If the surging Atlanta Hawks want to make a move into a guaranteed spot in the playoffs, they can ill afford to falter in their next two games that will be against teams ranked in the bottom three of the league.
The Hawks (35-35) begin that crucial stretch on Sunday afternoon when they travel to San Antonio to play the Spurs. The second game will be Tuesday at home against Detroit, which owns the worst record in the NBA.
Atlanta heads to the Alamo City after a 127-119 win at home over Golden State on Friday in which Trae Young hit for 25 points, dished out 12 assists and made key plays down the stretch to secure the victory. Young has now racked up 34 double-doubles on the season.
John Collins added 22 points, 17 of them in the first quarter, for the Hawks, who have won three of their past five games from and are currently eighth in the East standings, four games out of sixth, the last spot to avoid the play-in tournament.
Onyeka Okongwu scored 19 for Atlanta in Friday's win, with Bogdan Bogdanovic and De'Andre Hunter adding 14 each, AJ Griffin hitting for 12 points and Dejounte Murray contributing 10.
After the game, Young lauded the Hawks' defense in the fourth quarter as a key to winning on Friday.
"It's important, and we've got to continue to win games on the defensive end," Young said. "We're going to score with anybody in this league it's about defensive end and getting stops. When we do that we're able to get wins"
The Spurs have lost three of their past four games, the two most recent ones in overtime after blowing large second-half leads. Friday's 126-120 setback at home to short-handed Memphis had to hurt especially bad because San Antonio led by 29 points four minutes into the third quarter and let it all slip away.
Devin Vassell led the Spurs with 25 points while Zach Collins had 24, Keldon Johnson scored 21, Malaki Branham added 18 points and Keita Bates-Diop tallied 12 before leaving with an Achilles injury. Sandro Mamukelashvili took a game-high 14 rebounds for San Antonio.
"We just got to learn how to close out a game," Vassell said. "We were up 11 with two minutes left. Several communication things and just being able to execute down the stretch is big. I said it all year, we're a young team we got to learn, but that one (loss) hurt."
The Spurs (18-52) were missing key reserves Romeo Langford (left adductor), Devonte' Graham (left quad soreness) and Doug McDermott (right hip contusion). Rookie forward Jeremy Sochan also left after the first period when he aggravated a knee injury, while Bates-Diop is playing through Achilles soreness.
After the game, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich credited his team for its determination and competitiveness and blamed the loss on the lack of familiarity among some of his players.
"We got a little thin -- we needed (Bates-Diop and Sochan) to finish the job for sure," Popovich said. "They (Spurs) learned a lot. To compete as hard as we did, I'm proud of them. They did a good job."
The Hawks won the first meeting of the year with San Antonio 125-106 on Feb. 11 in Atlanta.
--Field Level Media