal — hard to say if this was an offensive foul (I’ve certainly seen worse called) but it went uncalled and the Hawks score a pivotal ‘and-1.’
After fouling Beal who splits the free throws, the Hawks have an opportunity to put this game close to beyond reach, but Young has the ball taken away by Beal, who pushes in transition, misses, and when the ball is gathered by Deni Avdija it slips away from him and the Hawks find themselves with possession of the ball:
I wouldn’t blame Young too much here for the original turnover, it was a good steal by Beal. How the Wizards didn’t end up scoring on the fastbreak...the Hawks certainly got away with one there.
The Wizards now play the foul game, sending Hunter to the line where he knocks both free throws down to give the Hawks a four point lead. Out of the following Washington timeout, needing a basket, they go to Beal, who doesn’t get far into his dribble before being called for a travel:
The game now seems lost for Washington, and even with a missed Young free throw after the take foul from Wright the Hawks still lead by five points. Kuzma would cut the lead to three with a layup but Young would knock both free throws down this time to nudge the Hawks away again, and a buzzer-beating shot from Porzingis to set a new career-high only served to cover the betting spread (commiserations/congratulations) and the Hawks escape with victory.
Postgame, Hawks head coach Quin Snyder credited both teams for their play but was particularly pleased with the play of his bench, more specifically the play of Jalen Johnson, Onyeka Okongwu and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
“I thought both teams played well,” said Snyder postgame via Bally Sports. “For us, I think our bench gave us a huge lift. O(nyeka Okongwu) playing with fouls but staying aggressive and also being disciplined. Jalen came in and did some really good things and I thought Bogi gave us a lift. That group really gave us a lift and when some of our starters came back in, you’re fresh and you get to attack. Still having some breakdowns defensively that we got to keep working on but happy with the effort and proud of— as much as anything tonight in my mind for our team was just about competing. I thought we really competed.”
Bogdanovic scored 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting off the bench and hit some very timely shots when the Hawks really needed a basket. There was a three-pointer in particular that came at a key time to cut the Washington lead from 13 to 10 and Bogdanovic was the one to deliver it:
The second three Bogdanovic hit capped off the 14-0 run between quarters and gave the Hawks a six point lead:
Onyeka Okongwu initially struggled with foul trouble in this game but still managed to find a way to stay on the floor and be available as a lob threat consistently for the Hawks, he was key as his threat at the rim helped break the Wizards’ zone defense:
It’s also worth saying that Young did very well to break the zone down, both with his passing and knocking some shots down himself.
Not part of a zone, but I enjoyed this possession between Okongwu and Bogdanovic as Okongwu adjusts his positioning to work an opening on the feed from Bogdanovic:
Then there’s Jalen Johnson contribution to the game. Johnson brought a real spark off the bench, both inside and outside but most notably with this tip-in dunk in the fourth quarter:
“Coach said just crash the offensive glass, so that’s what I did,” beamed Johnson postgame when asked about the dunk.
Trae Young would circle this play as one that teams in the NBA need and how they can be used to rally.
“Oh, I loved it,” said Young of Johnson’s performance. “We need momentum plays like that. You look around the league and certain teams have certain guys when they make a play it brings their team up and you can go on a run after those types of plays. That play really sparked our momentum too.”
Not only did Johnson hit two three pointers but he also had some good defensive stances on the perimeter too. He may have gotten a few extra minutes as a result of foul trouble amongst Capela/Okongwu but his impact was huge last night and certainly did not go unnoticed.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in him,” said Snyder of Johnson. “Hopefully he feels that and his teammates have a lot of confidence in him. Mistakes are going to happen, it’s a game of mistakes. It says a lot more about how you respond to it. That’s the part of the growth process — he’s a young player, he loves to play and he was talking matchups tonight. It was fun to see.”
It’s been encouraging to see Snyder and Johnson develop their relationship so far, with Johnson in dialogue with Snyder during the game often and learning through his mistakes.
“It helps because Coach tells me ‘Onto the next play,’” said Johnson. “He’s giving me advice, I’m going to halfcourt to talk to him at a free throw or something and he’s giving me pointers on what to do. Just having that communication has been great. I’m looking forward to keep building and having a strong relationship with him too.”
The Hawks’ bench outscored the Wizards’ bench 35-17, with Bogdanovic scoring 14 points, Johnson adding 10 points and Okongwu just shy of making it eight Hawks in double-digits with nine points. Their impact, especially to end the third quarter, was a big swing in Atlanta’s favor.
