The Atlanta Hawks returned to winning ways with a dramatic 126-125 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night at State Farm Arena.
Trae Young led the Hawks with 30 points and 12 assists with Saddiq Bey adding 26 points and 13 rebounds. For the Raptors, Scottie Barnes and Jordan Nwora both scored 24 points.
Both sides were missing key personnel for this fixture. For the hosts, Dejounte Murray a late scratch with right hamstring tightness, while for the visitors they were without R.J. Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and Jakob Poeltl. These absences helped swing the betting line in Atlanta’s favor, and when the first quarter got going the bookies appeared to be spot on in their optimism in favor of the Hawks as the hosts ran out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter behind a 10-of-14 start from the field, attacking and scoring the rim with ease as the dunks piled up.
“I thought we came out with a real focus,” said Snyder. “Then we went through a stretch in the second quarter where they made six threes. I didn’t think we were rewarded for that as much. Some of them maybe we shifted off the shooter too much, whatever the case may be but they got hot. That lead we built by being really solid on the defensive end went away. Really as the game progressed, we talked about being solid and fundamental on the defensive end. We did some things that we burned (for). We top-locked a shooter and they back-doored, and O (Onyeka Okongwu) had to drop and his man hit a three. We switched and slipped — those shortcuts, they may work out every now and then but I want to see us more disciplined than that and for the most part tonight I thought we were.”
“I felt the first six minutes of the first quarter set the tone,” added Clint Capela of the Hawks’ opening. “I was able to finish at the rim multiple times, crash the glass and I feel like for the first time in a long time we did a good first six minutes, as starters. I told the guys this is how it’s supposed to be: starters set the tone.”
In the second quarter the Raptors pulled it together and the between the Hawks not finding as much fortune in the paint and the Raptors’ bench giving them a great lift, it was Toronto who flipped the script and took a nine point lead in the second quarter. The Hawks bounced back, and Young began to find his way in the second half, scoring 24 of his 30 points in the second half.
“I thought he did an excellent job of getting in the lane and having his eyes out and when they did play him for the pass he had that stretch where he was making that shot,” said Hawks head coach Quin Snyder of Young finding his shot.
The free throws continued to rack up all game long, and the second half was no exception as both teams combined for 72 free throw attempts as the game came down to the wire in the fourth quarter. The Hawks were, initially, the team with the advantage, holding a 118-112 lead with 3:23 remaining. This, however, disappeared in a hurry.
It began with the Raptors scoring on a pick-and-roll play with Thaddeus Young and Gary Trent Jr., with Clint Capela and Bey ending up behind the play and forcing the rotation from Jalen Johnson, and Young is savvy enough to make the right play to find Barnes for the basket to cut the lead to four:
I have low expectations of Bey defensively, but I expect more of Capela here: he was taken out of the equation too easily here and forced Johnson to have to step up.
The Hawks can’t make a reply on the scoreline, but they get a good opportunity to do so. Young takes advantage of the size differential the Hawks enjoyed all night long as he fires a pass inside to Capela, who makes a good read to get the ball to Johnson in the corner — a corner he had already made a three from after Bogdan Bogdanovic dropped his defender — but Johnson’s shot bounces in and out:
While I like the play from Capela to get it to the perimeter shooter, I think it’s possible Capela didn’t realize the advantage he had in the paint and could have possibly turned around flipped a shot in himself but he made the unselfish play and the Hawks got a good shot out of it.
Immediately off of that miss, Dennis Schröder gets a head of steam in transition and easily scores at the rim to cut the lead to two points:
Bogdanovic has to plug this lane sooner in this spot — he steps in too late here. By the time he does, Schröder already has a head of steam and it’s too late to stop him and Capela can’t effectively help with the traffic in front of him.
The Hawks again get a look at a decent opportunity after Bogdanovic draws two defenders and Johnson cuts from the same corner he just missed from but a great challenge from Barnes at the rim forces Johnson to adjust and get off-balance and the shot at the rim is missed:
While you would bank on Johnson’s athleticism getting him a good opportunity at the rim, you’d also like to see him recognize that Capela is open under the rim after the Barnes rotation to contest.
In transition after that miss, Schröder again attacks but Young steps in to take his second charge of the game and — after the Raptors challenged the call, failing to overturn it — draws Schröder’s sixth foul of the game:
Young has drawn 10 charges now this season, and it’s this area on the defensive end where he’s been challenged to make a greater contribution, an area where Young has a more realistic opportunity to make a difference defensively.
“When he shifts off the ball he’s got great anticipation,” said Snyder of Young’s charges. “He gets his hands on some balls and his activity is really important for us. I think he knows that he’s not going to block a shot but that’s what the charges (are for). That’s a way he can impact the game defensively. That’s been something he’s done consistently this year: give his body up defensively ... those are plays we need from him. He’s not going to impact the game defensively the way Jalen is. But everybody can do their part and give what they can give. When I see him take a charge, that’s how I see it.”
