The Atlanta Hawks did what good teams are supposed to do. They put their foot down on an inferior opponent in the Detroit Pistons, winning 130-105 giving them victories in three of their last four outings. This all comes on the heels of the Hawks suffering four losses in five tries as they battled through injuries.
They were finally healthy for this game, starting their preferred group for the first time since a 125-108 win over the Orlando Magic on November 30.
Atlanta got Bogdan Bogdanovic back for the next game against the Denver Nuggets.
Over their past three outings, they had been without starting center Clint Capela who was dealing with a calf strain. The Hawks went 2-1 in his absence but, to reach their ceiling, they need all hands on deck.
Clint Capela sends strong message on Atlanta Hawks turnaround
“I really feel that we can be that good,” Capela told Hawks sideline reporter Annie Finberg. “Defensively we can step up, we can score. So we just have to find a way to stay consistent with it. But this is what it is about.”
The Hawks fell victim to some of their old habits against the Pistons, finding themselves down 63-60 at the break.
But they came out like gangbusters in the third quarter, outscoring Detroit 35-18 in the frame.
“We knew that we had to step up,” Capela said. The first half, we felt that they came out with too much confidence. So the second half, our mission was really to step up defensively. Be up on the ball and challenge everything. We were able to do that [and] we gave ourselves a great chance to win.”
Capela finished the game with 10 points and 10 rebounds for his 17th double-double of the season, the seventh-most in the NBA. The key for the Hawks is keeping the 28-year-old pivot upright and on the floor.
“I felt good out there,” said Capela. I still had my explosivity and everything. It was like another day at the office for me.”
Capela’s return not only stabilizes the Hawks’ defense but also gives them a strong backline defense with John Collins and De’Andre Hunter. It also provides Dejounte Murray and Trae Young with both of their lob targets. Such plays have become a staple of the Hawks’ attack and the lack of them was noticeable as the Hawks struggled.
The Hawks benefitted from their depth during their surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago.
Time and trades have lessened the reliability of that depth with the Hawks relying on second-year forward Jalen Johnson – who only saw 2:37 against Detroit – and rookie AJ Griffin for key contributions.
That is not a staple of Nate McMillan teams but the situation indeed called for it.
Now, though, the importance of keeping the starting five healthy has become paramount to the Hawks’ success.
“Atlanta boasts just two lineups that have seen over 200 non-garbage time minutes together in this up-and-down campaign, per Cleaning The Glass. “Both sport positive net ratings. But only one of their next five most-used groupings has a positive net rating while none even surpasses the 100-possession mark.”
To Capela’s point, the starting group’s net rating is plus-10.5.
If the Hawks can just stay healthy – a challenge every team in the NBA is trying to overcome – there could be far more to this group than we have seen.