Atlanta Hawks rising star sounds off on monster performance

Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Thankfully the Atlanta Hawks came away with the 113-111 victory. Otherwise, Onyeka Okongwu’s outstanding performance might have all gone for naught. But teammate John Collins did his part and the Hawks come away with a win on the first leg of a back-to-back that will send them north of the border to face the Toronto Raptors next.

The Hawks remained without Clint Capela who head coach Nate McMillan said is improving though still experiencing some discomfort in his strained calf.

If the Hawks are going to get performances such as this from Okongwu, they are in good hands.

Okongwu tied his season-high with 18 points adding a career-best 20 rebounds, swatting four shots, and dishing out four assists while notching a pair of steals as well. He spoke to Bally Sports Hawks reporter Lauren Jbarra about the big night.

Onyeka Okongwu sounds off on monster performance in Atlanta Hawks win

“We had perseverance. We know we needed this one bad. We had a lot of slippage against Milwaukee so we knew this was a must-win for us,” Okongwu said. “Overall, last game, I wasn’t being aggressive. People called me out on it – fam, friends, coaches. So this game I wanted to make a effort to make sure I was being aggressive on both ends of the floor.”

Okongwu came out of the gates perfect scoring 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting and eight rebounds in the first quarter. It was the highest-scoring quarter of his career while the rebounds matches Capela’s from the Hawks’ 104-95 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in November.

He is averaging 11.6 points on 62.1% true shooting as he has gotten 12 starts over the last 15 games in Capela’s absence.

Arguably most impressive part of Oknogwu’s night is that he recorded 13 defensive boards.

Former Hawks president Travis Schlenk challenged Okongwu to be better on the defensive glass in his exit interview after last season. Thanks in part to this effort, Okongwu has done just that increasing his defensive rebound percentage by 2.6% over last year. He has grabbed 4.8 per game this season and 6.0 defensive boards during this 15-game span.

“He just keeps showing growth,” McMillan said. ”We needed every rebound from him tonight. And, defensively, he was switching out, trapping. Doing a lot of things for us on that defensive end of the floor.”

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McMillan added that Okongwu did a good job go taking advantage of Indiana going with a smaller lineup in the game.

The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder scored six of his points on Pacers guard Buddy Hield going 3-for-3.

Oknogwu almost committed a potentially game-altering foul, getting Hield and sending him to the free-throw line for a pair which he hit tying the game. Fortunately, Collins was able to corral Dejounte Murray’s miss and seal the deal.

The win moves the Hawks to 10-11 in clutch games this season.

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Interestingly, the Hawks had better odds of pulling off the win in overtime where they are 3-1 this season, though they are surely happy to get the win in regulation.