Monday was a low-point for the Hawks’ 2021 campaign. Back-to-back losses following another blown fourth-quarter lead to the Heat — Atlanta’s 11th blown fourth-quarter lead of the season — resulted in Lloyd Pierce’s dismissal after two-and-a-half seasons with the team. Some around the league were shocked by the swift decision; however, it’s tough to argue moving on from a coach that only managed 60 wins in 183 tries, especially when the players begin to speak out against him.
The only thing that could have made that day worse was if Nate McMillan, who was immediately offered the job to become the interim head coach, declined the opportunity, which he reportedly seriously considered. The long-time Pacers and Blazers head coach was adamant of his belief in Lloyd Pierce and initially told Travis Schlenk he did not come to Atlanta to be a head coach. However, after meeting with Schlenk and reaching out to Pierce, he ultimately decided to accept the promotion hesitantly, and ever since, things have been looking up for the Hawks.
McMillan’s first opportunity under his new title came on Tuesday in a rematch against the Heat. It was an ugly game that saw the Hawks trail by three entering the final period following an onslaught by Miami in the third quarter. Not much looked different up to that point, but then Atlanta put together perhaps their best 12 minutes of basketball of the season, outscoring last year’s Eastern Conference champions 31-14 in the fourth quarter and waltzing to a double-digit win on the road.
In a situation where the Hawks were desperate for a win, it was undoubtedly a promising start to the McMillan era. However, as Christian Salvador pointed out in his preview of that Heat game, every time the Hawks seem to take a step forward, it is followed by two steps back. Would that continue under McMillan?
Atlanta traveled to Orlando on Wednesday to wrap up the first half of their season on the second night of a back-to-back. And once again, for three-and-a-half quarters, it felt like the same old Hawks. The defense was abysmal, and the shots weren’t falling. But a John Collins three with just under six minutes to go, cutting the lead to 13, turned the tide completely.
The Hawks went on to nail three more unanswered from deep before the Magic scored another point, but by that time, the momentum had completely flipped, and Trae Young decided to take over. The superstar point guard made his next two three-pointers, trimming the lead to just two with over a minute to go. The Hawks would then go on to take the lead twenty seconds later when Young hit Tony Snell — an unsung hero for this team so far this season — in the corner for the go-ahead three. Vucevic was able to put the Magic back up one with a tip shot with 18 seconds to go, but it was Young who got the last laugh, drawing a foul with under 10 seconds to play and knocking down both free-throws.
The Hawks finished off the win with a fantastic defensive possession, which has become a staple of McMillan’s early tenure as the interim head coach. Atlanta is now 4-1 this season with him leading the way, defeating some high-quality opponents like the Nuggets, Celtics, and Heat. And their win last night over the Magic was record-breaking.
The Hawks trailed 106-90 with just under 6 minutes remaining before coming back to win 115-112 vs the Magic.
Entering today, teams were 1-232 when trailing by 16+ points in the final 6 minutes of the game. pic.twitter.com/NgyV1v9GEb
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 4, 2021
The Hawks were also 0-5 this season on the second night of back-to-backs entering Wednesday, and they were finally able to pull out one of these tight games that they have been dropping all year. Following the win, several players took to social media to celebrate.
— solomon hill (@solohill) March 4, 2021
It was a memorable week for a young Hawks team that desperately needed it. Had they lost both of those games, the conversations would have been much different heading into this All-Star break. The John Collins rumors would have heated up immensely, and Travis Schlenk may have found himself on the hot seat as well. Thankfully, the focus will now be strictly on the playoff hunt, as the Hawks sit just 1.5 games outside of the 8th seed in the East and 2 games from 5th with exactly one-half (36 games) of the schedule remaining.
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