Trae Young led the Hawks in scoring with 28 points and 11 assists, while Jalen Johnson scored 25 points to go with 16 rebounds and seven assists. Dejounte Murray also added 25 points behind five three-pointers. For the Sixers — playing without MVP Joel Embiid — Tyrese Maxey scored a game-high 35 points with Tobias Harris adding 32 points.
This was a close contest throughout with both sides taking the lead back and forth (17 lead changes and 11 game ties) and neither taking a double-digit lead at any point in the game — a somewhat unusual position for the Hawks to be in.
Without Embiid, the Sixers were very competitive through Maxey and Harris who carried the offensive load, and while the Hawks led for most of the fourth quarter, the Sixers took a crucial four point lead down the stretch that put them in a strong position with 53 seconds remaining. Let’s take a quick look at that.
Maxey wrestles the lead back for the Sixers with this impressive drive and dunk as he alluded Murray and evades the Onyeka Okongwu block attempt:
The Hawks are unable to find a reply as Murray’s turnaround shot is heavily contested by Maxey and is missed:
Not the greatest attempt from Murray here but I can understand his confidence to get a shot over the shorter Maxey but the Sixers guard does well here to contest.
Maxey would again stamp his authority on this game as he hits a deep, step-back three to give the Sixers the four point lead with 53 seconds remaining and forcing an Atlanta timeout:
A great make from Maxey here — tip your hat, those shots are easily missed by many.
Out of the timeout, the Hawks do a great job in their execution. Okongwu delivers a great bounce-pass to the cutting Young, Young beautifully steps to evade the defense while also finding Saddiq Bey on the perimeter, who does well to zip the ball to the corner to Johnson, who drives from the corner and finishes at the rim with the dunk, with Kelly Oubre committing a very poorly timed foul:
Again, great execution and ball movement here from the Hawks and a good drive and finish by Johnson but the Sixers did the Hawks a favor with the Oubre foul.
The Hawks get the stop they need through somewhat fortunate means as Maxey misses the three with Young there. Young steps through Maxey as to not foul on the three and the Hawks catch a break with the miss:
Young gets to the rim on the next offensive trip, drawing the foul from Maxey at the rim:
The Sixers would challenge this call only for it to fall short as the officials deemed that Maxey made illegal contact with the leg, and Young would shoot two free throws with the chance to give the Hawks the lead with the shotclock off. However, Young misses the first free throw and makes the second, marking another instance this season where Young has missed at the line in the clutch.
It would prove costly in the moment as the Sixers are unable to score as Maxey is stripped and the ball bounces off of him and out of bounds to the Hawks:
The Sixers were irate with the non-call as they believed Young made illegal contact with Maxey. The Sixers had just used — and lost — their challenge so with no opportunity to challenge the Hawks took possession of the ball. Looking at the replays, Young appeared to get the wrist of Maxey first before the ball and I think the Hawks got away with one there, but to overtime we go.
Fast forward to overtime, the Sixers hold a two point lead with 1:14 remaining and the Hawks attempt a quick three through Bogdan Bogdanovic which is missed but collected by Okongwu, who offloads it to Johnson who goes up strong and draws the foul and free throws:
Johnson would make both free throw to tie the game and then would produce the most important sequence of the game as he deflects the ball for the steal on the defensive end and then hits the three after the find from Murray:
Looking at this, Kelly Oubre performs a horrible switch as Nicolas Batum had Murray in front of him and that switch prompts Batum to switch to the corner shooter but Oubre has judged it terribly and Murray is quickly by him, forcing the quick rotation from Patrick Beverley away from Johnson and Murray finds Johnson for that three.
Out of the subsequent Sixers timeout, Harris gets by Johnson but when he gets to the rim Okongwu is there to deny him, giving the Hawks the ball and control as the Sixers are forced to foul.
The Hawks would end the game on a 10-0 run to secure the 139-132 victory and the efforts of Jalen Johnson were a huge reason for that, on both ends of the ball. However, in his opening statement, Hawks head coach Quin Snyder was quick to credit starting guards Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, praising their trust in their teammates.
“I want to talk about our guards for a second,” opened Snyder. “I thought the way Trae started the game, controlled the game, got people involved. I don’t think he scored when he came out of the game, had four assists. That shows his mindset and it’s been that way. Tonight it was really visible, him trusting his teammates. DJ, in the same vein, to make the pass to Jalen on the three. Tonight was about us trusting each other and competing collectively like that. We got stops late. That connectivity is really important and I thought both Trae and DJ (were) leading the way with that, and the two of them together as well managing the game for us down the stretch.”
Murray scored 25 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 from three, his three-point shot giving the Hawks a huge lift especially on a night where Bogdanovic (1-of-8), Bey (1-of-6) and Young (2-of-8) struggled from three.
Young, meanwhile, linked up often with Okongwu early on as the Hawks sought to exploit the Sixers’ center spot in the absence of Embiid, and Young tallied four assists in the opening five minutes. Young didn’t shoot the ball well, 7-of-22 from the field and 2-of-8 from three but he did shoot 12-of-14 from the line (one of those misses being the tough one near the end of regulation) to contribute on a tough shooting night.