By his own admission, Young knows he can’t get up and contest shots at the rim and acknowledges taking charges is a more realistic way he can make an impact defensively, using his intelligence to his advantage.
“That’s something I know I can do,” said Young of taking charges. “I can’t block people’s shots up in the air or meet them at the rim, but I can take charges, I can use my smart ability and just understand what the offense wants to do and use it to my advantage. I’m just out there, not just playing on defense but trying to be smart on defense and use my strengths and my abilities on defense too.”
Young then draws a foul and free throws after the switch from Gradey Dick:
I thought Dick did as well as expected here — it was Nwora who left him on an island and was incredible indecisive once the switch took place. Young would knock down both free throws to give Atlanta a three-point lead.
After Barnes draws a foul on Johnson and dispatches both free throws, Young is doubled and his pass finds Johnson, who drives to the hole but sees Barnes stand his ground for a charge (though it seemed as though he had a foot on the line) and so Johnson can’t find an avenue to pass and tries to go up for a shot — a shot that is heavily contested by Barnes. After the miss, Johnson, Capela, and Bey all fight for the offensive rebound but cannot secure the ball, and the Raptors end up with it and push in transition. Dick finds Trent Jr. for the trailing three, which he drains to give the Raptors a one point lead:
The Hawks, as they often did down the stretch when Toronto scored, got a good look in immediate reply, but Young can’t hit the open 19-foot jumper, immediately after which Bogdanovic commits a very poor foul on Barnes from behind, sending Barnes back to the line:
Barnes would knock down both free throws to give the Raptors a three-point lead, which Young would trim back to one as he draws a poor foul from Nwora out front. And in reply, the Raptors get a great look at a three through Trent Jr. after a great use of the body from Barnes on the hand-off to get Trent Jr. the open shot. After the miss, this time it’s the Hawks’ turn to get down the floor in a hurry as Capela lumps the ball forward to Bogdanovic, who gets the ball to the oncoming Young, who attacks downhill and gets his floater to drop off the glass and in to give the Hawks the lead:
Out of the subsequent timeout, the Hawks simply need a stop and the game is effectively theirs with any shot the Raptors put up turning off the shotclock. Capela is switched onto Barnes and does excellent to stay in front of him and contesting his shot, forcing a miss. The follow from Dick doesn’t go, and the Hawks secure the rebound. However, Young runs into trouble as Nwora beats him to the spot along the sideline. Young coughs the ball directly to the Raptors, and Barnes scores uncontested at the rim to give the Raptors the lead with seven seconds remaining:
A horror play from Young that undid the fantastic work of Capela on Barnes to get the stop they needed. The Hawks had the game essentially sealed, all they needed to do was get across halfcourt and wait for the Raptors to foul them. Instead, Nwora (to his credit) plugs the path and the Raptors end up with the lead.
The potential consequences of what had just happened were very real to the Hawks.
“That hurt, that was a deflating play,” said Snyder.
Young himself knew it was a tough play to turn over, knew he let the team down, but was confident with seven seconds remaining there was still enough time to make something happen.
“When I turned it over I knew I was going to get my team a chance on the other end because I felt bad, I messed our team up in turning it over,” said Young. “That’s something I know I can be better at. I was dumb for making that mistake at the end. I should have called a timeout when I didn’t have anywhere to go, that’s nobody else’s fault but mine ... there was too much time left for us not to get at least a good shot or attempt up. I was confident there, but I definitely put us in a bad spot too.”
Out of the timeout, the Hawks try to get Young into the same position as they had on the previous possession where he had given the Hawks the lead. Young gets a great look at the rim, misses, but Bey is on-hand to tip-in the follow with one second left to give the Hawks the lead:
“The last play was drawn up, it was a great play for Trae to get downhill,” said Bey of the last play. “He made the bucket to go ahead the possession before, it was another great play for him. For me, I know to go to the glass and we trust him in that possession. It was a great set-up.”
Snyder discussed postgame that the Hawks got exactly what they wanted from the play, both from Young getting to the basket and then the Hawks hitting the glass.
“What he did was what we wanted,” said Snyder of the final play. “We wanted him to attack the rim for exactly the reason what occurred. If he can get the ball up on the rim with enough time on the clock we get a chance to rebound it. It was going to be hard to block Saddiq out on the play.”
“I saw an opening and a space on the right side,” added Young of the final play. “I was trying to hesitate a little bit to make him think I was going to shoot it so he could step up and I could get to my right hand and get downhill. I tried to slow down a little bit to make Scottie hesitate about coming fully over. I had a good look, I put not enough spin on it but it was great of our team. We talked about in the huddle that I was going to go and try and create and get downhill, but we needed to crash because they’re going to contest my shot and we’re going to have an opportunity to rebound. It worked out perfectly for us.”
The Raptors had no timeouts remaining and can’t get the long heave to fall, and the Hawks — after almost literally throwing the lead away — escape with victory.
“It was a good win and in the last several possessions Clint’s defense — the switch onto Barnes — was terrific,” opened Snyder postgame. “The putback by Saddiq is emblematic of who he is as a person and as a player. There’s a toughness about him, an intelligence. That was a heck of a play.”
