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Peachtree Hoops: Murray lifts Hawks to victory over Magic as absence of Young begins

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Orlando Magic v Atlanta Hawks
Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

A strong third quarter from Murray and the Hawks brings a victory over Orlando

The Atlanta Hawks snapped their three game losing streak with a comfortable home win over the Orlando Magic on Sunday night, 109-92, at State Farm Arena.

Dejounte Murray led the Hawks with a near triple-double of 25 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds while Jalen Johnson added a near triple-double of his own with 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. For the Magic, without Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner scored 19 points with Wendell Carter Jr. adding 18 points.

The Hawks announced the news on Sunday that they would be without All-Star point guard Trae Young for at least four weeks after being diagnosed with a tear in his RCL in the fifth finger of his left hand. It comes not long after the news that Onyeka Okongwu will also miss a couple of weeks due to a toe sprain, meaning the Hawks were and will be up against it from a personnel point of view for a few weeks to come here, especially at the guard and center spots.

They perhaps got a bit fortunate that the Orlando Magic were next on their schedule, a team in action in a close win in Detroit on Saturday before Paolo Banchero was ruled out of the game due to illness. Without Banchero, the Magic are left in a tough spot offensively, and this ended up being the case again last night — only the Hawks also joined them in their offensive struggles in what was a putrid offensive game from both sides in the first half.

Both sides really struggled offensively in the first half as both teams attempted to figure out what their offense looks like without their respective All-Stars, with the teams only combining for a 51-45 scoreline at halftime, a near rarity in today’s NBA.

However, it was the Hawks who eventually found another gear as their offense eventually found some rhythm in the second half with Murray scoring 16 of his 25 points in the third quarter as the Hawks went on an 18-1 run in the third to reclaim the lead and open the game’s first double-digit lead of the contest.

Once that double-digit lead was established, the Hawks held it for basically all of the fourth quarter — pushing their lead as high as 20 points. And even the Magic’s later run only cut the lead down to nine points before the visitors eventually waved the white flag with a minute to go.

For the Hawks, any win they can get they will take at this point of the season and further consolidated their hold on the final Play-In spot with the Brooklyn Nets falling in Minnesota on Sunday ahead of two games to come against the Hawks in the near future with a 3.5 game lead.

Postgame, Hawks head coach Quin Snyder was asked about the improved communication and cited a focus on the defensive end and praised the Hawks’ late game poise on the offensive end.

“We were in the film room for a while the other day and trying to do the things that we can control, and communication is a big part of that,” said Snyder of the communication. “You’re not going to be perfect, but there was a focus on the defensive end. Late, offensively, when they made a run we were really poised and the floor was spaced. They started trapping pick-and-roll, got us early in that and we reacted well to it. DJ hit JJ in the pocket, ‘Hunt’ made a great move attacking the rim in that situation. Some good things on the offensive end as well.”

When Murray awoke in the third quarter, the Hawks edged away from the Magic — it was reflective of what the Hawks will need from Murray going forward in the absence of Young to have a chance in games. Murray finished with 25 points on 11-of-20 from the field and 2-of-5 from three.

“We want to play a certain style throughout the game with the ball movement, playing side-to-side and also playing pick-and-roll,” said Snyder when asked about Murray. “Finding a balance of that is good. Orlando is really good defensively. If the ball stops they’re just so big and they get shifted. I thought you saw that early in the game where we were driving into a crowd at times. Sometimes, against them, that’s really hard, sometimes you have to make a decision before you get in there. Those guys trusting each other was good to see and DJ was a catalyst for a lot of that.”

“I don’t have too many excuses,” said Murray when asked about the next four weeks ahead without Young. “It’s the NBA, I’m going to continue to say the same thing over and over again: it’s the next man up. Dudes work hard, dudes wait for these opportunities. Obviously not in that way, we want him to heal up and get back as soon as he can and get back to himself. Health is everything. But while he’s out, next man up. That’s it. It’s opportunities for guys to show why they’re in the NBA, why they belong in the NBA and that’s really it.”

Murray tied his season-high with 11 assists, now the primary ball-handler to initiate the offense.

“That’s who I am,” said Murray of getting others involved. “I don’t know how else to put it. I play the right way.”

I suspect you’ll see Murray eclipse that season-high before long as the offense will obviously continue to run through him.

For the game itself, the 18-1 run was the turning point for the Hawks. To end a quarter in that manner was particularly damaging to the Magic, who just fell apart offensively when Franz Wagner picked up his fourth foul. The Hawks went on their run immediately after Wagner exited the game, which was no coincidence.

