Entering Wednesday night there were two undefeated teams remaining in the NBA: the Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic, just like everyone predicted. One of those was in action, as the Hawks made the trek to Brooklyn for the first of two straight games against the Nets at the Barclays Center in a game that many had circled for their Wednesday night viewing as it’d be the first real test for the Hawks.
What resulted was an offensive exhibition by both teams — and, in turn, some disastrous defensive efforts from each — as they put on quite the show in what ended up being a 145-141 Nets victory. The Hawks took the early advantage thanks in part to an ice cold shooting start from Kyrie Irving (and to a slightly lesser degree, Kevin Durant), but by the end of the first quarter it was 41-38 Hawks and the writing was on the wall for the shootout that was to come.
Four Hawks finished with more than 20 points on the night, as Trae Young and John Collins each had 30-point double-doubles (Young with 11 assists and Collins with 10 boards) and Bogdan Bogdanovic and Cam Reddish chipped in a combined 42 points. Young, as has been the case all season, did much of his damage at the free throw line where he was 14-of-16, once again showing his mastery in the art of foul drawing, particularly after Atlanta found itself in the bonus midway through the fourth quarter. What was most impressive was his facilitating, though, as his fruitful partnership with Collins paved the way for some great looks for the Hawks big man.
JC picking up where he left off 💯
19 PTS and counting… pic.twitter.com/ncoENrGBnf
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) December 31, 2020
Bogdanovic caught fire from distance early, as he went 6-for-11 from the three-point line as the Hawks offense continued rolling along as the best and most efficient unit in the league.
However, despite the poor start, when it came to the fourth quarter it was the KD and Kyrie show at Barclays as they simply overwhelmed the Hawks who never were able to put enough distance between themselves and the Nets early on — thanks in large part to a monstrous effort from the Brooklyn bench, which had four players in double figures. Thanks to that bench effort to keep Brooklyn attached, once the stars showed up down the stretch Atlanta just couldn’t quite keep up with their shot-making.
Irving and Durant combined for 33 points in the fourth quarter, as their barrage of individual creation was just too much for the Hawks defense to handle.
— NBA (@NBA) December 31, 2020
The play where Irving split the Hawks pick-and-roll coverage and sent Collins to the floor was truly sensational, and their ability to take over games is what makes this Nets team so dangerous. For Atlanta, they hung with the Nets throughout and even had a wide open corner three from De’Andre Hunter to tie the game at 137 that rattled out and all but spelled the end of their hopes. They are early enough along in their growth as a team that moral victories are indeed a thing, and this game, one in which people wanted to see if they were for real, certainly counts as that.
The chief concern for Atlanta, of course, is the defense and that’s going to be the story of their season, particularly in games where they go small with Collins playing the 5 as they did quite often in this one. Brooklyn likewise has defensive issues to clean up, they just have Durant and Irving to create down the stretch to cover up those errors a touch better than the Hawks — who saw Danilo Gallinari exit early in the game with a sprained ankle that certainly impacted their rotation.
We’ll get to see these two play each other once again on Friday and it might be foolish to expect another offensive display like this one, but with the talent on both rosters, one has to figure there will be plenty of fireworks once again.