Snyder crediting Capela immediately in his opening statement was noteworthy. His defense was fantastic, as was his overall impact in this game against a smaller Raptors side, with Capela backing his own ability to be able to guard a player like Barnes off the dribble.
“I feel I’m quick enough on my feet to be able to guard those guys,” said Capela. “When I get caught on guards, I feel pretty comfortable to guard the guys tonight. I felt pretty comfortable staying in front of him (Barnes) and make him take tough shots.”
Capela was part of a rebounding effort that was a crucial component of the Hawks’ victory last night. Atlanta won the rebounding battle 51-46 (helped hugely by the combined rebounding effort of Capela, Johnson and Bey who combined for 39 rebounds as they all registered double-doubles), which may not seem like a large margin but in those 51 rebounds were 20 offensive rebounds, Capela accounting for six of those, and Saddiq Bey for seven offensive rebounds.
“I felt Saddiq was everywhere on the glass tonight offensively,” said Capela. “It creates opportunities for him. They were too small for Saddiq.”
The Hawks scored 32 second chance points off of those 20 offensive rebounds, and despite the Raptors grabbing 15 offensive rebounds themselves they only scored eight second chance points — a huge differential in the Hawks’ favor, with Capela preaching to Bey that they have a chance to make a difference every time the Hawks launch a shot.
“I always tell Saddiq that it’s our play every time the ball goes up,” said Capela. “We have the ability to put pressure on the defense by creating second chance points, either by getting the ball back and getting fouled or just scoring and-1’s and put-backs. It was huge tonight, we needed it until the end.”
Bey scored 14 second chance points, part of a season-high 26 point performance on 8-of-18 shooting from the field and though he shot 0-of-6 from three, Bey got to the free throw line at will where he shot 10-of-15. He may have missed his outside shots but when Bey attacked the rim he did so with intent.
“We’re always telling him to be aggressive and stay aggressive,” said Young of Bey. “He didn’t hit a three tonight but you could feel his presence because he was attacking the basket and getting rebounds. That only opens up the court for me and DJ when we’re on the court when other guys are going and feeling good and making shots that’s how it opens the floor for everybody else. We always need it from him.”
Bey has been keen to prove he is more than a ‘one-trick pony,’ when it comes to his game, something Snyder pushed back against when the term was put to him in a question postgame before detailing the impact and effort Bey makes on the offensive end even if his shot wasn’t falling.
“The only reason he would ever be considered a one-trick pony is if someone actually asked him if he was that!” said Snyder. “I say that in jest ... the things he’s always had, those things in his mind. That’s one of the things we’ve talked about: there’s lots of ways to impact a game. I think the best thing he’s doing offensively is making really good reads. When he’s open, shoot it. In spite of having a cold stretch he hasn’t stopped doing that because he can shoot, that’s why I was talking about his confidence. He’s driving the ball, he’s on the rim. More importantly, because you can rebound and defend whether your shot is going in or not. Often times our effort, our focus on some of those absolutes in a game can be blurred or correlated to whether or not we’re making a shot or getting a dunk. The players that are able to separate that and continue to give that type of effort and focus in other situations they help you win games, like he did tonight.”
Bey — as well as the entire front-court — were terrific last night. They attacked the glass, they made their advantage over the Raptors known and 32 second chance points was the deciding factor in this game — highlighted by the fact the game-winning play came from a second chance opportunity.
The Hawks needed that factor in their favor as the Raptors completely blitzed the Hawks from three, hitting 15 threes to Atlanta’s six threes, four of which came from Bogdanovic who had a good game shooting the ball en route to 24 points. The starters all scored well and they needed to, as their bench gave them little outside of Okongwu (10 points) and Snyder ran his starters’ minutes into the 40’s in some cases. In fact, Okongwu himself scored the only Atlanta bench points as the Raptors’ bench outscored the Hawks’ bench 56-10, an ugly stat for the Hawks to reflect on, even with the absence of the likes of Murray and less so Hunter as the Hawks have had to be used to being without Hunter for a while now.
For the game itself, it wouldn’t have been a great game to lose — even without Murray — and it was almost given away in horrid circumstances but the Hawks made big plays when they needed them, Young got himself to the line to keep the Hawks looming and his ability to get to the rim and create scramble situations where the Raptors were vulnerable on the offensive glass, and all night long the Hawks punished the Raptors for their lack of size.
On balance, the Hawks were just about deserved victors here but if Murray is out for a few more games the bench production will be of concern. For now, it’s been a difficult season at times for Saddiq Bey but he deserves a lot of credit for sticking with the process and attacking even when his shot isn’t falling, and he deserves credit for his crucial contribution to last night’s victory.
The Hawks (19-27) are back in action on Tuesday night when they will welcome the Los Angeles Lakers (24-23)to State Farm Arena. The Lakers will be on the second night of a back-to-back, in action in Houston on Monday night.
Until next time...