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Hawks knock off Hornets behind season-high outings

Player season-highs, team season-highs — the Hawks produced one of their better performances in Charlotte on Sunday.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Charlotte Hornets Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks enjoyed some extra time to prepare for their Sunday outing against the Charlotte Hornets — coming three full days after Wednesday’s loss against the Brooklyn Nets — and it seemed to pay dividends, as the Hawks emerged as victors in Charlotte, triumphing 122-107.

Trae Young led the Hawks with 30 points and nine assists while Jabari Parker added 19 points as the Hawks enjoyed double-digit scoring efforts from six players in total.

For the Hornets, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington each poured out 20 points but it was not enough for the Hornets to prevail on Sunday as their starting backcourt of Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham combined for 7-of-30 shooting.

Let’s break this one down.

Breaking away in the second half

This was a tightly contested game but one the Hawks were slightly on the back-foot in the first half, having to recover on a few occasions to either get within a point/tie the game but the Hawks hung around nevertheless, trailing by two points heading into half-time.

Numerous times, the Hawks would take the lead from the Hornets only for the Hornets to immediately respond and re-take the lead. This trend finally stopped in the third quarter and the Hawks were able to build a small lead, and this lead should’ve been furthered when Parker missed this easy layup in transition:

This would have put the Hawks up by seven points which would’ve been their biggest lead of the night but the Hornets went on to add a point at the free throw line before P.J. Washington hit a three-pointer to cut the Hawks lead to one point at 64-63. You just sensed that, perhaps, the Hawks had missed an opportunity to create a little bit of breathing room for themselves.

Thankfully for the Hawks, they were able to put another run together near the end of the third quarter, coming largely from a flurry of three-pointers.

With the game tied at 73 with four minutes remaining, Vince Carter got the run started with a three-pointer after Trae Young passes out of the double team:

The Hawks were also able to come up with some defensive stops too, this block from Alex Len on the perimeter was one of a few impressive defensive plays from Len last night (coming after a pair of Young free throws and a Graham bucket):

Coincidentally, it was Len himself who was next to turn up the three-point party, knocking down this open three-pointer off of the assist from Kevin Huerter who draws a crowd inside:

Carter then struck again, perhaps in unorthodox fashion, to add another three to the Hawks’ run to put the Hawks up by nine points, their biggest lead of the night:

The Hornets would respond and cut the lead to five points heading into the fourth quarter, a late three-pointer from Miles Bridges keeping the Hornets close enough.

The Hawks, however, had one more run in them and it came to begin the fourth quarter where a 12-2 run put this game effectively out of reach for the Hornets as the Hawks took a commanding 15 point lead.

It started with Vince Carter continuing where he left (getting buckets) as he hits the turnaround fadeaway as he takes advantage of the smaller Rozier:

On the other end, Allen Crabbe does well to recover from the Bismack Biyombo screen to make a solid contest on this outside shot from Malik Monk, which could have cut the Hawks lead to four points:

Crabbe would again feature defensively as he — after a pair of Young free throws — comes up with the interception on the pass and streaks the other end and finishes with the dunk:

This gave the Hawks their first double-digit lead of the night but this was a great moment for Crabbe to grab the steal, head in transition and finish with the dunk which would’ve only been a huge sign of encouragement for him after his knee-surgery over the summer.

The Hawks came up with more defensive plays as they looked to build on their lead, though, Carter’s efforts on this possession went to waste as his block is followed by Biyombo to slice two points off of the Hawks’ lead:

The Hawks were quick to re-establish their double-digit lead as Young hits another three-pointer for the Hawks as a good screen from Damian Jones and Biyombo’s reluctance to guard on the perimeter opened up the space for Young to pull the trigger:

But again, the Hawks were able to complete plays on both ends to fuel this run...

An emphatic block from Jones:

And another steal from Allen Crabbe after Biyombo gets caught in the air:

Resulting from that steal came a three-point attempt from Young which is missed but Carter is there to collect the offensive rebound, finds Crabbe and Crabbe hits the three-pointer to put the Hawks up by 15 points and leading to a Hornets timeout:

From here, affairs were almost straightforward for the Hawks now that they had built up this cushion. Trae Young exited the game to rest and the Hornets closed the gap to 10 points after an 8-2 run for the Hornets.

It was here where the Hawks responded with a big shot, and it came from De’Andre Hunter, who buried this corner three to put the Hawks back up by 13 points with five minutes to go:

By this time, Young was back in the game but that was a huge shot from Hunter. Had he missed and the Hornets scored on the other end, the lead is back to single digits and who knows what game may have emerged from that point.

But the rookie made the big shot and the Hawks went on to take a convincing victory in the end, and a very welcome one.

