Goodwin, Collins Lead Comeback Effort Over Clippers

Ben Ladner

The Hawks could easily have rolled over against the Clippers Wednesday night, and for 24 minutes, they did. The Clippers, having played a close game in Dallas the night before, went into Wednesday’s game down three of their best players in the midst of a six-game road trip. They had every reason to lack urgency against the worst team in the NBA. Instead, it was the Hawks who came out flat. With Trae Young sidelined due to a back injury, Atlanta never found much of an offensive rhythm and fell behind early once again without bringing the requisite energy to compete with a depleted opponent.

“There’s nothing more disturbing than watching our guys in that first half,” Lloyd Pierce said. “We’re just not in a position to come out and not compete the way we were in the first half, to not have a sense of urgency against a team that played the night before.”

L.A. jumped out to a 30-12 lead in the first quarter after a six-minute Atlanta dry spell, and led 32-16 after one. Montrezl Harrell bullied his way to 21 points in the first half, and Ivica Zubać gave Atlanta trouble inside as the Hawks struggled to remove the lid from the basket. The Clippers led by as many as 21 in the first half and looked well on their way to burying another weaker opponent. The absence of three high-profile stars created the atmosphere of an exhibition game, and the players seemed to feel it too. “I feel like we took them a little lightly,” John Collins said. “But once we settled in and started playing a little bit and got our confidence, it swung the whole game in a different direction.”

Rather than letting their offensive troubles drag them out of the game in the second half, the Hawks leaned into it and turned the contest into a defensive grind in attempt to take the Los Angeles out of its flow. Neither team scored more than a point per possession for the game and the two sides combined to shoot 27.3 percent from 3-point range. What limited offensive success they had came instead from tireless work inside. The Clippers attacked the rim constantly, earning 39 free-throw attempts in the process. The Hawks, meanwhile, made hay on the offensive glass, grabbing 41.2 percent of their own misses and generating 24 more shot attempts than their opponent. 

The Hawks regained the lead with 3:56 remaining in the fourth quarter, and found just enough offensive cohesion to win the game with its defense as the Clippers faded. They closed the game small with Collins at center, yet maintained their edge on the glass and their defensive intensity against a like-sized Clipper unit. Atlanta largely stifled the ever-dangerous Lou Williams from the field (6-of-19 for 18 points) and held Harrell to just nine points in the second half. The Hawks allowed just 0.95 points per possession – their third-lowest mark of the season. 

“I feel like we didn’t do enough [talking] in the first half, and I feel like in the second half everybody got on the same page, was committed to being on the same page and actually communicating,” Collins said.

The big man paced Atlanta with 33 points, 16 rebounds, and three steals on 12-of-22 shooting, while Brandon Goodwin provided a crucial lift with 19 fourth-quarter points and helped steady the offense with Jeff Teague off the floor. “He got going, he have us a punch,” Pierce said. “He really settled us. It’s just one of those things. You could feel the momentum going and he was the main reason behind it. I liked his composure. I thought he gave us great execution down the stretch.”

Goodwin helped Atlanta outscore the Clippers 33-20 over the final 12 minutes, and the Hawks hit a series of timely shots to punctuate defensive stops down the stretch. De’Andre Hunter, who shot just 3-of-15 from the field and struggled all night, finally hit his first triple of the game with 1:44 remaining to give the Hawks a six-point lead; Goodwin dropped in the dagger 88 seconds later to seal a 102-95 win.

This game, in hindsight, will likely be nothing more than a blip on the Clippers’ radar; they have too big a picture in mind to sweat a loss like this. Atlanta, however, can use Wednesday as a building block – a template for how to play without Young and what kind of mindset it takes to win, even against shorthanded opponents. “I hope this is a momentum-builder,” Pierce said. “I hope this is an understanding of how we have to play from start to finish. But I couldn’t be prouder of the guys in that fourth quarter, the way they battled.”