The Atlanta Hawks notched their first win of the season — and their first under Lloyd Pierce — as they wrapped up their three-game road trip with a convincing win in Cleveland on Sunday night at Quicken Loans Arena, 133-111.
Trae Young led the way with an incredible double-double, 35 points and 11 assists while Kent Bazemore added 23 points as six Hawks notched double figures. For the Cavaliers, Jordan Clarkson scored 19 points while Kevin Love scored 16 points and grabbed 17 rebounds.
If you need to catch up on how the game unfolded before reading the analysis (some aspects of the game won’t be covered here) then make sure you read the recap here.
Trae Young has arrived!
Well then...how about that for a performance?
After struggling in his first NBA game against the Knicks, a stronger game for Trae Young followed against the Grizzlies and he continued that upward trajectory with 35 points (including 18 in the Hawks’ 40-point second quarter), 11 assists, six three-pointers and a plus/minus of plus-19.
There’s a lot to digest and break down when it comes to Young’s monster game but the first thing people might look towards is the six threes. And those are great, don’t get me wrong (and we’ll look at some of those) but take a look at his shot chart and see if anything stands out to you:
That’s a lot of green around the rim (6-of-8 at the rim) and, to me, that’s much more impressive and much more important than any of those deep makes from behind the arc. We all knew Young could shoot, that’s obvious, even if it didn’t translate straight away. But the bigger concern, given his size and lack of length, was how Young would fare at the rim. It is just one game against the Cavaliers (who looked absolutely awful defensively) but it was really encouraging to see Young excel at the rim as he did last night.
A number of these drives from Young came off of switches, which Young killed the Cavs for all night long from inside and out, but we’ll start with the drives.
Here, Young gets switched onto Tristan Thompson, takes him off of the dribble, Alex Len does a nice job making sure that the closest player to challenge Young at the rim (George Hill) isn’t able to do so, Rodney Hood doesn’t rotate to contest the shot at the rim and Young scores the layup:
On this possession, the Cavaliers set themselves up very poorly and Love has to step up and guard Young, who does a nice job shifting gears as he drives past Love for the easy layup:
A little surprised Thompson didn’t come over quicker to rotate and challenge that shot but seemed a little reluctant to want to leave Len alone in the corner — possibly something the Cavaliers’ coaching staff highlighted before this game?
Not coming off of a switch this time, but Young spots a gap in the defense, puts his head down and from his own half, drives past Cedi Osman, drives into the space he targeted and scores the layup:
Again, poor defense from the Cavs — that really shouldn’t happen.
A screen from Omari Spellman puts Colin Sexton on the back-foot, and Young drives by his college adversary, gets to the paint, switches to his left hand and scores the layup:
This is really encouraging to see, to see Young not only show his ability to finish with his weak hand but also the awareness that ‘if I use my right hand in this situation, this could get blocked’.
Let’s move onto Young’s outside shooting.
Generally speaking (bar one or two interesting shots/heat checks) Young’s threes came in the flow of the offense.
A simple one to start with as Kevin Huerter drives and kicks the ball behind the arc to an open Young, who converts the open three-pointer:
Working on a switch, Young has Thompson hanging on a string as he waits for the drive but Young elects to pull-up and he hits the three:
Young continues to display his impressive range and he knocks in this 37 footer, straightaway three-pointer with Colin Sexton nearby to contest the shot:
And to wrap up, Young steps off of two screens (meh, Spellman didn’t really do much to prevent Sam Dekker from contesting but perhaps Sexton was his target), rises and hits his 6th three-pointer of the night:
Young’s offense has been here and there so far this season but what has been a consistent for Young and the Hawks is his playmaking, and Young displayed that once again last night as he tallied 11 assists.
Young linked often with two players in particular: Alex Len and Omari Spellman, his two bigs.
We’ve looked at how Young exploited switches/mismatches but he also helped his teammates exploit theirs as he throws a pass into Len, guarded by Sexton and the late attempt by Clarkson to get something on the ball is no good, and Len is able to spin and score at the rim:
Heading down the court, the Cavs fail to pick-up Len, who picks up a head of steam, Young pops a pass over the defense to him and Len does a good job to put on the brakes to spin and score at the rim:
Nice move by Len here, who had a great game last night (16 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks).
