In the chaos of the closing minutes, with Philadelphia turning the defensive vice and the Hawks lead shrinking to almost nothing, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Collins chipped in the biggest shots under the biggest pressure.
The Hawks 20th 3 belonged to Bogdanovic, a clear look from the top of the arc with 41.4 seconds left that gave the Hawks a 121-115 cushion. “That was huge,” Huerter said. “He’s a big shot-maker. He’s been doing that all year. He kind of bailed us all out when they had all the momentum.”
Fouled on a breakaway – a clear-path foul – with the Hawks up by 3 with 23.2 seconds left, Collins had the entire lane to himself as he lined a pair of free throws. He drilled them both. “My heart wasn’t beating at all, well, it wasn’t going too crazy,” he said, correcting himself and concluding that some heartbeat was still required. “I was able to lock in and focus, make my shots, just think about seeing the ball through the rim.”
And finally, it was Bogdanovic, just moments after turning over the ball on a double-team swarm and allowing a Sixers basket that got them back to within three, who calmly hit two free throws with 8.9 seconds left and made everything OK.
So pleased was he that Bogdanovic for the second time in the game broke out a finger-to-the-lips hush message to the Philly crowd after those makes. Although he sounded none to impressed with himself afterward.
“I almost stick the finger in my nose – the nose is so big,” he laughed.
The surest thing about Sunday seemed to be Bogdanovic at the line. “He’s able to calm himself down and block out the situation and just focus and step up and knock down those free throws,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “I think Bogey is a clutch shooter.”
Free throw shooting may play large in this series, between the Hawks success there and one very significant hole for Philly. Ben Simmons does so much well on the floor, from defending to swooping majestically to the rim. But he is sorely troubled at the line. So troubled that he has become a target for teams looking to intentionally foul him and get back a possession. He was 3-of-10 from the line Sunday.
That’s a them problem. The Hawks have the comfort of a confident touch at the free throw line. “We got a lot of guys who can shoot the ball and we have a lot of guys who should be really good free throw shooters,” Huerter said.
Making a lot of 3s guarantees nothing. The Hawks previous team record of 16 came during a 13-point loss to Cleveland in 2016. And taking the wrong kind of 3s can backfire badly. “There are certain 3s that we want, and we feel we can get if we move the ball. I thought we started to settle and take some quick 3s that were contested in that second half, which allowed them to get out in transition,” noted McMillan. The Hawks were 7 of 24 on their 3s in the second half (29%) compared to 13 of 23 in the first (57%).
Still, Philadelphia discovered Sunday what Collins told the world about his guys afterward: “Everybody can space and shoot free throws and create. And that’s very dangerous.”