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce praised the Hawks’ ‘balanced’ effort on the night and the quality of looks the Hawks generated.

“Good team win,” opened Lloyd Pierce postgame. “Probably about as balanced as we’ve played all year in terms of ball movement, 28 assists. We get up 40-something threes, and they were clean looks, they were assisted looks. There was a lot of ball-movement. I thought everybody was engaged on both sides of the floor...I thought our guys were together all night, really good to see.”

Wins haven’t come easy this season for the Hawks but Pierce went on to say that this victory was the most complete game the Hawks have put together this season.

“I thought the game in Denver was very impressive — the struggle with that one is that you lose Kevin (Huerter) in the middle of that game, and obviously a tough road win. I just thought from the start our guys were committed to moving the basketball, I thought from the start our guys were engaged defensively. I’m not too concerned about the makes and misses, it’s really that level and attention to detail that we had tonight that I’m most proud of.”

“We just played good from the first quarter to the fourth,” said Trae Young on the game, echoing Pierce’s comments. “We hung in there, kept it close and made our run late in that third quarter and in the fourth and we were able to maintain that lead and finish it out.”

The Hawks’ three-point shooting was obviously a key reason behind the victory last night as the Hawks made a season-high 18 threes last night, which was a huge plus for them because it’s not something that has happened very often this season.

The Hawks have been one of the worst teams in the league shooting the three-pointer this season. In fact, heading into last night’s game, the Hawks were shooting 31% from behind the arc — dead last in the league.

Young led the way with four threes (albeit on 13 attempts) while Kevin Huerter, Allen Crabbe and Vince Carter all added three of their own from beyond the arc.

Alex Len also got in on the action with a three-pointer of his own as we saw, marking only his fifth three on the season in 22 games, which is crazy given his expansion of his game and his 74 successful triples last season but alas, that’s just how it’s been.

What Len deserves some praise for is his strong second half — scoreless and with one rebound in the first half in six minutes, he finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Pierce was pleased with the rebounding effort of Len and Jones, grabbing 18 rebounds between them.

“The 18 rebounds between he and Damian were the biggest thing,” said Pierce when asked about Len postgame. “They score a lot by separating and getting to the rim, a lot of attention to Trae in the pick-and-rolls and sending their 5’s up the floor and the ball movement will find our bigs down the floor but the 18 rebounds between Damian and Alex was what’s most important.”

On its own without context, that sounds pretty poor for two centers but it has been an area of weakness for the Hawks this season, so they deserve some credit when they do have a stronger rebounding game.

All in all, the Hawks can be very content with this performance — when Trae Young scores 30 points and is almost an afterthought on the game can only be a positive thing.

In fact, Pierce believed last night’s game was Young’s strongest on the season.

“To me, that was his best game of the year,” said Pierce of Young. “I thought he had leadership on both sides of the floor. I thought he was engaged. He’s yelling out their plays, barking to us and he was engaged and in the bodies. When you’re locked in on both sides of the basketball and leading your team, he was composed, he still ends up with 30 and nine. I thought this was his best game as a floor general, I thought it was his best game as a defender and obviously just getting everyone involved tonight.”

Bench differential

One of the key reasons behind the Hawks’ defeat to the Nets on Wednesday was due to a lack of help from the bench, scoring 22 points on the game in Atlanta.

In Charlotte, the Hawks received significant help this time around multiple performances from the bench proved key in the Hawks’ bid for victory. In fact, three of the Hawks six double-digit scorers came from the bench — Vince Carter, Allen Crabbe and Alex Len — as the Hawks’ bench outscored the Hornets’ bench 57-36.

Carter poured out a season-high 17 points as he got going near the end of the second quarter and in the second half.

Crabbe also enjoyed a fine night as he hit three three-pointers en-route to a tied season-best 11 points (and we’ve some of his defensive plays from last night too).

We’ve obviously seen quite a number of Carter’s plays from last night as the Hawks went on their respective runs but, again, it’s his leadership that Pierce looks to.

“His value is always his leadership,” said Pierce of Carter. “He’s able to keep us organized, keep us balanced. When he’s pick and popping and shooting threes and opening up the floor like that, it opens up everything for everyone else. Always happy to see him perform well at this stage of his career.”

Len (who we’ve obviously talked about already) posted a double-double off of the bench as he scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, including five offensive rebounds. Len certainly had the opportunity to add to this but missed a number of easy shots (as he is one to do at times) and this actually seemed to lead to Pierce pulling Len from the game after just a few minutes — and right after two easy misses — in the first half, sending Bruno Fernando in his place.

But obviously as we’ve talked about already, Len enjoyed a strong second half.

Just a strong game for the Hawks’ bench, it seemed like they all played well (perhaps with the exception of Bruno Fernando, who was -10 in his six minutes) — even DeAndre’ Bembry played well in his few minutes on the court.

