The Hawks are down three games to one in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series against the Celtics, and Game 5 of the first-round matchup is set for Tuesday.
So it’s no surprise they are taking the following approach as the series shifts back to Boston after a pair of weekend games in Atlanta.
“I mean it’s win or go home for us from here on out,” Hawks forward DeAndre Hunter said. “If we can’t come to play now, I don’t think we ever will.”
Hunter has become a scoring threat for the Hawks in the series, and the team will need his production as it looks to fight off elimination and possibly return home for Game 6 on Thursday. After averaging 15.4 points per game during the regular season, Hunter has increased his scoring in the playoffs - 16.8 points in four postseason games, including 27 points in the 129-121 Game 4 loss.
And while Trae Young (35 points in Game 4) and Dejounte Murray (23 points) were among the scoring leaders as usual, it was Hunter who kept the team afloat after an early Boston onslaught that opened a double-digit first-quarter lead. Hunter also hit three of six three-pointers in the third as the Hawks remained within striking distance.
The fourth-year player from Virginia known for defensive prowess has earned the trust of coach Quin Snyder on both ends of the floor.
“Part of the challenge for him is, he’s got a lot going on for him on the defensive end,” Snyder said of Hunter. “Being able to expend as much energy and have as much responsibility defensively and then also coming out on the offensive end, but he’s capable of doing both.”
Despite only being in Atlanta for 23 regular-season games, Snyder has pulled out some of the little things in Hunter’s game that has helped him in the postseason.
“Just like footwork things,” Hunter said of working with Snyder. “He’s always encouraging me to shoot, no matter how many I miss. That’s the biggest thing with me is staying confident and keep taking those shots. So that’s that I try to do.”
And it was Hunter’s shooting (11-of-17 overall, three-of-six three-pointers and two-of-two from the free-throw line) that helped the Hawks remain close as they “we were fighting back the whole game.” But their formula for success in winning Game 3 - balanced scoring and answering every Boston run with a run of their own for the full 48 minutes of action - did not happen in Game 4.
It must happen in Game 5 as the team looks to avoid elimination and send the series back south for Game 6. And if it does, Hunter figures to be among the chief contributors on both ends of the floor.
“I thought we raised our level but you know, they’re a good team and makes it difficult if you don’t play the whole 48 minutes that way,” Snyder said after Sunday’s game. “This is playoff basketball and again we’ll head north and see if we can get one.”
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