Playoffs 2021

NBA Playoffs 2021: Atlanta Hawks big man John Collins is stepping up at the perfect time

As time wound down in a wild Game 1 between the Atlanta Hawks and the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, Hawks big man John Collins punctuated the win with an alley-oop finish of monstrous proportions.

Not only did Collins' dunk put an exclamation point on the victory, it also capped off an efficient 21-point performance that came on 7-for-9 shooting from the field and 3-for-4 shooting from beyond the arc.

The 23-year-old's play in his first-ever postseason appearance is coming right on time for Atlanta.

While Collins' averages of 13.7 points and 5.7 rebounds might not jump off of the page at first glance, his shooting splits of .580/.455/.933 certainly should. Take out his lone postseason dud - a foul-trouble-ridden scoreless Game 2 in the opening round - and those averages jump to 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds on .604/.500/.933.

It's no coincidence that the game in which Collins was limited to under 15 minutes of action was Atlanta's lone loss of the opening round. It's a reminder of his importance to the team's success.

In the opening round against the New York Knicks, it was Collins' defence on Julius Randle that had a major impact on the series. According to NBA.com's matchup data, Collins guarded Randle for over 63 partial possessions in the series, holding the league's Most Improved Player to 18 total points on 6-for-25 (24.0 percent) shooting from the field and 2-for-11 (18.2 percent) shooting from deep and forcing six turnovers, to boot.

Through his first four NBA seasons, Collins has never been given the label of a defensive stalwart, but he did step up on that end in the opening round. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, he'll be tasked with making things difficult for Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris.

It won't be easy, but Collins is proving to be capable of the job. The timing couldn't be much better for both the Hawks and Collins.

Whenever Atlanta's magical run ends, Collins will enter the offseason as one of the most coveted restricted free agents after he, his representation, and the franchise were reportedly unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension this past season.

Collins, who was extremely candid about his feelings on the deal not getting done in a late April interview with The Athletic's Shams Charania, acknowledged that ultimately, he's going to have to produce to get what he's looking for on the market.

And that's what he continues to do.

It all starts with Young, but Collins is one of several Hawks that is capable of going for 20-plus points on any given night, a fact that makes this team so scary and difficult to game plan for. As displayed in Game 1, the sky is the limit for this team when the offence is clicking - in the short and long term.

Collins is a major key to them reaching their ceiling in both timelines.

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