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Strong guard production leads Hawks to victory over Wizards

Young and Murray combined for 72 points in the victory.

Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks snapped their four-game losing streak with a victory on the road in Washington, 130-126, over the Wizards at Capital One Center on Sunday afternoon to cap off 2023.

Trae Young scored 40 points to go with 13 assists with Dejounte Murray also scoring 32 points.

For the Wizards, Kyle Kuzma scored a season-high 38 points and Deni Avdija added 17 points.

The Wizards began this game the quicker of the two sides, running out to a 17-4 lead before the Hawks found their feet in this game, and before the end of the first quarter they had taken the lead thanks to a dunk from Jalen Johnson — only for that lead to be immediately erased by a fantastic make from Avdija to end the first. That shot, however, couldn’t stave off the Hawks for long, and the visitors increased the pressure in the second quarter. And by the end of the quarter they had established a double-digit lead of their own heading into the locker room.

The Wizards started the third quarter well and even brought the lead down to two points with just under five minutes remaining, but the Hawks reeled off a 12-3 run,with Murray being key part of that run to give the Hawks the cushion they would hold until the final moments of the game.

In that run, Murray hits Kuzma with a sweet cross, drives inside, and scores at the rim plus the foul:

Murray again gets the better of the Wizards, this time on Bilal Coulibaly, and scores at the rim:

To cap the run, Murray again hits the Wizards with the crossover but this time pulls up into a jumpshot, which he converts and leads to a Washington timeout:

The Hawks held a comfortable advantage for most of the way forward but stumbled somewhat late, as they missed seven free throws in the final 1:44 of the game and this allowed the Wizards to get to within four points with 25 seconds remaining — and three points with nine seconds remaining — but never had the opportunity to tie the game, and the Hawks held on to secure victory.

Postgame, Hawks head coach Quin Snyder — prior to the last two minutes of the game — was pleased with the Hawks’ reaction to the start of the game and their general execution, the culmination of their discussions and practices.

“To be down early, giving up a lot of stuff in transition I think they surprise you with how quickly they run,” said Snyder postgame. “With the exception of the last two minutes where we had a big lead we did some really good things prior to that stretch as far as our execution, a lot of the things we’ve been talking about we were really solid. It was good to see.”

The Wizards’ late game spurt (which can more so be categorized as the Hawks’ near collapse from the free throw line) likely served as an unpleasant reminder for the recent Kings result, but Snyder was quick to shut down that the scenario that played out in Washington was different to recent giveaways of leads and outlined why this was the case.

“This one is not the same,” said Snyder of the mentality of playing with a lead. “Playing with a lead in the third quarter or with eight minutes in the game, that’s what I was saying. I think we did a good job, as ironic as it sounds, we did a really good job playing with a lead tonight. The end of the game, missed some free throws, we lost track of some shooters at the wrong time, we under on pick-and-rolls, we made a lot of mistakes defensively. But the other side of that, offensively we took care of the ball, we inbounded the ball, we got good shots. The only thing we didn’t do offensively was make free throws.

“When you’re in a situation like that late, that’s a different animal entirely than what we’ve been talking about previously to that. I think if we focus on that you feel really good. Any win in the NBA is a good win but the last couple of minutes were not what we wanted on the defensive end. I told the guys, I just think that’s a time where the communication has to go up to a higher level where you really got to be connected and execute in that situation too.”

The Hawks shot 64.9% from the free throw line, 24-of-37 in total. Young himself shot 14-of-19 from the field, one of the contributing factors to Young’s 40 points (11-of-19 from the field and 4-of-8 from three).

Other than the free throw shooting, an extremely efficient shooting night for Young in a spot where he was always likely to excel in. Young was able to get inside the paint often and had a lot of success on his floaters especially:

A look at some of these instances inside the paint, starting with Young coming off a Bruno Fernando screen and scores uncontested at the rim:

A good screen from Bogdan Bogdanovic here to prevent Mike Muscala from rotating to contest at the rim, and Jordan Poole’s contributions here yield a chuckle.

On a switch on Kuzma, Young toys with his prey on the dribble, before leaning in to scoop to the hole:

Young gets the better of Tyus Jones on this possession as he stops on a dime to get the space he needs to pull up into the runner:

Getting the switch off of Delon Wright, Young frantically gets into the screening action with Fernando and gets into the paint and hits the floater before Muscala can step up sufficiently to block the shot:

Again, Young is freed away from Wright, this time from the Clint Capela screen and hits the runner as Daniel Gafford attempts to block the shot:

There’s even less resistance on this play as Young fakes the behind-the-back pass and drives into the paint and hits the floater:

Young’s running mate Murray also enjoyed a strong game, scoring 32 points on 13-of-21 shooting, 3-of-6 from three and 3-of-5 from the free throw line. Murray was instrumental in the Hawks pulling away in the second quarter (11 points) and again in the third quarter as we looked at (10 points). With his crossover causing the Wizards all sorts of issues, Murray was able to weave his way to success and it was fun to watch him go to work and excel on the same night Young has a big performance.

