John Collins returns from ankle sprain to help Hawks in win

Hawks forward John Collins grabs the offensive rebound and goes to the board against the Indiana Pacers Sunday, April 18, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton /
Hawks forward John Collins grabs the offensive rebound and goes to the board against the Indiana Pacers Sunday, April 18, 2021, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Finally getting a key player back from injury helped the Hawks in more ways than one as they held off the Pacers for a 129-117 win Sunday at State Farm Arena.

First, Atlanta again showed a drastically improved ability to close out tight games in the fourth quarter. Second, they move to 31-26, jumping back to the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference standings. They hold a tiebreaker over the Celtics, who are also 31-26.

Third, they finally got fourth-year power forward John Collins back, after missing nearly three weeks with a left ankle sprain, suffered in the March 30 loss to Phoenix. Collins had eight points and two rebounds in 21 minutes, going a little over his 20-minute restriction that the Hawks hope can increase for his next outing. He’ll have to work back up to game speed, but his return gives the injury-plagued Hawks a boost at the right time, with the final stretch of the season coming up.

“I felt great,” Collins said after the win. “I feel like I’m back to 100%. Obviously, trying to get the wind back to where it was before I got hurt, but be that as it may, I felt great out there. Just great to be back out with my teammates and happy, happy, happy we got that W tonight, so trying to stay here and continue to progress.”

The Hawks have been banged up the entire season, but injuries had been piling on recently, with seven players missing in wins over Charlotte and Toronto. Getting Collins back is crucial for the Hawks now, and gives them another scorer and rebounder as they try to put themselves in the best position for the postseason.

“Felt great, it really did, having another body, a fresh body and having a guy that has done a lot for us this season, so I wanted to get him back in rotation as soon as possible and allow him to get a rhythm,” said interim coach Nate McMillan, who put Collins back in the starting lineup. “He has much better rhythm with that first unit than he does with the second unit, so I wanted to get him out there quickly … We’re hoping that he’ll come out of this game feeling good and those minutes will increase next game.”

Four players finished with 23-plus points for the Hawks: Trae Young (34 points, 11 assists, five rebounds, two steals, just two turnovers); Clint Capela (25 points, 24 rebounds, three blocks, two steals); Bogdan Bogdanovic (23 points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals); and Kevin Huerter (23 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals).

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The Hawks led by as much as 20 in the first quarter before the Pacers woke up, and Atlanta scrapped to stay in the lead with back-to-back 3-pointers by Huerter helping the Hawks to a 66-57 lead at halftime. When the Pacers cut the lead to one, Huerter responded with yet another 3, and the Hawks ended up leading by four, 94-90, entering the fourth.

Indiana (26-30) persisted, and with 4:40 to play in the fourth quarter, the Pacers had chipped away at the Hawks’ lead, tying things up 107-107.

Young quickly assisted on a 3-pointer to Huerter and an alley-oop to Capela; a 3-pointer for Bogdanovic; and a layup for Capela. He then hit a 3-pointer of his own from the logo to put the game out of reach, 120-111, with 1:59 to play.

Young had 14 points and four assists in the fourth quarter alone.

“Just figuring out a way to find where we could score and just attack that mismatch,” Young said. “Just find ways to score and we got some stops and that was pretty much it.”

The Hawks have a back-to-back coming up next, hosting the Magic Tuesday before traveling Wednesday to New York.

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