Let’s talk about that.

Starting lineup/rotation tid-bits and finally getting healthy

With Kevin Huerter returning into the fold after missing 11 games due to a shoulder injury, it coincided with De’Andre Hunter’s absence with a finger sprain. Huerter has been operating on a minutes restriction (and still is) but Hunter was cleared to return and without a minutes restriction.

Huerter was re-inserted into the starting lineup on a 25 minute-restriction but started alongside, interestingly, Cam Reddish and the usual starters in Young, Parker and Damian Jones. That left Hunter to come off of the bench for the first time in his fledgling career, scoring 10 points and featuring in 28 minutes.

It was unusual for Hunter to be held out of the starting lineup but, if I had to guess as to why, perhaps the Hawks wanted to reward Reddish for his performance against the Nets and see if it could carry into this game?

Sadly, Reddish wasn’t able to follow-up his season-best performance against the Nets, scoring five points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field in 29 minutes of action. Not a lot to say on Reddish here — it just seemed like a similar return to the Reddish we (collectively) have seen in the first 20-plus games.

In terms of the rotation, this game was very interesting indeed.

Ty Wallace was listed as inactive for this game, Chandler Parsons did not feature — neither of these are massively surprising (though, Wallace has played more than Parsons).

Evan Turner was also a DNP-CD as the Hawks deployed Kevin Huerter in a few different stints as the backup point guard as Trae Young sat on the bench. It’s noteworthy but nothing massively shocking — Turner hasn’t always played.

Speaking of point-Huerter... his return to the fold and Evan Turner not playing tonight... I can’t help but feel there’s a strong correlation between those two.

Huerter didn’t fill the scoring column but did hit three threes and came up with six assists, and it’s his playmaking where Pierce has really missed Huerter:

We’ll talk about Huerter more in the grand scheme of things but the big take-away is obviously his ability to make plays and the Hawks were able to build on their lead when Young was off the floor, and Huerter obviously plays a role in that.

It’s DeAndre’ Bembry where things get particularly interesting in terms of last night’s rotation.

As anyone who has watched the Hawks for any reasonable amount of time would know, Bembry is one of the most important players to come off of the Hawks bench. Pierce prefers to bring Bembry off of the bench — only inserting Bembry into the starting lineup only when he has to — where Bembry’s defense and general energy provides a great boost for the Hawks. Everyone understands what he brings.

Interestingly, Bembry featured in only in seven minutes in this game — five minutes in the first half (making his entrance in the second quarter) and two near the end of the game when things got out of hand for the Hornets.

We didn’t get an explanation postgame as to why Bembry featured for as little as he did but it’s highly irregular and I doubt it’ll be repeated on Tuesday night.

Looking at the bigger picture in terms of the roster, this is the first time in a long time where Pierce — with the exception of the suspended John Collins and the current minutes restriction for Kevin Huerter — basically has a healthy roster to choose from and Pierce enjoyed having the luxury of choice last night.

“...No excuses, but that’s the beauty of having everybody healthy and being able to pick and choose who’s out there and trying to get some guys in rhythm,” said Pierce in his opening statement. “It was good to see Allen and Vince make shots but also just having the options of all those guys. Kevin Huerter and De’Andre (I’m assuming, Hunter) in the same game, Allen Crabbe out there...”

Pierce was pleased with the defensive engagement and communication of his squad and he attributed part of that to the rotation and the fact he can switch various guys out.

“When you have healthy bodies and you can play guys and you don’t have to play guys extra minutes, I can sub guys out because I know I’ve got Kevin Huerter coming in or De’Andre Hunter coming in. I just thought they were engaged and communicating and when they were tired I was able to pull them out and not feel like I was missing a beat or they had to do too much while they were out there.”

“You want to go into every game with as many advantages as you can and being healthy is the biggest advantage we can have, so that’s a start in the right direction,” Pierce went on to say. “There’s always going to be ups and downs and we have to adjust to that but just having the options of all our guys...and even moving forward some of the minute restrictions will come off of some of our guys and we’ll have a full list of guys that can play longer stretches if they’re capable. It’s just nice to know we’re getting guys healthy and coming back.”

Due to the various injuries and the suspension of John Collins, we (collectively) haven’t seen the Hawks in their full form and with Collins returning soon from his suspension, it seems that moment is coming where everyone gets to see what these Hawks can actually do together and healthy, and last night seemed to mark the beginning of that time with Huerter and Hunter back into the fold together for the first time in a long time.

Help is coming for Trae Young, and it did come last night but more sustainable help is coming...

The Hawks (5-17) are back in action on Tuesday night in Miami as they square off against the Heat at the American Airlines Arena.

Should be a hoot.

Until next time...