“Our bench led us tonight,” said Young. “They brought a spark to our offense late in that third quarter and we were able to come in that fourth quarter and stretch it and fight back into the game. A lot of us have been there before in close games and big moments, we know how to execute down the stretch. It’s just up to us to go out and do it.”
With all five starters scoring 10 or more points, as well as Johnson and Bogdanovic also adding to the double-digit tally — the second game in a row where seven Hawks scored 10 or more points — the Hawks also racked up 26 assists and Snyder has been pleased with the Hawks turning down good shots to get a better shot.
“The thing I want is good to great,” said Snyder when asked about having seven players in double-digit scoring. “Good shots to great shots. Guys are really trying. There’s times where you miss somebody, times where you may turn it over but that mentality of playing offense collectively. That doesn’t mean your best offensive players don’t make plays, it just means we make the right reads as a group and you have confidence in guys. I talked to JC, he made a couple against Miami and it was a matchup situation I didn’t play him down the stretch. He understood that, and tonight his chance to come out and be aggressive shooting the ball. Just let it rip and don’t think about it, and I thought the same was true of Jalen. Those shots, instead of becoming their shots they become our shots. When they become that, however it gets there — if it’s an extra pass, someone throwing it to you and telling you knock it down — those are just easier shots and usually something good happens, you may even rebound it.”
“We’re making good to great passes,” added Johnson of having seven players in double-digit scoring. “Somebody’s open but the next man is wide open. We’re making that pass and that’s been great. It’s fun playing that type of basketball, it’s just going to help us down the stretch and hopefully make a run.”
Snyder has placed an emphasis in his postgame comments so far in his Hawks tenure about getting into the film (he referenced this again when asked about Porzingis last night), and it’s been clear there’s been a greater level of attention to detail (or, possibly more willingness to carry out these details).
How have these details materialized on the floor?
“I think it’s showing on the defensive end especially down the stretch of those types of games,” said Johnson when asked about how the details under Snyder are showing on the court. “We make a run, they make a run and basically how do we respond to that. It shows our connectivity especially those last five minutes everyone is on the same page defensively, knowing certain coverages, what type of defenses we’re in. Just being locked into the shootaround, I think it starts there. Film, it starts there too. Just being able to apply to the game I think has been great translating over.”
Johnson’s game was strong, and he wasn’t alone in that bracket.
John Collins hit a season-high four three-pointers while De’Andre Hunter had a strong first quarter en route to a 15 point performance on 6-of-12 shooting. There were struggles for Dejounte Murray, who scored 17 points on 5-of-16 shooting while Saddiq Bey was 0-of-4 from three as he just couldn’t get it going.
Trae Young starred, scoring 28 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 from three. Young did this while continuing his recent defensive efforts, which was certainly pleasing for him.
“I think my offensive game matched my defensive game tonight,” smiled Young postgame.
Young tore the Wizards apart, and the same can be said of Kristaps Porzingis, who scored 43 points on 17-of-22 shooting from the field and 7-of-10 from three.
Porzingis utilized his size to simply shoot over his opponents, who often were close enough proximity-wise but at the point of the shot release Porzingis has more than enough daylight. But he’s also able to put it on the floor, making him an even tougher cover.
“He’s like 7-5!” joked Jalen Johnson postgame. “It’s tough, especially someone who can do so much being at that height being able to put the ball on the ground. It’s tough for us, especially having Beal too. There’s a lot of different threats on that team.”
Porzingis went off, and there were strong games for Kyle Kuzma (25 points) and Bradley Beal (23 points) but very little outside of that for the Wizards. Corey Kispert’s 10 points off the bench were the only other double-figure scoring number from any Wizard and this eventually caught up to them.
It’ll be fascinating to see how the Hawks guard Porzingis and what adjustments are made when these two sides meet again on Friday, and conversely how the Wizards guard Trae Young after he shot incredibly well too.
All-in-all, a very good victory for the Hawks: an important win. The Wizards already held a 1-0 series lead and going 0-2 down while also losing a game to the Wizards would have been tough for the Hawks — it takes the pressure off heading into Friday’s game. I think they could be happy with a split on the road but another victory here would certainly give them a cushion, perhaps a needed one as they face Boston at home on the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday...that will not be an easy game.
But for now, a good comeback for the Hawks and they did well down the stretch for the most part to produce the stops they needed. They shot the ball well from the field (53%), shot well from three (41%), got to the line 26 times, dished out 26 assists for just 11 turnovers and came up with 11 steals.
The Hawks (33-33) are back in action at Capital One Arena in a rematch against the Wizards (31-35) on Friday.
It’ll be interesting, certainly.
Until next time...