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Hawks top tired Lakers, boosted by Hunter return

A welcome return for the Hawks and their defense.

Los Angeles Lakers v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks notched a second successive victory as their homestand continues with a 138-122 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

Trae Young led the Hawks with 26 points and 13 assists, and Dejounte Murray added 24 points. For the Lakers — without Anthony Davis — Austin Reaves scored 28 points, and LeBron James scored 20 points.

Initially, it looked as though the Lakers were up for the challenge on the second night of a back-to-back having played in Houston on Monday. The Lakers seemed well prepared, cutting off Atlanta passing lanes, breaking up lobs — they looked as though they knew exactly what the Hawks were coming out to do. Around the mid-point of the first quarter, the Hawks eventually found their offensive rhythm, scoring 36 points by the end of the first. The hosts took a double-digit lead in the second quarter, and a strong start to the third quarter quickly saw their lead grow to 17 points before the Hawks stretched it to its game-high of 20 points in the third.

The Hawks have been slow to start third quarters at times and Hawks head coach Quin Snyder mentioned the third quarter as an aspect the Hawks wanted to be better in handling.

“That’s been a point of emphasis for us — it hasn’t always worked out that way,” said Snyder of the strong start to the third quarter. “I thought they weren’t making shots in the first and then they started seeing the ball go in the basket. We made a few turnovers that got them out in transition, but I thought our guys stayed together and really responded, and we responded by guarding them. That’s the thing you have more control over, whether you’re making shots or not. We were able to get some stops — that makes the offensive end a lot easier.”

The Hawks’ efficient second chance opportunities (12 offensive rebounds translating into 21 second chance points) was one of the contributing factors into building a lead.

A miss from Bogdan Bogdanovic is rebounded by Onyeka Okongwu, who fires it out to the perimeter where Young drains a three:

It would be difficult to talk about Atlanta’s offensive rebounding without mentioning the league leader in offensive rebounding, Clint Capela, who grabbed five offensive rebounds and on this play cleans up his own miss to score:

Not to mention misses from others, as Capela tips-in the miss from Young:

Off of a miss from the corner, Jalen Johnson is on hand to grab an uncontested offensive rebound and basket:

I do get enjoyment out of Taurean Prince boxing out Capela as Johnson is completely free underneath.

The Hawks’ transition offense was in full flow too, scoring 26 points in fastbreak situations. These were particularly important early in the game to get the Hawks started and carried on throughout as the Hawks took advantage of tired Lakers legs, and this was repeated across the board after the game.

“We wanted to run tonight,” said Snyder of the transition game. “It’s hard to be on a back-to-back — which they were — and sometimes that takes your legs, it did early.”

“We knew they played last night so we knew we needed to get up and down and run and play in transition and play fast,” added Young. “We knew as the game would go on they would tire down. That’s what they did. We were making shots and sometimes when you don’t make shots it allows them to stay in the game and have a rhythm and feel good about themselves, but nights like tonight when you make shots they can’t have that type of feeling.”

De’Andre Hunter — who was one of three Hawks who took turns guarding LeBron James — was asked about the shift guarding James and immediately cited that he believed James’ 7-of-17 performance was due to fatigue.

“I think he was tired, I think that’s the biggest thing,” said Hunter of LeBron. “Didn’t really seem he had a lot of energy out there, wasn’t shooting as much. I think that’s it.”

The Hawks did survive a fourth quarter scare. Having led by as many as 20 points, the Lakers made a run in the fourth quarter and brought the lead down to 10 points and missed a number of opportunities to bring the lead below 10 points.

Reaves misses the first opportunity as he uses an arm to push a bit (embellished by Bogdanovic) and misses the runner inside:

Young missed his first three of the game on the next possession, and the Lakers come back again with another decent opportunity with Rui Hachimura in the corner who misses the three. And the Hawks combine their superiority last night in transition and in second chance scoring as Bogdanovic misses the transition opportunity — only thanks to a block by James — only for Saddiq Bey to follow through the miss:

The Lakers don’t make the reply as Vanderbilt is called for an offensive foul on the screen:

They do, however, make their reply on their next trip as Vanderbilt scores in transition to bring the lead back to 10 points, plus the foul, but misses the free throw that would have taken it to nine points.

The Hawks punish the Lakers now for these missed opportunities as Murray finds Okongwu in the corner for the three-pointer:

This might be the biggest three Okongwu has made this season — this was a legitimately important three at an important time for the Hawks.

A missed three from James is followed by Murray easily shedding Vanderbilt and pulls up into a jumper to nudge the lead back to a much safer 15 points:

The Lakers would miss a slew of free throws (shooting 54% from the line) and the Hawks, by this stage, have survived the biggest scare of the fourth quarter and would see the game out from this point on. Murray scored 10 points in the final frame as both sides would clear out their bench (a stretch that saw rookie Kobe Bufkin score his first NBA basket).

Postgame, Snyder was happy with both the offensive roles of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray — and how they played both together and while the other was on the bench — as well as the defensive efforts of his wings: Jalen Johnson, Saddiq Bey and the returning De’Andre Hunter.

