Through their 14-20 start, the Hawks had a 120.4 defensive rating in the fourth and a -8.2 net rating (both marks are 30th in the league). With an absurd 86.6 defensive rating in the fourth over the past five wins, coming in a small sample size with some struggling teams in the mix, all in all they’ve now got a 116.1 defensive rating (28th) in the fourth and a -1.0 net (16th).
After previous Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce was fired, McMillan took over for the final two games before the All-Star break, the wins in Miami and Orlando. Before that, the Hawks hadn’t won more than three games in a row, which they had done twice.
“We continue to show growth and we continue to understand how to finish, how to win these games, and playing in the fourth quarter, understanding time-score situations, that you can’t play the fourth quarter like you play the first quarter,” McMillan said. “You have to understand the time, the score, the situation. We talk about our three C’s, in the sense of being calm, clear on what we need to do out there and being connected on both ends of the floor.”
“... That’s a process, of learning how to win ballgames. Getting stops, defensively, executing offensively, and we’ve been able to do that in these last few games.”
Before the Hawks entered the All-Star break, McMillan gave players a message about needing to put together a consistent win streak, if they still wanted to reach their goal of making the postseason, or at least the play-in tournament.
“We needed to go on a stretch of wins,” McMillan said. “Put together consistent play on both ends of the floor. We had been playing, all season long we had been playing, we win one game, we lose three. We win one, we lose another three. Get some consistency and put a stretch of wins together. We know we need to do that, really for the rest of this season. You just can’t drop three, four games and expect to stay in the race. And they’ve been able to focus on that, put together 48 minutes and put together a stretch of wins, here.”
Since taking over, McMillan has said that he can’t change much of the Hawks’ strategy in the middle of the season, especially when they get basically zero practice time because of the upended schedule. But, he wanted the Hawks to take what they were already doing and execute better, particularly down the stretch, which they’ve accomplished so far.
When asked if McMillan had implemented anything particular that had helped the Hawks get over their fourth-quarter struggles, Collins gave him credit for gradually adjusting things since taking over.
“It’s obviously different each game, but I definitely feel like coach is trying to change things over his way, slowly but surely, obviously it’s a process and not something that he can just come in as a new coach and just put all this stuff on us and it’d be really tough,” Collins said. “So I feel like he’s doing a good job of making small changes here or there and just implementing what he wants to implement slowly and it’s successful. So obviously I’m quiet, I’m listing to coach, I’m locked in.”
Obviously, the Hawks still have a long way to go to achieve their goals, and they’re still hoping to get much healthier in the coming weeks, with De’Andre Hunter, Kris Dunn and Cam Reddish out.
But a stretch like this, one they haven’t achieved in more than four years, can bring confidence to a group that needed a boost.
“... When you win a couple close games, two or three in a row, or four in a row, it gives you that confidence to keep doing that, and the fact that once you know that you can do it, you’ve got to bring it every night,” said veteran forward Danilo Gallinari. “And you’ve got to believe that you can do it every night.”