Delon Wright stars off the bench in furious Hawks rally

Hawks' guard Delon Wright (0) reacts after scoring during the first half in Game 3 of the first round of the NBA playoffs at State Farm Arena on Friday, April 22, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Hawks' guard Delon Wright (0) reacts after scoring during the first half in Game 3 of the first round of the NBA playoffs at State Farm Arena on Friday, April 22, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

With the Hawks down 94-80 in Game 3 and 0-2 in their first-round series against the Miami Heat, guard Delon Wright served as an unlikely spark for an incredible comeback.

“I was like, ‘if we can get some stops and get some threes, we’ll have a chance to get back into this game,’” Wright said. “That’s what we did.”

Wright’s 3-point attempt with just under nine minutes hit off the front of the rim and bounced up and through the net to start a game-changing 22-8 Atlanta run. He wouldn’t leave the court after that, playing the entirety of the fourth quarter in a 111-110 victory at State Farm Arena Friday night.

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While guard Trae Young finished off the game with the game-winning floater with 4.3 seconds left, Wright had a standout performance, making all six of his field-goal attempts for 13 points and a team-leading +23 in plus/minus in 30 minutes off the bench.

In coach Nate McMillan’s postgame press conference, Wright was the first player he mentioned.

“Our bench really played well the entire game,” McMillan said. “Delon, Bogi, Big O were great in this game tonight on both ends of the floor, not only defending and rebounding the basketball but offensively creating that movement and finishing the game for us.”

Wright’s ascension to trusted option and playoff scorer for the Hawks has been anything but certain. After last season’s run to the conference finals, the Hawks looked to upgrade their depth in the backcourt and their defense. Wright came to Atlanta in a three-way trade in July and has offered both, along with years of playoff experience with the Raptors and Mavericks.

The fit looked uneven in the first few months - Wright had under 14 minutes per game in his first two months in Atlanta - but in recent weeks, the Hawks have looked to Wright to fill the void as a scorer and defender created by guard Lou Williams’ back injury. Wright took on an increased role through the Hawks’ run to the postseason, but saved his breakout performance for Game 3.

“Tonight was probably his best game,” McMillan said. “He did a good job defending their shooters. Offensively, we were able to run Trae off the ball some and allow him to initiate.”

The Hawks’ intensity, which waned in the first two games of the series, shined in a second quarter that they dominated. Wright embodied that shift, scoring six points in the quarter with crafty finishes and second-chance opportunities inside.

Hawks 111, Heat 110

The 61-54 halftime lead that the Hawks built evaporated in the third quarter, though, as the Heat scored 21 consecutive points and held their hosts without a basket for almost six minutes. In the final quarter, the Hawks regained their composure and pulled off a furious rally, with Wright generating offense after the quiet third quarter and disrupting Miami’s offensive rhythm.

Whether as a reserve or a postseason hero, Wright said his perspective through the season has been the same.

“I know what I bring, so I try to bring some energy and do the little things,” Wright said. “I can’t worry about where I was in the regular season. It’s the playoffs now, and I have to do whatever it takes to win.”