Hawks’ Cam Reddish delivers with a defensive showcase

062921 Atlanta: Atlanta Hawks fans react as guard Cam Reddish forces Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton to loose the ball out of bounds but maintain the possession during the second quarter in game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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062921 Atlanta: Atlanta Hawks fans react as guard Cam Reddish forces Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton to loose the ball out of bounds but maintain the possession during the second quarter in game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Cam Reddish signed with the Hawks two years ago Thursday after he was drafted 10th in the 2019 NBA draft. He was expected to have an immediate impact for a team that was on the back end of its rebuild.

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Last season, he started 34 of the 58 games he played and scored 10.5 points per game. In his second season of professional basketball, he quickly became one of the Hawks’ better defenders with his size and athletic ability, but suffered an Achilles injury Feb. 22 that sidelined him until last week.

His return to the court came Friday in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals when his team was blown out by Milwaukee. Playing mostly against the Bucks’ bench, he finished with 11 points, two rebounds and a steal in 17 minutes, 3 seconds of action.

“I was excited to get back out there,” Reddish said after the loss. “Obviously it felt a little bit weird at first, but as the game went on, got better, got more comfortable.”

In Game 4 on Tuesday, with the absence of the injured Trae Young and the Hawks desperate for a win, Reddish played 23:20 and was excellent, especially in the spot where he enjoys most — defense.

Reddish was locked onto Game 3 hero Khris Middleton, getting a block on the Bucks’ secondary star. He made life difficult for Middleton, on and off the ball. When Middleton wasn’t available for the second-year player from Duke to guard, Reddish defended Jrue Holiday.

His presence was physically and emotionally crucial for the Hawks’ first Eastern Conference victory in Atlanta on Tuesday.

“Cam came in tonight and had a solid night for us, a really good night,” Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan said. “He has length, and he takes pride in defending. He’s one of the few guys in this league that actually — that’s his game. That’s where he draws his energy from. It’s not so much the offensive end of the floor. He comes out from the start wanting to play defense.”

Hawks 110, Bucks 88 (box score)

Standing at 6-foot-8 with a 7-1 wingspan, Reddish is a defensive threat. He pokes at the ball to steal it, creating extra possessions. Though playing in only his second season in the NBA, he isn’t afraid to lock eyes with one of the hottest scorers in the playoffs. In Tuesday’s win, he helped force 15 Bucks turnovers.

But off the court, he’s quiet. He rarely speaks unless spoken to. The only way one might know he’s in the room is by hearing NBA YoungBoy playing over the speakers.

“He’s one of those guys who is in the gym before everyone else, playing his music, lifting, always has a smile on his face,” Kevin Huerter said of Reddish. “Guys talked with him in previous series, waiting to get him back, knowing he was getting healthier, just trying to help him out, giving him confidence and stepping up.”

Though he acknowledged he still wasn’t 100% recovered from the Achilles injury, Reddish had fun Tuesday and showed in his play — both on the stats sheet and the effort.

“I didn’t put too much pressure on myself tonight,” Reddish said. “I just went out there and contributed to whatever it was going to be. I know I can get after it defensively, that’s something I can control. (I was) just trying to be a pest on defense.”

On a night where he received a standing ovation as he exited the court with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, there were moments that stuck out and reminded fans, media and teammates why the Hawks put so much responsibility and expectations on a 19-year-old drafted in the first round two years ago.

Whether it was the pickpocket of Middleton that led to a two-handed slam or his block of Middleton’s 3-pointer in the first quarter that would have tied the score, Reddish gave his first glimpse of stardom.

“I don’t think it was any big surprise that tonight was one of our best defensive efforts,” Huerter said. “Him being able to pressure the ball, contest every shot. It’s huge.”

Before signing off for the night, Reddish said that he was going to get some rest Tuesday night. He’s had time to rest the past few months, watching film with teammate Solomon Hill and talking with his teammates.

Now, he’s glad that he’s doing more than just talking with his teammates and actually contributing to the game’s results.

“(My teammates) told me to stay ready,” Reddish said. “It was just constant encouragement from the guys, and that’s all I needed to go out there and build confidence and get the win.”