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Atlanta Hawks: what fueled their unexpected post-season run?

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 22: John Collins #20 hi-fives Trae Young #11 of the Atlanta Hawks during the game against the LA Clippers on March 22, 2021 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

The post-season run of the Atlanta Hawks has been incredible as the team exceeded all expectations for this season and the playoffs. As the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, the team had little to no expectations. However, the Hawks beat the New York Knicks in the first round and moved on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. There, the team met the first-seeded 76ers and won in seven games.

But what has fueled their post-season run from the fifth seed to an Eastern Conference Finals matchup? The obvious answer would be their star point guard, Trae Young. Young is averaging 29.8 points, 9.5 assists, and 2.7 rebounds in the playoffs. Furthermore, his versatile offense and playmaking ability elevate the Hawk’s offense by adding immediate star power.

However, there is more to the story. The Hawks have an incredible system that allows Young and their role players to shine. Also, Clint Capela, Nate Mcmillan, and the lethal shooters of the team take pressure off of Young and boost the team’s offense and defense.

Offensive system of the Hawks

May 28, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) and guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (13) celebrate against the New York Knicks in the fourth quarter during game three in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive system of the Hawks makes other teams struggle as they try to guard five lethal offensive weapons. Also, the system works perfectly for Trae Young.

Trae Young is a point guard who loves to pass and create shots for his teammates. This unselfish play leads to him racking up multiple assists in a game. However, the team is built for him to do so.

The Hawks have role players, such as Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, and Kevin Huerter, who can shoot the basketball incredibly. All players have the potential to score 20 plus points on any given night. Yes, each player is inconsistent, but if at least one of them has a good game, then there is a good chance the Hawks will win the game.

Also, since Trae Young draws so much pressure from the opposing defense, all three shooters will have multiple open shots a game. This is a recipe for success that allows the team and Young to shine.

John Collins and Clint Capela also contribute to a highly effective offense through their ability to catch lobs. Collins and Capela are both big men who can catch and dunk the basketball extremely well. Therefore, when Trae Young drives or dribbles the ball into the paint, he draws pressure from one of the big man’s defenders. This allows either Collins or Capela to be open for an alley-oop almost always. Not only is this a flashy way to score, but it is so easy and efficient to pull off as the team executes this play multiple times in a game.

The highly effective offensive system around Trae Young contributed to the deep post-season run of the Atlanta Hawks.

Nate McMillan and Clint Capela

Jun 29, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks head coach Nate McMillan talks to forward Cam Reddish (22) and guard Kevin Huerter (3) against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second quarter during game four of the Eastern Conference Finals for the 2021 NBA Playoffs at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier in the season, the Atlanta Hawks fired former head coach Lloyd Pierce. Nate McMillan took his place as the team’s interim head coach, and he has completely changed the team’s atmosphere. The focus for Coach McMillan has always been defense. This is perfect for the Hawks because they have a strong offense but desperately lack defense.

The Hawk’s defense has looked superb in the playoffs, which is a huge credit to Coach McMillan. Players, such as Trae Young or Bogdan Bogdanovic, are not known for their defense. However, Nate McMillan pushes his players to up their intensity on defense, and almost everyone looks like a decent defender.

However, there is one player on the Hawks that shows off excellent defense every night, and this player is Clint Capela. Capela averaged two blocks per game in the regular season and is now averaging one block in the playoffs.

Capela is an excellent rim protector on defense. In the series against the 76ers, he slowed MVP candidate Joel Embiid down with his defense. Obviously, Joel Embiid still had great games in the series because of his talent and All-Star abilities. However, without Clint Capela’s tough defense on Embiid, the Hawks would not be making a deep post-season run to the ECF.

Overall, the team has many tools and assets to support its main star, Trae Young. Trae Young is an excellent offensive player who can shine because the shooters around him alleviate pressure. On the contrary, Young is not the most proficient defender, but Coach McMillan and Clint Capela help elevate the team’s defense to make a deep playoff run. The Hawks won game 4, tying the series 2-2, and are looking to make the NBA finals in their tight series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

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