The Hawks Return to Home Court for Game 3

Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

By Kevin Chouinard

The Hawks return to State Farm Arena tonight looking for the home-court advantage that helped them finish the season 20-3 in the last 23 games that they have played there. 

With a rest disadvantage accrued as the Hawks topped Cleveland and Charlotte in a pair of Play-In Tournament games while the Heat rested, Atlanta's offense struggled in a pair of games in Miami. In the regular season, the Hawks finished with the second-best offense in the NBA – 115.4 points scored per 100 possessions – but the Heat put up similarly good defensive numbers.

"They're one of the best defensive teams in the league, probably top-5. They're well coached," Onyeka Okongwu said. "They're trying to limit what we do with pick-and-rolls and all of the things that we normally do.

In particular, the Heat defense has keyed on Trae Young, guarding him with one player and creeping into his passing lanes with a couple of others, while mixing in the occasional trap on the ball. 

"They're going to try and take him out with pressure and good defenders," Head Coach Nate McMillan said. "We have to make them pay for the coverage that they're playing."

McMillan added that floor spacing and ball movement are the two most important ingredients to counteracting the scheme.

For his part, Trae is maintaining a growth mindset while facing as much defensive attention as he has gotten. 

"Obviously, we're down 0-2 in this series," he said, "but this has probably been my most fun and challenging series that I've been a part of so far because of just that: playing that chess match game with Coach Spo, just knowing how good of a coach he is. I'm trying to think ahead of him and he's doing the same with me. It's a fun challenge. It's something that I've got to learn and grow, and it's another step for me in my progression."

At home, the Hawks will get a little bit closer to the personnel that they had during the regular season. After losing center Clint Capela to a right knee hyperextension against Cleveland, the Hawks got John Collins back for Game 1, then slotted him back into the starting lineup for Game 2. With the Hawks relying on the pick-and-roll as much as any NBA team, it helps for Trae to have one of his partners back.

"We get that pick-and-roll combination," McMillan said. "We get some of that with John being in the lineup with Trae. We lose that option when Clint is out of the game. I think we get some of that when John and Trae are playing together. John has been a really good pick-and-roll guy, a rebounder for us, and with that first lineup, we try to spread the floor and take advantage."

Okongwu reiterated that notion.

"John is one of our key guys, a big body for us to have," he said. "We've missed him on both ends of the court. He is one of our leaders and a very vocal guy. It's good to have him back."

Even with Collins returning, Capela's absence means that Collins shifts up one position from power forward to center.

"There's a little bit more pressure to box out and rebound," Collins said of the switch. "But in terms of just playing my game and being a leader and being vocal, it's mostly the same. I've definitely got to box out a little bit more. The big fella does a good job rebounding, man. We miss him."

On the other end of the floor, it will be up to the Hawks to stop the hot hand. 

"We've got to be better on Jimmy Butler. It's pretty simple as that," Kevin Huerter said. "I feel like for the most part of this series, we've done a good job on the defensive end of the court. We're just trying to match their physicality. Obviously, Duncan (Robinson) got going the first game, and we did a good job of taking him out last game, but Jimmy can't go off like that again, obviously."

Okongwu is confident that the Hawks can turn things around with fresh legs and a return to The 'A'.

"As the series goes on, we're going to figure it out," he said. "We're going to do what we can to put together some wins."

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