Between them they scored 72 points, and games like this lean into the belief of the potential Young and Murray have together when they have it going at the same time. It is worth keeping in mind this did come against the Washington Wizards, not a team who are exactly excelling defensively, but fun to watch Young and Murray nevertheless.

Snyder enjoyed the management of the game from Murray when Young was on the bench, as well as Young’s screening.

“When Trae is out of the game, DJ managed the game really well and the two of them together I thought really played off each other,” said Snyder of Young and Murray. “I told both of them when we’re playing pick-and-roll with Trae as a screener which allowed DJ to attack. We did a lot of good things. We played pick-and-roll with JJ and Trae and got some good looks in those situations. Our execution both dring the meat of the game in our flow and in dead-balls, the deep corner out of bounds with one second on the shotclock, they executed and DJ got a three. Those are winning plays and we made a lot of them tonight.”

The guard play was a major factor in deciding this game, as was the rebounding battle which the Hawks won 56-42. This was largely helped by the Wizards shooting 17-of-53 from behind the arc for 32%. Not a great percentage on such a high volume and the Hawks did well to secure the rebounds last night, the Wizards only securing six offensive boards.

The Hawks grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and scored 20 second chance points, with Capela scoring six second chance points thanks to his seven offensive rebounds — part of a 11 points, 17 rebound performance. Capela was one of four Hawks with a double-double, with Young (40 points, 13 assists), Saddiq Bey (11 points, 11 rebounds) and Jalen Johnson (scoring a season-high 24 points and 13 rebounds) all contributing with double-doubles, with Snyder mentioning Johnson by name first and foremost.

“There’s a guy named Jalen Johnson that we haven’t had, so that helps,” said Snyder when asked about rebounding. “He was one of the double-doubles. I thought Saddiq did a terrific job on the boards. We did a pretty good job defending where there were defensive boards available. We did a good job on the offensive glass too. We’ve still got to find a balance on getting on the offensive glass to still be able to get back. Good effort from the whole group.”

Johnson’s season-high also represents a career-high: 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field, 2-of-4 from three, 4-of-5 from the free throw line to go with 13 rebounds and four assists.

Anything around the rim or in the paint, Johnson dominated on the offensive end and attacked the rim with vigor, including off the pick-and-roll slip to finish with the dunk:

Off the catch at the three-point line, Johnson utilizes his quickness to drive all the way to the rim and finish with authority:

Johnson also produced this incredible finish at the rim with his left-hand off the lob from Young:

With this fixture being the one Johnson originally injured his hand in, it was satisfying to see Johnson put up a great offensive performance in this spot.

The Hawks bench didn’t have a great night, with its ranks already depleted with the absence of Onyeka Okongwu and prompting Snyder to lean on Fernando in the rotation. Patty Mills featured for eight minutes, Garrison Mathews produced some good hustle plays but didn’t get a shot on the board, and Bogdan Bogdanovic didn’t quite look right on the floor and it was reflective in his 12 point performance on 5-of-19 shooting and 1-of-8 shooting from three.

The Hawks were favorites to win in this spot and they took care of business, a ‘business trip’ as Young described it when speaking to Bally Sports’ Tabitha Turner immediately after the game. The Hawks are still six games below .500 with plenty of ground to make up after losing four in a row, throughout which Snyder refused to panic.

“The sky isn’t falling,” said Snyder. “Sometimes when you lose some games it may feel like that. When you treat it like that, ‘Woe is me,’ you can’t do anything about it. That’s why I was happy with tonight. Our guys raised their level at a time when it was important for us to do that. Not just to get a win but also to play well and to play and to play the way we’ve been working and practising and doing. It was good to see.”

The Hawks were on the road for most of December but haven’t had the best home record so far this season. In January, that will have to change...

The Hawks (13-19) are back in action for their first game of 2024 against the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-9) at State Farm Arena on Wednesday night. The Thunder will be on the second night of a back-to-back, playing in Boston on Tuesday night.

It should be an enthralling affair, especially given the game the two sides played earlier this season,

Until next time and a happy new year!