Of the run, Snyder credited the Hawks (with a lineup of Murray, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Hunter, Johnson and Bruno Fernando) with running, as opposed to jogging, up the offensive end once they strung their stops together.

“That group was playing really well and it started on the defensive end,” said Snyder of the 18-1 run. “We talked a lot about trying to run but you have to get stops to run. There’s jogging and there’s running, and when we run it opens the court, particularly against those guys because they are so big. If you can attack them before they get set, your percentage chance of scoring goes up. I thought our defense created our offense. We took the right shots. Sometimes even if it’s one pass or if it’s walk-up off the dribble — DJ had a couple of those, ‘Hunt’ had a couple of those — if you don’t shoot that shot there’s a chance you don’t get something better, and obviously if you’re not open the ball has got to move.”

Similarly, Murray also cited the Hawks’ defense fueling their offense as a catalyst to that run.

“Just getting great looks, playing together, playing the right way,” said Murray of the 18-1 run. “Getting stops on the defensive end leading to offense, which I think is the best offense when you’re able to get stops and get out and run and get great looks. Shots fell for us, we closed out a great quarter and got a great team win.”

The Magic shot just 41.7% from the field with the defense a clear priority for the Hawks coming into this encounter.

“I think we just knew we needed to be better than last game, especially coming out of the gate” said Johnson of the defense. “Just absolutes that we needed to do — stop in transition, I think we did a really good job tonight. We had big sparks defensively off the bench. Kobe came in and made some huge plays for us, those are momentum shifters. We had a couple of times where a few guys did that for us and everybody rallied around that and joined in.”

Speaking of Kobe Bufkin, with Young out he got his chance at the backup point guard and was solid in his 11 minutes of action: two points on 1-of-4 shooting, three assists, a block and a drawn charge. At this stage of the season with the Hawks where they are, Bufkin may as well play while Young is out, whether he’s a positive or not. This is a time for his development in a season that, let’s be realistic, is unlikely to progress a whole ton further than the Play-In Tournament, so he may as well play all of these minutes and use it as a focus for film study over the summer as heads into his second season.

Other Hawks who had positive contributions last night include Jalen Johnson, who scored 21 points on 9-of-19 shooting from the field and 2-of-5 from three to go along with seven assists and zero turnovers. Johnson can be even more efficient from the field. He’s had quite a number of these slightly awkward looking twisting/turning shots on the move where he just looks like he’s trying a little too much offensively, but other than a couple of these shots was very much a major positive for the Hawks last night.

So too was De’Andre Hunter, who scored 18 points off the bench who scored 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 from the free throw line. And these contributions will be hugely important for the Hawks going forward as an enormous source of their free throw shooting is now sidelined for at least four weeks, so Hunter’s aggressiveness attacking the rim is more important for the Hawks than ever before.

On the other end of the scale, it was another difficult game for Clint Capela, who scored four points on 2-of-8 from the field in 17 minutes of action playing very little in the second half with Fernando playing a total of 19 minutes last night. Capela just hasn’t looked right since the Hawks reconvened after All-Star, still feeling the lingering affects of that adductor strain.

However, Quin Snyder stated his belief in Capela as well as his importance to the team and his belief things will improve as he continues to rack up game-time.

“I have so much confidence in Clint as a player and as a person with his focus,” said Snyder of Capela. “He’s close on a few of things and he doesn’t need to get frustrated. His timing will come. That’s hard, when you’re working your way back from an injury and sometimes it takes some time. We really need him, he knows that, his teammates know that. His timing will get better and better as he plays more and your conditioning too. That’s tough, especially when you’re big. He’s asked to do a lot. We’ve got him out on the floor, he’s got to get back, he’s got to run, that’ll keep improving as well.”

The Hawks really do need a healthy Capela sooner rather than later. The absence of Okongwu puts a lot of pressure on Fernando to begin with in a backup role (which can be a bit of mixed bag; Fernando was fine last night). If Capela is struggling you’re asking Fernando to be the only contributor to plus center play and...that’s going to be exposed sooner rather than later. The Hawks got away with their underwhelming center play last night, but they cannot escape this issue for long.

All-in-all, the Hawks were in a favorable spot in this game between Orlando being on the second night of a back-to-back and the added absence of Banchero highlighting — not for the first time this season in the season-series — Orlando’s offense woes without their All-Star. The Hawks took care of business as they should, and in the end it was a comfortable victory as their offense finally found form as Murray found his — and this will have to be the way forward for the foreseeable future for the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks (25-32) are back in action on Tuesday night when they take on the Utah Jazz (27-31) at State Farm Arena.

Until next time...

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