Well, that was too close for comfort for Atlanta Hawks fans. Even if you recognize that Paolo Banchero is a difference-maker and that the Orlando Magic present one of the most unique matchup challenges in the NBA thanks to their length, the Hawks had control of what turned out to be a 126-125 victory.
The Hawks held an 11-point lead with under three minutes to go in the fourth quarter when, following a technical foul by Trae Young, the Magic went on their improbable run and nearly got the Hawks for a second time this season.
Atlanta had six consecutive possessions end with a miss or a turnover in a stretch started by Young who also got a tech just before the run began.
Young spoke about the Hawks’ closing efforts in a game they should have won handily.
Trae Young puts Atlanta Hawks on blast after beating Magic
The always feisty Young put on another one of his masterclasses distributing the ball with 13 assists to complement his 37 points and, most importantly, only turned the ball over four times while connecting on at least 40% of his triples for the second game in a row. Young was averaging 22.7 points and hitting just 18.5% of his threes in an eight-game stretch before that.
He was not immune to falling just short in this one, either, going 1-for-4 in the fourth quarter as the Magic made their surge, though it was a significant make.
There were no punches pulled in his postgame media availability.
“We played terrible the last four or five minutes,” Young admitted to Hawks on Bally reporter Lauren Jbarra. “I got to do a better helping closing our team. Me and [Dejounte Murray] got to do a better job of closing the game better. But I’m glad we won. That’s what matters.”
Murray chipped in 17 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals in his return from a five-game absence due to an ankle injury. He also led the Hawks with seven fourth-quarter points including drawing a foul earning himself a trip to the line to sink what would be the game-winning free throws after the Hawks had given up their lead on Markelle Fultz’s layup.
Young cited the Hawks’ previous meeting with the Magic when he had 14 assists as a sign he would be able to distribute the ball against the upstart Magic.
He also acknowledged just how big it was to get Murray and John Collins back in the lineup.
“It was a big spark,” Young told Jbarra. “Any time those guys are out there, they make our team better. We missed them these last couple games. I’m glad they’re back. We got to get into a rhythm before the All-Star break and we got to keep getting some wins.”
The Hawks sat in fourth before their string of injuries that saw all five starters miss time. They are now in a familiar spot, the eighth seed, the same spot they finished last season before winning their Play-In Tournament matchups and getting dispatched in five games of the playoffs by the Miami Heat.
These back-to-back wins come on the heels of a 1-5 skid. That’s why Young isn’t resting on his laurels after holding on.
Atlanta doesn’t want to be in the same position as last year.
“We just won another game tonight,” Young would tell reporters later. We didn’t close it out the way we wanted to. But we won and that’s what matters. But we got to do a better job of scoring on our matchup. I got to do better on scoring and finishing the game.”
Young explained that he was “okay” with receiving the technical foul because he didn’t think the official was aware of Magic forward Moritz Wagner’s trash talk and “dirty play” on the night.
This is the second game in a row that Young’s passing has been the hot topic for the Hawks. He said after the win over the Charlotte Hornets that it was important to get the rest of the team involved early so that, when it came down to it late, they would be in a better mindset to make a big play when the Hawks need it most.
In Monday’s victory, Young had seven assists in the first quarter to just four shot attempts.
He only hit one of them, earning four of his six points at the free-throw line on a night when he had 12 attempts. And, given that he only tallied seven points in the fourth quarter, his night – and the Hawks’ win in some ways – are that much more impressive.
Next up, the Hawks will take on the free-falling Chicago Bulls whom they beat 123-122 while shorthanded in that lone win in the aforementioned stretch and who have lost four straight games and are just 4-11 on the road this season.