The Hawks Stayed True to Themselves in Game 4
KL Chouinard @KLChouinard
Trailing by four points with two and a half minutes in Game 4, John Collins and Trae Young worked together to make a hugely successful play on a night where not everything they did worked out successfully.
Collins secured an almost-out-of-reach offensive rebound by slapping the ball to Trae near midcourt. Trae drove the lane and became the focal point of the Philadelphia defense, a group that, just before tipoff, claimed three of the ten spots on the NBA's All-Defense Teams.
With one of those All-Defense honorees, Ben Simmons, trailing him from behind on the drive, and another, Joel Embiid, waiting as one of two Sixers to bracket him near the rim, Trae leapt, faked up as if he was taking the shot and then whipped a hook pass around Embiid into Collins' waiting hands. Collins hit the shot to keep the Hawks' hopes alive on a night where it seemed like there were half a dozen chances for those hopes to fall short.
The play typified the Hawks' evening on a number of levels.
The Hawks took care of the ball. When Trae saw Collins open in the corner, not only did he see Collins and manufacture a way to get him the ball, he made sure that it literally hit him in the hands.
The Hawks only had 4 turnovers in the game, one shy of the NBA record for fewest turnovers in a postseason game. After having 43 in the first three games, that care came in handy on a night when they didn't shoot well.
Part of that care seemed to derive from Kevin Huerter making his first-ever postseason start. With Trae, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Huerter in the starting lineup, the Hawks maximized their playmaking capability.
"Having three ball-handlers out there on the floor, being able to space the floor, I like that lineup and I thought it was good for us tonight," McMillan said.
With the added ball security, the Hawks were able to attempt 101 shots.
"That's really good basketball," Trae said.
John Collins had a monster of a second half
Collins made an imprint on the game after halftime, beginning with some third-quarter dunks. His impact was also felt with five offensive rebounds that contributed to the Hawks' 21 second-chance points.
"John did a great job of getting us second and third opportunities," McMillan said.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers had even higher praise for Collins (14 points, 12 rebounds) afterward.
"Give the Hawks credit," Rivers said. "I thought they hit. I thought they knocked us around the floor. I thought Collins was the toughest man on the floor all night. You're going to see everybody else's numbers, but I thought Collins was the guy tonight, just hitting the glass all night and keeping things alive.
Trae set up his teammates
Beginning with Game 2, the Sixers started to use heavy doses of Simmons to guard Trae. That look gave them a longer defender to attempt to limit some of Trae's passing angles, and in Game 4, the Sixers also took a more aggressive approach to getting the ball out of Trae's hands.
"They were doing a lot of hedging and trapping," he said. "For me, that's fine. That's good. Now it's all about making the right play and the open pass."
Trae finished with 18 assists (against only 2 turnovers), and if Trae had played the same way on a night when his teammates were making even an average number of threes, it would have been a lot more. Per Elias Sports, Trae is the youngest player in NBA history with 18+ assists in a postseason game. The previous youngest was 5-foot-7 Spud Webb, who had 18 assists for the Hawks against the Pistons on Apr. 19, 1986.
It would have been easy for the Hawks to get discouraged. Over the course of a week, they had gone from the plucky upstart who eked out Game 1 to a team staring up at a 2-1 deficit – and possibly more when the Sixers stretched the lead to 18 points shortly before halftime.
When asked in advance of Game 4 how he would coax his team into keeping its mental edge in the face of a deficit, McMillan popped the front of his red T-shirt emblazoned with 'Believe' across the front.
"We have to continue to believe that they did what we did," McMillan said with an appeal to symmetry. "They got the first game in our building. We got the first game in their building. They did what we did. Now what we have to do is respond."
The Hawks played as if McMillan had convinced them.
"We've been fighting all year. This team never gives up," Trae said. "I love the way we fight, and I'm proud of our team tonight."