The Hawks pulled off an improbable victory last night, overcoming an 18 point deficit to win 103-100 and tie the series up at 2-2. Here’s a look at some of the crucial plays down the stretch. Spoiler alert, there’s a lot of Trae Young and John Collins.
We’ll fast forward to the third quarter, where John Collins brings the arena back to life with one of the best slams of his young career. At this point, while the Hawks had cut the lead from 18 down to 10, the game still felt like it was in the Sixers’ control. The Hawks struggled mightily to knock down shots, despite getting good looks throughout. This put-back dunk gave the Hawks and their fans the energy they’d need to complete the comeback.
This clip starts late, but the main takeaway for me — beyond just how awesome of a play it was — was how Nate McMillan going big with Collins, Gallo, and Capela on the court at the same time created this opportunity. Embiid helps for just a second on the Gallo post-up on Curry, forcing Harris to leave Collins on the wing and provides him a wide-open lane to take off from with zero contact. Fun fact, that trio is posting a +44 net rating in the playoffs.
Just a few possessions later, things started to get chippy in Atlanta. I don’t think Simmons was trying to hit Collins as hard as he did; however, I don’t think it was completely accidental. Collins was bothering Philly all night with his hustle and extra effort plays, so much so that Doc Rivers, after the game, referenced Collins’ energy in his press conference unprompted by reporters. This led to Collins splitting free throws and the Hawks keeping possession of the ball after it was ruled a flagrant foul.
Now we’ll fast forward all the way to the final three minutes of the fourth. With the Hawks trailing now by just one, this shot felt like a backbreaker at the time. Collins does a nice job of trying to draw a charge on Embiid, and he makes a tough pass to Simmons. It looks as if most of the Hawks’ defenders felt he would take the layup, but a rocket of a pass to Furkan Korkmaz just barely missed Kevin Huerter’s hand, leading to a major three-pointer putting Philly up four.
This put pressure on Atlanta big time. An empty trip on offense would put the Hawks in a tough position. Bogdanovic gets up a contested mid-range shot that he normally makes, but that’s not the story on this play. As mentioned earlier, Collins’ energy and effort kept the Hawks in this one. A great play to tip the ball and then an explosive second jump allowed Collins to secure the board and kick the ball out to Trae.
The following clip shows that Collins isn’t just an effort player, though, as he drills the biggest shot of the fourth quarter to answer the Korkmaz triple immediately. Also, just an absurd pass from Young. I mean, how many players in the league can pull a pass like this off? The combination of vision, athleticism, and touch is just mind-boggling. He puts the ball right in the shooting pocket for Collins, and just like that, it’s a one-point game.
This next clip is one of those plays that really show how exhausted/hurt Embiid likely was in the second half. Instead of going right at Capela as he had in Games 1-3, he settles for a three. Don’t get me wrong, Embiid can make that shot, and he has in the past. It’s just that given the situation of being up one with enough time to drive/post-up, I feel like a healthy Embiid could have gotten a better look. Regardless, this missed three was one of the 12 misses the big man had in the second half.
After a couple of empty possessions for both teams, the Hawks come down the court trailing by one still and immediately get into Young-Collins pick and roll. Simmons seemed to be very aware of Trae’s tendency to stop and draw a foul here, as you can see him hesitate to get physical/bump Trae as he drives the lane. This, of course, leads to about as easy of a look as Young can get, and he puts down his signature shot. Embiid on this possession again shows his fatigue. While he can’t just fully leave Capela to catch a lob from Trae, he’s been able to play both the floater and lob at a much more competitive level at other points in the series. Trae takes advantage of his reluctance to commit to contesting the shot, as he’s done so often before, and sinks the floater.
Watching this next clip live, I thought for sure a foul call was coming. While Trae’s contact wasn’t egregious by any means, it did seem like he bothered Korkmaz’s landing area a little too much to let go. Korkmaz also kicks his leg out slightly to try and sell the call. Watching it back, I could see this being called either way. With the way this game was officiated, however, it was refreshing to see the refs swallow their whistles in favor of Atlanta. Korkmaz still got a good look from deep but couldn’t hit.
Speaking of officiating, I have no clue if the whistle was actually this late or if the crowd just drowned out the initial noise, but State Farm Arena may have broken the sound barrier with boos had this not been called a foul. This play was not reviewed, despite replays showing clear contact to the head. I’m not a fan of the seemingly never-ending reviews at the end of NBA games; however, it is surprising they didn’t look at this one. Trae would hit both free throws and be perfect from the line overall after an uncharacteristic 0/2 start at the charity stripe early in the game.
Embiid would draw a shooting foul on the next possession and get the lead back to just one for Atlanta. The Hawks would then call a timeout and ultimately turn the ball over for just the fourth (!) time of the night. Per Hawks PR, this was the lowest turnover game in Hawks postseason history. This specific turnover, though, was brutal. The Sixers double Trae late in the shot clock, forcing a swing to Collins, who does a good job of penetrating but hit Capela too hard with a pass that landed out of bounds.
At first, it looks like he should have found Bogi for three, but Thybulle does a good job of cutting off the passing lane late in the drive. Although, there was a brief moment after Collins pump faked and drove to get Bogi a pass for the open look. However, asking your power forward to make reads and passes like that may be asking too much. He did find Capela and hit him in the hands, albeit with a little too much juice. Capela muffs the pass, but Embiid seemed to be in a good place to contest. Overall, a poor possession for the Hawks in a crucial moment that left the door open for the Sixers.
If you’re Philly, you can’t ask for a better look to win the game than an Embiid open layup. Granted, he had to weave through traffic on a bad knee to get there, but he still ultimately got the shot he wanted. He likely dunks that ball a few weeks ago, but the Hawks catch a break and do a good job fighting after the miss to cause Ben Simmons to muff the rebound.
And by the Hawks, I, of course, mean John Collins. Another massive play that went unnoticed overall. While Embiid did get to the rim, Collins certainly helped to bother the shot, and then the second effort on the rebound is just superb. I mean it when I say that John Collins is as important to this team as anyone outside Young. While his counting stats have certainly not been what many hoped for in the playoffs, he’s made more than a few winning plays in both series.
After a timeout from Atlanta, Young would make two free throws to put the Hawks up three with just six seconds left. Curry missed the final shot, and he may not have gotten it off in time anyway.
Hawks tie it up 2-2!
Young dominates down the stretch
— Christian Salvador (@CSalvador24) June 15, 2021
And that’s how the Hawks completed an absurd 18 point comeback despite shooting 30% from three and 37% from the field overall. Certainly, much of the comeback can be attributed to Embiid’s disappearance in the second half, but the Hawks did enough on the offensive end to take advantage. Young was masterful in controlling the ball when it mattered, Collins made play after play to get extra opportunities or provide energy, and everyone else played their roles as well as you could ask. The Hawks travel to Philly on Wednesday in what is sure to be one of the most anticipated matchups of the playoffs this year, as both teams look to gain that coveted 3-2 lead in this series.
All eyes will be on the injury reports until then, as Embiid can flip this series one way or another with his health. On the Hawks side of things, Trae’s shoulder is worth monitoring as well. He played it off when asked postgame about the tape and wrap he used for it throughout the night; however, he clearly looked bothered on the court, particularly in the first half. Bogdanovic is also dealing with an injury, as the training staff tended to his knee multiple times for extended periods. Regardless of who is and isn’t available, Wednesday night should prove to be another exciting game on this Hawks team’s incredible run.
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