Without Trae Young, the Hawks emerged with a victory, led by Kevin Huerter.
The Atlanta Hawks returned to winning ways on Wednesday night as they continued their road trip with a matchup vs. the Sacramento Kings, triumphing 108-102 at Golden 1 Center.
Kevin Huerter led the Hawks with 25 points and 11 rebounds while Cam Reddish added 18 points. For the Kings — on a second night of a back-to-back — De’Aaron Fox scored 30 points while his backcourt partner Tyrese Haliburton added 24 points.
The Hawks are still without key personnel as their road trip continued. Trae Young was a late inactive with a low back contusion while John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Gorgui Dieng, Jalen Johnson remained out as they try to clear health and safety protocols and get back out on the court.
The game was a tight affair for much of the night (as well as being an ugly affair at times, such as the second quarter where the Hawks were scoreless for the first six minutes) and the Hawks took an eight-point lead with 5:12 remaining in the final quarter. The Kings closed the margin and the Hawks would have to find a way to get the job done without their closer in Young.
Let’s pick it up from a timeout at the 3:51 mark with the Hawks leading by 92-89 after two Fox free throws.
There were some interesting substitutions from acting heading coach Joe Prunty down the stretch in this one, including Onyeka Okongwu subbing in for Clint Capela at this time.
Towards the end of the shotclock, Huerter drives to the rim and despite the late switch from the Harrison Barnes, Huerter is still able to finish with the left-handed reverse:
The Kings responded with two baskets to cut the lead to one point, including this mid-range jumper from Fox — a shot he killed the Hawks with most of the night:
The Hawks responded with a well executed basket as Huerter links up with Okongwu in the pick-and-roll and Okongwu is able to finish at the rim:
A good slip from Okongwu here and with the smaller Barnes switching onto him, there was going to be little resistance.
Fox responded again for the Kings with another mid-range shot with Delon Wright draped on him:
The Hawks respond immediately as Okongwu delivers another hand-off, this time to Reddish, who draws a lot of pressure on the drive and impressively finds the rolling Okongwu for the emphatic finish:
After a Kings’ challenge on an out-of-bounds play, they tie the game through Haliburton as he loses Reddish for three:
Reddish, however, responds with a three of his own as Wright gets inside the paint and does a good job getting the ball back out to the perimeter to Reddish for the three-pointer:
A very clutch shot from Reddish, who struggled to make shots last night as he shot 7-of-19 from the field and 2-of-7 from three, including that make.
The Kings respond with Fox once again as he cooks Reddish on the drive and finishes at the rim plus the foul:
A great play from Fox but a costly foul having just hit a big three-pointer on the other end. Fox dispatches the free throw to tie the game, leaving the Hawks searching once again for a go-ahead basket.
Huerter, again, handles the ball down the stretch and he spins back inside after the Capela slip and drives to the rim and, somehow, hangs and hits the layup off of the glass for the go-ahead basket:
The degree of difficulty on this shot is high, especially when Damian Jones comes over and Huerter has to adjust, and he did so excellently.
The Kings try to respond through Fox again but in single coverage against Wright is unable to get the Kings back on level terms and the shot is short in the end after the contest from Wright:
Fox was adamant that Wright made contact and that was the reason as to why the shot was so short. No call was made and the Kings are forced to foul with the shotclock off. Huerter dispatches both free throws to give the Hawks a two possession lead and Buddy Hield’s airball three leaves the Kings little chance to recover from the deficit (despite the late foul from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot) and the Hawks emerge from Sacramento with a victory.
Behind Huerter’s 11 fourth quarter points and his steadiness throughout the game, the Hawks were able to find the plays they needed down the stretch.
“Kevin was great from the moment he came in the game,” said acting head coach Joe Prunty postgame. “We had talked this morning and said that he wasn’t going to be starting and to be ready to go; ‘You’re still going to play big and important minutes.’ I thought he was great from the beginning and he helped keep us organized on both ends of the floor. With that deep team defensive effort, he did a lot of things on that end of the floor which was huge for us.”
However, it was perhaps a surprise that Huerter did not start the game. Prunty didn’t want to get too drawn into the matter but cited ‘balancing’ reasons between the first and second units as the primary reason as to why Huerter came off of the bench.
