Hawks blow out Rockets in regular season finale

Hawks guard Trae Young (11) shoots as Houston Rockets forward Kelly Olynyk (41) rushes in to try to block during the first half Sunday, May 16, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. The Hawks won the regular season finale 124-95. (Ben Gray/AP)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Hawks guard Trae Young (11) shoots as Houston Rockets forward Kelly Olynyk (41) rushes in to try to block during the first half Sunday, May 16, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. The Hawks won the regular season finale 124-95. (Ben Gray/AP)

In their regular season finale, one that didn’t matter in terms of playoff positioning, the Hawks (41-31) pummeled the Rockets 124-95.

Next up, the Hawks will have a few days off while the play-in tournament takes place May 18-22, then will face the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.

Below are some takeaways from the win:

1. As far as playoff standings, this game was meaningless. The Hawks knew they’d be locked in at the No. 5 seed hours beforehand, once the Knicks won their season finale over the shorthanded Celtics, securing the No. 4 seed. The Knicks will have homecourt advantage against the Hawks. That game also locked in the Heat at the No. 6 spot.

This will be the Hawks’ first trip to the postseason since the 2016-17 season.

Ending the regular season on a high note was important, even if it didn’t matter in the standings, power forward John Collins said: “Very tumultuous season for us, specifically with injuries and just the whole nine, COVID, and we need as much chemistry as we can get. And I feel like every win definitely helps.”

Houston Rockets forward Cameron Reynolds (left) tries to block Hawks forward John Collins (20) during the first half Sunday, May 16, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. The Hawks won the regular season finale 124-95. (Ben Gray/AP)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

2. The Hawks still have the postseason coming up, but have already demonstrated remarkable turnaround from last year’s 20-47 finish, when they didn’t even qualify for the Orlando, Fla., bubble. They finish the regular season 10 games over .500, on a four-game win streak and an 11-game home win streak — the longest active home win streak in the NBA.

3. Because this game against the Rockets (who finish with the worst record in the NBA at 17-55) really didn’t matter, the Hawks rested most of their main guys. That included Bogdan Bogdanovic (left hamstring soreness), Clint Capela (left Achilles soreness), Danilo Gallinari (low back soreness) and Kevin Huerter (left ankle soreness), all of whom appeared on the injury report Saturday afternoon.

Trae Young (10 points, nine assists) and Collins (15 points, four rebounds) started, helping the Hawks to a 72-54 lead in the first half, but didn’t play in the second half.

The Hawks’ bench kept things going, though. Skylar Mays added 16 points and seven assists, Nathan Knight had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, Lou Williams had 11 points and six assists and Bruno Fernando added 10 points, nine rebounds and two steals.

4. In his third game back from a right knee injury, De’Andre Hunter looked more in-sync, and that’s great timing since the Hawks will certainly need him at full force in the playoffs. He looked steadier and more confident on the floor (with a dunk midway through the second quarter), finishing with 14 points (4-11 FG, 0-3 from 3-point range, 6-8 FT) in 24 minutes, adding two rebounds and one assist.

Even if there were zero playoff implications, this matchup did give Hunter more time to get up to speed, after missing 48 games. The one thing still evading Hunter is his 3-point shot, as he has yet to hit one since returning May 10.

Interim coach Nate McMillan wanted the combination of Hunter, Young and Collins to log some playing time together, which is partially why Young and Collins (16 minutes each) played more in the first half.

Hawks rookie forward Onyeka Okongwu (17) dunks against the Houston Rockets during the second half Sunday, May 16, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. The Hawks won the regular season finale 124-95. (Ben Gray/AP)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

5. Hawks rookie Onyeka Okongwu, who continues to show progress in the season’s second half, started in Capela’s absence had career highs in both points and rebounds, finishing with 21 points (10-13 FG, 1-3 FT) and 15 rebounds, good for his second career double-double. He ran the floor well and also added three assists, two steals and two blocks.

“Really good,” McMillan said of Okongwu’s performance. “I thought he was solid tonight … He was a really good two-way player for us tonight, and it was good to be able to get him minutes, and meaningful minutes, this last game before going into the playoffs.”

Stat of the game

1,800 (At 22 years and 239 days, Young became the second-youngest player in NBA history to reach 1,800 career assists, behind LeBron James, who did so in 22 years and 20 days)

Star of the game

Okongwu (led the Hawks in scoring with 21 points, which is a career-high, adding a career-high 15 rebounds in his second career double-double)

Quotable

“I’m trying to act like I haven’t done anything yet. We’ve accomplished a little bit, but I’m trying to keep that chip on my shoulder and go win some meaningful games in the (playoffs).” (Collins on his emotions and mindset heading into the playoffs)

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