“We shared the ball, guys had a good sense of where an advantage might be,” said Snyder. “It doesn’t always happen that way, not because you’re less unselfish, but the game sometimes unfolds that way. We did a good job playing in the flow. I thought DJ and Trae both of them managed the game, both individually and when they were in the game together. We had possessions where Trae was calling DJ’s number. Trae had Vanderbilt on him, DJ had an opportunity to attack. I thought our defensive effort from our wings, De’Andre, JJ and Saddiq — and on the glass too, those guys, their size, that allowed us to get out in transition too.”

“We just played off each other, taking what the defense was giving us,” added Young of playing together with Murray. “They switched to a zone for a second but didn’t switch too much of their coverage the whole game, and so we were picking them apart on the offensive end, and getting stops defensively and that helps your offense and us getting out in transition and running the way we want to. We had a little latch late in the third quarter where they got back in the game with transition and some shots going in but besides that we played pretty good defense the whole game and forced them to take tough shots. That helped our offense a lot.”

There were a lot of feel good factors to last night’s game from the Hawks’ perspective. Winning a game against an old adversary of the Hawks in James is always a bonus, the majority of Hawks played well last night (all five starters plus Okongwu and Bogdanovic all shot 45% or above from the field as all seven scored in double-digits), an appearance for Bufkin after his long injury layoff — as well as his first NBA points — but perhaps most of all was the return of De’Andre Hunter who made his first appearance since December 20th due to right knee inflammation.

“It’s great having ‘Dre’ back,” said Young. “He’s a big piece of our team, probably our best defender on the ball with his strength, his size, his length. He brings a lot to our team. Offensively he can shoot the ball, he can score, if there’s a mismatch you can throw it in to him and he can go score. He brings a lot to our team, you just hope he’s out there for us. Having him out there for us was good and I’m sure his minutes will get increased as the games go on, so that will definitely help.”

Hunter was on a minutes restriction and played 16 minutes off the bench, in which he scored six points on 2-of-5 from the field and from three. Hunter had a couple of good defensive possessions, this one being an example as he does well in staying in front of Reaves who has to take a tough shot at the end of the clock:

“I feel like I played well tonight in the time I was given,” said Hunter of his performance. “I just shot threes, I didn’t really do much. It was good to be out there, see a couple shots go in, just get my rhythm back.”

Hunter admitted the road back to the court has been tough, not just physically with the injury but mentally as he seeks to trust his body again.

“It’s been tough,” said Hunter of his journey back. “You never want to get injured, especially missing a month or so, however long I missed. It’s more of a mental thing than physical after a while. You’re trying to trust your knee, trying to feel comfortable again, get healthy. I think that’s the biggest part.”

Snyder praised the difference Hunter can make on the defensive end, highlighting his defensive tendencies.

“He’s got great habits in shifting and helping and rotating, he has a good feel of where he needs to be,” said Snyder of Hunter. “He’s 6-8, whether he’s defending a wing or there’s time we have him on the ball so some of that versatility is really helpful. He takes pride in it too.”

What I think excites the Hawks in addition to simply having Hunter back is having him and Jalen Johnson back together. The two have only played 272 minutes together this season and between Johnson’s injury, and his return coming not long before Hunter’s injury and absence and having both of them together gives the Hawks some much needed depth but having, arguably, the best two perimeter defenders available.

“This is the first time we’ve had those guys together since November,” said Snyder of having both Johnson and Hunter available. “It gives us some depth at the wing. Saddiq started on him (LeBron James) and those three guys in combination gave us really solid minutes and did some good things on the other end too. I was happy to see De’Andre rise up and shoot the ball. We played well. It’s good to have our guys back.”

Hunter himself is excited about the prospect of playing with Johnson defensively and how he inspires both himself and the team to be better defenders.

“He’s a very versatile defender,” said Hunter of Johnson. “He can guard one through four, even sometimes the five. He’s always in the passing lanes, he’s athletic, he blocks shots. Having someone like that next to you gives you confidence to be a better defender and also gives the team confidence to defend better.”

Hunter’s minutes will continue to be restricted as he ramps up in activity, but you’d imagine it will only be a matter of time before he finds himself back in the starting lineup and Bey back on the bench.

All in all, it was a good win for the Hawks. Everyone played well last night (other than Garrison Mathews basically fouling his way out of the in-game rotation in the second quarter), the Hawks were efficient from the field, efficient from three, efficient from the free throw line, 32 assists with just 12 turnovers, they scored a lot of fastbreak points and second chance points. They were better than the Lakers in essentially every facet last night, though some of this is to be expected given the absence of Davis and the Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back.

There are plenty of reasons for the Hawks to feel good after last night, so let’s see how far they can carry this little burst of momentum and optimism they’ve built recently as the homestand continues.


The Hawks (20-27) are back in action on Friday night when they take on the Phoenix Suns (27-20). The Suns are in the midst of a long road trip, and Friday’s tilt at State Farm Arena will be their sixth game of the trip — a potential opportunity for the Hawks to notch another win against a potentially tired team.

Until next time...