On this possession, Len slips the screen, straight-lines down the pipe, Young feeds the ball down this pipe with a nice pass and Len finishes with the slam:
Young also linked up with his fellow rookie Omari Spellman on a number of occasions in the second half, starting here as he takes Sexton off of the dribble, draws the attention of Larry Nance Jr., which creates an opening for Spellman and Young finds him for the assist:
As Young comes off of a screen near the corner, the Cavs attempt to trap Young by sending an extra body to marshall him toward the corner. Young kicks the ball to his left and finds the open Omari Spellman, who hits one of his four three-pointers:
Young found his other fellow rookie, Kevin Huerter, for a three after Cedi Osman leaves Huerter to cover the threat in the middle in the form of Alex Len:
With just one turnover to boot, this was a very complete offensive game for Young: 35 points and 11 assists — not only making Hawks history (becoming the first Hawks rookie sinc Larry Drew in 1975 to score 35 points in a game) but also joined another exclusive club.
That’s decent company.
Speaking after the game, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce was pleased with the all-around play from Young — praising the ‘command’ Young had on the Hawks’ offense.
“We had 32 assists as a team, he ignites us with 11 (assists), he set the tempo early, obviously he got hot,” said Pierce of Young. “He just had command — I keep saying the word ‘command’ — he had great command of the offense, great command of what we were doing out there and it just was hard to guard. We got up 47 threes, when you got a guy like that shooting well, facilitating well, it opens up the floor for everyone and we were able to get the shots, the looks that we like. 47 threes for anybody, that’s a great number.”
Young himself was satisfied with how his night went but focused more so on the Hawks’ first win of the season.
“I’m excited to, first off, get the win,” said Young postgame. “We were 0-2 coming into the game and on this three game road streak we needed to get a win, and I’m glad we got this win going home. I’m excited with the way I played and how my teammates helped me the whole game.”
Young ending this three-game road trip with this kind of performance will only add to the hype of the Hawks’ home opener on Wednesday night against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
Again, it’s early season and the Cavaliers were, let’s be honest, an absolute joke on defense last night so let’s not overreact. It was a fantastic night for Young and I’m not trying to take away from that. But let’s just not expect this every other night, just temper the expectations on the back of this amazing performance by Trae Young.
He officially announced himself to the NBA with that performance.
Things didn’t start out well for the Hawks in this game.
They were down 15 points at one point and the first quarter showing didn’t exactly point to any sign of a victory as the Cavs looked far superior than the Hawks. As the Hawks were fighting back, they found some form from behind the arc. Arguably, it was the only thing keeping them within touching distance of the Cavaliers.
But it was something you figured would dry up eventually but that never happened, as the Hawks hit a franchise-record 22 three-pointers en-route to victory.
Trae Young, as we’ve discussed, hit six, Kent Bazemore and Omari Spellman hit four while Kevin Huerter and DeAndre’ Bembry both hit three apiece.
Effort was a big issue for the Cavs last night and, having looked at all 22 three-pointers again, the Cavs simply didn’t get close enough on a lot of these attempts.
We won’t go through a ton, just a few to illustrate that point.
Here, Rodney Hood needlessly leaves Vince Carter in order to be near in the paint. Len kicks the ball out from the paint off of the catch and Vince hits the three:
You could argue Hood is more so trying to cover Prince in the corner after the help on Len, but Prince would’ve been open anyways had Len fired a pass out in that direction so, really, there was no need for Hood to leave Carter like that — Cavs had Len covered.
In transition, Kevin Huerter handles the ball, allows the Cavs defense to overtake him and is somehow able to step into a rhythm three-pointer that, really, shouldn’t be allowed to happen:
They just weren’t close enough for a lot of the time...
