Hawks Top Suns In Most Complete Win Of Season

Ben Ladner

The inflection point of the Hawks’ win over the Suns came early in the fourth quarter, courtesy of Cam Reddish. The rookie finished with an unremarkable line of four points and two assists while shooting 1-of-5 from the field; he played just 23 minutes, battled foul trouble all night, and spent most of crunch time on the bench. But on this play, he was as instrumental to Atlanta’s efforts as anyone, and provided the spark the Hawks would use to close out their ninth win of the season.

With Trae Young trapped in the corner after an inbounds play, Reddish caught an outlet pass and pushed the ball in transition with a full head of steam. In the past, these sorts of plays have ended in disaster for Reddish, who tends to barrel recklessly into traffic when he has the ball in the open court. This time, however, he charged down the middle of the floor, drew help defender Tyler Johnson into the lane, and calmly whipped a pass to Kevin Huerter on the left wing for 3. Huerter drilled the jumper, tying the game at 89, and the Hawks never looked back as they earned a 123-110 victory.

Atlanta quickly scored 13 points in six possessions to claim an eight-point lead and closed the game on a 37-21 run from that point. Small hinges can swing big doors, and a routine play from Reddish proved integral to the Hawks’ most complete fourth quarter of the season. “That was a huge play,” Lloyd Pierce said. “He was in that attack mode and he made the right play.”

If Reddish provided the initial push the Hawks needed to make their run, Young gave them the rest of their momentum. The point guard entered the fourth quarter with just 15 points, having picked his spots and set up teammates for the first three periods. But as the game entered its waning moments, Young seemed to shift his focus, scoring 21 of his 36 points in the final frame while going 5-for-8 from the field and 4-for-7 from deep.

“Especially in the fourth quarter, he had full control of this game tonight,” Pierce said. “A lot of aggression and a lot of understanding of when to let other guys get involved. I just thought his command of the game was exceptional. That’s the biggest challenge for a young point guard is understanding how to command, how to manage the game from an execution standpoint.”

In the game’s final minutes, Phoenix was fully subject to Young’s command. After he hit pull-up 3s on back-to-back possessions, the Suns began playing Young even more aggressively in the pick-and-roll, which he leveraged into eight free-throw attempts and even more open triples. When Kelly Oubre tried to anticipate a right-handed drive from, Young crossed back over into another bomb:

A few possessions later, he fired a 29-footer over Deandre Ayton before drawing the entire Phoenix defense’s attention and finding Damian Jones with a lob:

He played the entire fourth quarter, and only seemed to grow stronger as the Suns became more desperate in their attempts to stop him. “They made it tough on him,” Huerter said. “He got hot in the fourth quarter, and maybe wore them out a little bit from chasing him around all game. He got hot and he brought us home.”

Part of the reason for Young’s fresh legs in the final quarter was Huerter’s play through the first three. Huerter finished with 23 points and eight assists in a team-high 38 minutes and hit four of his five 3-point attempts – all while pestering Oubre into a 4-of-16 shooting night on the other end. Most importantly, he gave Atlanta another scoring and playmaking threat to ease the burden from Young’s shoulders.

“We’ve always talked about Kevin Huerter being that secondary playmaker,” Pierce said. “So eight assists is a huge number for him, and that’s key. Teams are going to blitz Trae. He’s got to get off the basketball, and when he does we have a guy that’s capable in Kevin.”

With Alex Len, Jabari Parker, and Bruno Fernando all sidelined, Atlanta played small for the entire night, with Collins or Jones as the team’s only centers. That made it all the more imperative for the Hawks to prioritize rebounding against Phoenix’s burly and athletic frontcourt. Atlanta has been one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the NBA this season, but on Tuesday held the Suns to just 10 offensive boards while gathering over 77 percent of Phoenix’s misses. Huerter’s career-high 15 rebounds helped carve out that edge, while Collins and Jones’ efforts on the glass allowed the Hawks to get away with playing small.

“We wanted to use our small lineup as an advantage,” Huerter said. “We think we’re at our best when we’re playing in transition in our red zone, obviously getting the ball moving. So there’s going to be a couple games we may be undersized, but we’ve got to try to use that and all of our guards have to rebound.”

In addition to his 10 boards, Collins also poured in 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting. His pick-and-pop jumpers served as a useful counter to the Suns’ drop pick-and-roll coverage and an antidote to Phoenix’s tactic of drawing charges on rolling big men. Defensively, he played one of his most engaged games of the season as a help defender and rim protector, blocking three shots and seldom giving up unhindered paths to the basket.

“I thought John set the table for us early,” Pierce said. “To see Kevin shoot the ball the way he shot it tonight, to see him rebound, to see De’Andre [Hunter] make plays, to see Cam defend, and then Trae close it out, it was kind of how it’s been designed. We’re trying to get these guys to all jell together, and tonight was an example of that.”

That, perhaps, was the most encouraging sign for the Hawks, who have been hampered by injuries (and suspensions) to key players all season and have thus been unable to properly develop one of the NBA’s youngest nucleuses. In the Hawks’ 41 games, the trio of Young, Huerter, and Collins has played just 145 minutes together; that group plus Hunter and Reddish has logged only 43. On Tuesday, the Hawks relied on all five for perhaps their best win of the season and demonstrated what an actualized version of this team can do.

“It was a complete game,” Huerter said. “We think there’s been too many games this season where someone gets hot or teams get hot and we let the game get away from us. There’s been a lot of games where we didn’t put together complete games, and we did that tonight on both ends.” 

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