‘Bench Mob’ proving crucial to Hawks’ five-game win streak

Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari made no effort to hide his glass of wine when he walked in for his postgame news conference. The glass was a gift from coach Nate McMillan to the unit nicknamed “the Bench Mob” after the Hawks’ 122-115 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday.

“The wine is because Coach gave the glass of wine to the Bench Mob,” Gallinari said. “We’re just enjoying it. We’re celebrating a glass of wine for the bench.”

Knocking off Brooklyn, a team that entered the evening tied with the Hawks in the Eastern Conference playoff standings, signaled a statement win for the Hawks.

But the Bench Mob made a definitive statement of its own, outscoring Brooklyn’s bench 46-12. The performance continued the veteran unit’s run of strong play, a major factor behind the Hawks’ five-game win streak.

“Our second group was really, really good (Saturday night),” McMillan said. “They were the difference in this game (Saturday night), stretching that lead in the first half, and then in the second half they did the same thing.”

After Brooklyn controlled the game during the first quarter, the Hawks’ second unit changed the tenor of the game by scoring 14 consecutive points to turn a deficit into a 43-34 lead. The run featured scores on four consecutive Hawks possessions, including a pair of 3-pointers from guard Delon Wright and another from Gallinari.

“Our second group was really, really good (Saturday night). They were the difference in this game (Saturday night), stretching that lead in the first half, and then in the second half they did the same thing."

- Hawks coach Nate McMillan, on the Bench Mob

The Bench Mob sparkled again in the fourth quarter. With the Hawks’ lead cut to four points early in the final frame, forward Onyeka Okongwu blocked Brooklyn forward Cam Thomas’ shot and found Gallinari near midcourt. Gallinari then launched an outlet pass to guard Lou Williams, who connected on a 3-pointer from the left corner. The cross-court play sparked another momentum swing, a 10-0 run that gave the Hawks a much-needed cushion against a red-hot Kevin Durant.

Both scoring runs came while Trae Young, who finished with a team-high 36 points, was on the sideline.

“(Saturday night), they settled us down and were able to get stops defensively and scored on the offensive end of the floor,” McMillan said. “They did a really good job of taking advantage of the mismatches, recognizing them and getting the ball to that guy and allowing him to play with the basketball.”

Though Durant finished with a career-high 55 and combined with guard Kyrie Irving to total 86 of the Nets’ 115 points, the Hawks’ second unit was up to the challenge of holding off the Nets’ advances. Gallinari led the bench with 15 points, while Okongwu contributed six points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks. The bench’s reliability allowed McMillan to kept Young fresh in the second half, when he scored 23 of his 36 points and sank the game-sealing 3-pointer with 22.7 seconds left.

“Everybody on the bench that came in really contributed and helped us (Saturday night),” Young said. “It was big for us, and we needed it all against those two guys.”

That’s been a common refrain over the past five games. Guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, whom McMillan moved from the starting lineup to the bench in January, led the Hawks with 29 points in a March 28 win against the Pacers and added 20 in the next game in Oklahoma City. In the Hawks’ 131-107 rout of playoff-hopeful Cleveland on Thursday, the bench tallied 56 points, led by Okongwu’s 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting from the field.

The win streak has come at the right time, moving the Hawks above .500 and into the eighth seed after breaking their tie with Brooklyn. Young has been front and center during the recent stretch, but the Bench Mob has been deserving of credit as well and, on Saturday night, glasses of wine.

“Do what we always do and always bring as a bench in every game,” Gallinari said of the unit’s mentality. “The intensity we’re trying to change, the rhythm of the game, the pace of the game, that’s what we’ve been doing a pretty good job throughout the season.”