After a hand-off from Carter, Young is able to fake his way into an open three-pointer with two Cavs defenders in front of him being sold on it (and the body of Vince being present, didn’t really set a screen here):
In the fourth quarter, Bazemore arrives as the trailer and a very simple dribble to his right with the ball sheds Kevin Love and Bazemore steps into an open three-pointer:
Bazemore turns into the playmaker on this possession as he finds DeAndre’ Bembry, who is afforded the time to step into a three-pointer and, again, the Cavs defense is sagging a little too much:
Just really poor effort here from Clarkson (I believe) to not even contest that shot... Just about summed up their night, really.
“We had a good thing going in the first quarter and then we couldn’t defend the perimeter,” said Kevin Love via Cleveland.com. “Our switches weren’t there and our coverages weren’t there for the next three quarters. They were just free-stroking out there. Our schemes, when the guy was beaten covering for the other man so it wasn’t a good outing for us.”
“The last three quarters were pretty damn alarming,” Love went on to say. “Opening Night at home we expect to play better. We expect to play better in front of our home crowd. I don’t know if alarming is the right word but it sure sounds right, just with our effort level. Our effort level wasn’t there, especially defending the 3-point line. They were just gunning and we weren’t getting into them. We weren’t physical.”
The Hawks attempted 47 three-pointers last night. We know this has been something Pierce has emphasized (shooting more threes) and was pleased with this number last night, led by Trae Young (we’ve seen this quote already but going to run it again in the context of the Hawks’ three-point shooting).
“..,We got up 47 threes,” said Pierce. “When you got a guy like that (Trae Young) shooting well, facilitating well, it opens up the floor for everyone and we were able to get the shots, the looks that we like. 47 threes for anybody, that’s a great number.”
With the Cavs only hitting 10 of their 27 threes, without the Hawks’ red hot shooting from behind the arc (46%), they don’t win this game. And the encouraging thing for the Hawks is that it came not just from Young (though, he led the way), the whole team contributed.
“The accomplishment (getting the win) is just that we did it together,” said Pierce. “A lot of guys stepped up today, a lot of guys performed in their roles and that was the most important part of it.”
Kent Bazemore’s breakout game
Kent Bazemore had his best game of the season and looked much more like the Kent Bazemore of last season — the best player of the 2017-18 Atlanta Hawks — as he scored 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field, 4-of-8 from three, 5-of-5 from the free throw line, five rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block.
That edge that Bazemore carries was epitomised by a steal in the second quarter as he hounded Jordan Clarkson and came up with the steal:
That’s a Kent Bazemore play right there, and it’s great for the Hawks that Bazemore (who does seem to enjoy playing at Quicken Loans Arena) broke out of his mini-slump in a big way, and this was very pleasing for Pierce.
“Baze has been the ultimate professional for us,” said Pierce of Bazemore. “He went for 1-for-3 last game and just couldn’t get going. We wanted to get him going, we want to find a couple of ways to get involved in the offense, and really all we did was challenge him defensively. Just ignited his competitive spirit and I think it allowed him to get out and get something on the offensive end as well.”
The Hawks players and coaching staff want to win basketball games (that’s what they’re paid for, ultimately) and Kent Bazemore playing like he did last night will certainly help in their goal to do so. And when he’s playing well, he’s a massive boost for this Hawks side.
And, very briefly...
Two other quick things to make note of:
- Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman were active members of the rotation last night and they played important minutes and played important roles as the Hawks ran away with this one in the end. Tyler Dorsey, meanwhile did not play last night, a DNP-CD. Despite the Hawks’ shortage of bigs in the absence of John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon, Miles Plumlee also did not feature.
- The Hawks have had serious turnover issues under Lloyd Pierce so far and the first quarter showing indicated a similar issue last night: seven turnovers leading to 12 Cleveland points. The Hawks cleaned up their act in a big way as they committed just five turnovers for the rest of the game with the Cavs scoring just three more points off of those. That’s more like it.
The Hawks (1-2) now head home for their home opener — and the official debut in the newly dubbed, fully renovated, State Farm Arena on Wednesday night against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. The energy should be high and the Trae Young hype just as high.
Should be fun.