It was part of a successful night at the free throw line, shooting 31-of-42 from the free throw line, exploiting the absence of Embiid and attacking.
“When we’re playing our best basketball, the ball is touching the paint,” said Snyder of the free throws. “At the same time, if we have kick-aheads for early threes we want to take those but when we break the defense down and get into the paint I thought we did a great job tonight of keeping our feet and not turning the ball over when we got in there. That’s against a team that leads the league in forcing turnovers. If you’re driving the ball, some of those interior passes for us have been deflected at times. You want to drive the ball and I thought our guys did a good job, I thought it was a physical game, particularly in the first half. I thought we did a good job of keeping our composure and adjusting to the way the game was being called and that paid off as the game went along.”
Embiid’s normal opposing matchup in this fixture, Clint Capela, was also absent last night (right Achilles soreness) and Okongwu was inserted into the starting lineup and played a strong game. Okongwu tied a season-high with 19 points (11 coming in the first quarter) on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, 5-of-5 from the free throw line to go with 11 rebounds and two blocks and was part of the strategy to attack Sixers center Paul Reed in the opening exchanges which was successful.
“When we play the Sixers it’s kind of similar,” said Young of finding Okongwu early. “They like to play their pick-and-rolls 2-on-2 and so if the big gets a hit I can get downhill on the big and kind of force him to pick either guarding me or stay with the roller and not let the lob go. I kind of figured going into the game what it was going to be and so early on just getting O in some pick-and-roll situations and trying to put (Paul) Reed in some pick-and-roll situations was something we wanted to do. It helped O get into the game, it helped us get off to a fast start. It was good for us.”
The star of the show again, however, was Jalen Johnson, who scored 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, 3-of-4 from three, 6-of-6 from the line to go with a career-high 16 rebounds and a career-high seven assists, adding a steal and two blocks. Johnson fashioned him as a “Swiss army knife” and it’s hard to argue against that assessment. Johnson again displayed his versatility and importance on both ends of the floor, especially in the overtime period as we saw.
While Snyder would have noted and observed all of these aspects of Johnson’s performance, what Snyder focused on postgame when concerning Johnson was his approach after what was a difficult game against the Orlando Magic, and the confidence the Hawks have in him.
“I think the notable thing about that tonight is he didn’t have his best game the other night against Orlando,” said Snyder. “It’s something we talked about that he owned that and let it go. It’s no different than missing a shot: you take the next one. He knows how much confidence I have in him and he could feel tonight his teammates confidence in him. When DJ makes that pass he’s basically telling him to shoot, no hesitation whatsoever. That’s part of becoming a really great player, that’s what he wants to do.
“The thing about Jalen’s development is we’ve all seen things — his teammates have seen, the coaching staff have seen — that get you excited, but you can also forget the amount of minutes Jalen up until this year but it’s not 30 (per game). He’s a young player and you keep that in mind, and I say that because him playing the way he did tonight, letting the game come to him, playing both ends of the floor and impacting the game in various ways and having a chance to knock down an open shot, big time obviously.”
The injury to Johnson earlier in the season was a great shame for many reasons for the Hawks as a team but it also took some of the shine off a Most Improved Player campaign, but with performances like this there’s still plenty of time for Johnson to put himself back in the forefront of the awarded, and it’s almost surprising the Hawks’ socials haven’t been pushing for this more because Johnson is a legitimate contender. I’ve said this before here, but is quite remarkable how quickly indispensable Johnson has become to this side. The Hawks need to keep Johnson healthy at all costs. Without Clint Capela, Okongwu can hold down the fort (unlike the 2021-22 season when Capela was out), Murray and Bogdanovic can step up if Young was to miss a few games, but no one player can bring to the table what Johnson can in his versatility on both ends of the floor, and it’s exciting and rewarding to watch him flourish.
For the game itself, the Hawks would have been left to reflect a poor loss at home to a Sixers side without Joel Embiid had they succumbed to defeat in this spot but they got the job done and I don’t think they played poorly as to allow the Sixers to hang around. Tyrese Maxey (another Most Improved Candidate) and Tobias Harris produced strong games, give them credit. But the Hawks edged the Sixers in other categories: assists, rebounding, field goal percentage and free throws. To the rebounding end, Saddiq Bey I thought had a good game on the boards with 10, including six offensive rebounds.
There were rotation minutes to be had for Trent Forrest once again, Bruno Fernando (in the absence of Capela), and even Patty Mills in the first half.
All in all, not the Hawks’ best game of the season but far from the worst. The manner of victory may not have been convincing given Embiid’s absence, but they’ve been on the other side of defeats like this enough this season that the ‘how’ doesn’t matter as much as ‘just getting it done.’
The Hawks will need to do much more of that to get their season back on track...
The Hawks (15-21) are back in action on Friday night for the first night of a back-to-back, beginning with the Indiana Pacers (22-15), who will be without Tyrese Haliburton.
Not quite as an exciting matchup in theory but another opportunity for the Hawks to notch a victory on their home floor.
Until next time...