“We’re dealing with a lot of different circumstances right now in terms of balancing out the lineup, balancing out the players that we have, where guys are in terms what they can contribute at this time and how many minutes,” said Prunty. “A lot of guys played big minutes tonight and we were trying to manage that. There’s a lot of factors that went into the decisions that were made as always but it worked out for us.”
“It was something I was ready to do,” added Huerter of coming off the bench. “I knew that, regardless if I was starting or coming off of the bench, that I’d be most likely playing heavy minutes. He told me most of it was offensively to fit me with that second unit and allow me to dictate with that and obviously it worked so I was okay with it.”
In the end, Huerter scored 25 points on 10-of-18 from the field to go along with a season-high 11 rebounds and five assists, becoming the first Hawk to set such a line off of the bench and the first, per Hawks PR, in the NBA to do so since 2019.
Kevin Huerter is the first Hawk since at least 1985-86 to finish with 25-or-more points, 10-or-more rebounds and 5-or-more assists in a game coming off the bench … He is the first NBA player to do so since Montrezl Harrell (11/18/19 for LAC vs. OKC, 28p/12r/5a).
— Hawks PR (@HawksPR) January 6, 2022
When many think of Kevin Huerter they think of his shooting, but last night it was Huerter’s continued success at the rim which stood out above the rest:
Huerter was able to often get to the rim to finish with his left-hand and his aggressiveness did not go unnoticed amongst his teammates.
“Very impressed, he stayed aggressive the whole game,” said Wright of Huerter. “Especially towards the end of the game he was aggressive getting downhill, making plays, had some tough finishes. We really needed that.”
Huerter is a player I’ve often found — between comments here or on Twitter — to be under-appreciated and deserves a lot of credit for his performance last night. He made an immediate impact when he entered the game, provided a lift for that second unit, took matters into his hands in the fourth quarter and was able to deal with that pressure of making shots/plays and some clutch free throws at the end of the game — all the things that the Hawks normally rely on Young to provide.
Speaking of, Wright was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Young and also played a very strong game, scoring 15 points on 5-of-9 from the field, 5-of-5 from the free throw line to go along with four assists and zero turnovers in a game-high 39 minutes.
“I thought Delon was great and I have to give a lot of guys credit from the standpoint of we were able to get down on that end of the floor and get organized and know what we were trying to do,” said Prunty. “Sometimes it wasn’t necessarily just plays but knowing the concept of what we wanted to get accomplished and who we wanted running the plays for us. I thought Delon was outstanding across the board. He did a great job — like I said with Kevin earlier — of getting us organized. Delon not only did that but was also taking on a tough challenge at the other end of the floor and that’s not easy. We talked about that the other night, it’s hard to play that many minutes and put that effort in but that’s what you need to do in the NBA, that’s what you need to do to win games on the road.”
Wright, as Prunty mentioned, had the difficult task of guarding Sacramento’s dynamic backcourt and obviously came up with a clutch stop late-on in the game on Fox. Wright’s defense was a huge boost for the Hawks on a night where they, at times, struggled to score.
“Our defense was great, we did a very good job against a team that is very potent,” said Prunty.
Wright was one of a few Hawks who scored in stretches throughout the game, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the first half. Huerter and Cabarrot scored seven apiece in the first quarter while Danilo Gallinari scored nine points in the second quarter.
“Offense by committee for most of the game,” noted Kevin Huerter postgame.
With six players in double-figure scoring and multiple defensive efforts up-and-down the roster, this was very much a ‘by committee’ victory. Everyone has had to step up in these absences, both on the court and on the sideline — so it was last night.
With the Hawks leading all the way through the second half (and most of the game, for that matter) it’s difficult to say they didn’t deserve this victory: they did. The Kings being on the second night of a back-to-back obviously plays into affairs somewhat but not overwhelmingly so. A good victory for the Hawks, one they needed after a tough loss in Portland.
With the Hawks (17-20) possibly receiving boosts in the form of potential returns of John Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic in the very near future, there’s optimism that this road-trip could go better than envisioned, but two games in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers should prove an interesting test to said optimism. The Lakers (20-19) are up first for the Hawks on Friday night at Staples Center.
Should be fun. Until next time…