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Kevin Huerter breaks out of mini-slump as Hawks defeat Pelicans

The former Terrapin had struggled recently but responded in a big way in this one.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks snapped a three-game losing streak as they defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 128-113 on Sunday evening at State Farm Arena.

Kevin Huerter led the way with 27 points while John Collins registered another double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

For the Pelicans, both Frank Jackson and Julius Randle scored 23 points for the Pelicans. Anthony Davis did feature, scoring 15 points, but played very little in the second half (playing just five minutes) and did not play in the fourth quarter, part of the aftermath from the situation there.

Strong third quarter carries Hawks to victory

There wasn’t much to choose from between these two sides, both before and during the game. The Hawks closed as 1.5 point favorites and once they recovered from a double-digit deficit to cut the deficit to one point heading into the halftime break.

The third quarter came and it was still a tight affair but the separation came as the Hawks went on a 17-6 run in the third quarter to take an 11-point lead before a three-pointer from Solomon Hill cut the lead to eight points.

In the fourth quarter, you expected the Pelicans to make a run and make a game of it but this never really happened in the end.

Well, sort of.

The Pelicans cut the lead to four to begin the fourth but a 7-0 run for the Hawks pushed the lead back to 11 points with nine minutes remaining.

And that was really it for the game.

The two sides traded baskets for the most part the rest of the way as the Pelicans never got within the four points they had cut it to to begin the fourth quarter, and the two sides were allowed to play, the game running down to a minute remaining in the blink of the eye before a three-pointer from Kent Bazemore with 36 seconds remaining put the exclamation mark on what was a really impressive performance and a 13-point win in the end.

The Hawks played a really good offensive game, scoring 128 points on 49% shooting from the field, 46% from three pointer as they knocked down 17 three-pointers, out-rebounded the Pelicans by 14 (56-42), grabbed 10 offensive rebounds to New Orleans’ five (with the Hawks scoring 18 second chance points), dishing out 30 assists and committed just 10 turnovers on the game — one of the best games of the season in that regard, and it all came on the second night of a back-to-back.

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce was pleased with the effort of his group on the second night of a back-to-back, praising the shooting bounce-back from the Nets game.

“Good effort. It’s good to see our guys bounce back on the second night,” opened Pierce. “Obviously, we can talk about us not shooting well yesterday, (but tonight) 17-for-37 (from three). I just thought our flow offensively was pretty good.”

Pierce also praised the play of Kevin Huerter (who we’ll talk about later) and Trae Young, who didn’t shoot the ball well (2-of-14) but still registered a double-double of 10 points and 10 assists.

“Kevin was exceptional tonight. It’s fun to see (him) basically come out of his shell - he’d hadn’t really scored or shot the ball well (recently). We were able to play through Kevin. Trae didn’t shoot the ball, and I thought it was good for him to settle in, and come in. He played the entire fourth quarter, and still ends up with a double-double, and got a lot of guys some easy opportunities in the fourth quarter. Great team effort. I’m really excited.”

Taurean Prince, who scored 13 points, one of seven Hawks in double-figures, believed that the Hawks did a good job putting the Brooklyn defeat out of their minds and entering this game with a fresh approach.

“I just think we did a good job of forgetting yesterday, came out with a clean mind and played today’s game,” said Prince.

“We do things that get a lot of people involved. We’ve just got to continue to do so as we finish this season and look forward to next season.”

Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry believes his side got away from the good things they were doing as well as lamenting some missed shots, and the Hawks took advantage of that.

“What happened with us is that we were playing really good basketball and then we kind of got out of our lane,” said Gentry. “We started taking some bad shots, some questionable shots, then they ran out on the questionable shots because we didn’t have floor balance. There were a lot of things like that that happened. We missed some easy shots. We had a couple of breakdowns in rotations which led to them having open three-point shooters, and that is where they got some separation. I thought we played hard and we competed.”

The Hawks have had issues closing out games of late and the Hawks were not only able to close it out but keep the separation, which is something that stood out to Pierce.

“We go up to Miami and we lose by one — guys have been competing — we lose a close game to San Antonio here and we lose a close one to Brooklyn. The guys have been there, they’ve been in position to get the win, we haven’t come out with it. I thought our guys have been competing for a consistent amount of time over the last two weeks. So this is refreshing to finally get one, understanding with all of the competitive games we’ve had, being able to close it and not just keep it close, (to) get some separation was important.”

Kevin Huerter takes off

The main talking point of this game was Kevin Huerter, who had struggled in his last two games heading into this one — shooting 3-of-18 in his last two games — broke out in a big way as he scored 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from behind the arc.

But it was in the second quarter where Huerter did the majority of his damage, scoring 17 of his 27 points in the second period.

Huerter had a lot of success heading toward the rim in the second quarter, so let’s look at some of that and the other things he did.

It initially starts with Huerter coming off of the hand-off from Prince and the slip from John Collins before driving toward the rim, showing the hesitation before completing his drive, making the shot and drawing the foul:

The Hawks literally run the same action moments later and the result is basically the same, only Dairis Bertans is trailing the play a little more on this play:

From the opposite wing this time, Huerter makes the curl, receives the ball, drives to the rim and lifts his shot over the defense, just as the help arrives:

It happens quickly, but Huerter does a good job switching hands late on, driving with the left before shooting with the right.

You could just feel Huerter’s confidence growing as the quarter progressed and I think that began to show here, as he drives past the free throw line and hits the push-shot, with Anthony Davis defending him on the switch.

Not exactly much of a contest from Davis, and there wasn’t much of a contest on this shot from Huerter either, as he basically gets to the same spot and, again, hits the push-shot with no one contesting him:

Finishing with 27 points, it was Huerter’s best outing since his career-high 29 points against the Sixers back in January and it was one he needed — you could see the confidence growing throughout.

“When he’s herky-jerky with the basketball, he’s got a little flow to him,” said Pierce of Huerter. “And obviously, making his first shot gets him going. You see him string two shots together, and it’s ‘keep running the play until they stop it.’”

What also impressed Pierce about Huerter’s performance was his playmaking, dishing out three assists in this one.

“The other good thing about Kevin is that he’s a willing passer,” continued Pierce. “Putting him in pick-and-rolls, where he can attack, is a great thing, We also understand that he’s going to make the right decision. He made a nice throwback to Taurean, and Taurean throws it into Dewayne, and this was in that stretch that Kevin was scoring. He’s a willing passer, he’s a great facilitator, he’s able to create his own shots. He makes a tough shot over AD (Anthony Davis). You see that type of bounce and pop when he’s on the court. I want to try and run some offense through him. He did a good job tonight.”

Pierce wasn’t the only coach who had good words to say about Huerter postgame, Alvin Gentry adding to the chorus of praises but acknowledged that his side needed to defend Huerter more effectively.

“He made a lot of shots, and he is very good at stopping right behind the screen,” said Gentry of Huerter. “It wasn’t so much in the way that we defended him, you just have to give him credit…he made a bunch of shots, but we have to be able to do better on him.”

The second quarter in this game was arguably as important as the first, as the Hawks recovered from a 12 point deficit to come back, Huerter’s 17 points playing a huge part in it.

“In the second quarter, I got it going,” said Huerter postgame. “I just tried to stay aggressive and obviously hit a couple shots. My teammates started finding me. They started running plays for me almost every possession down the court. They kept kind of going to me so I was able to get it going.”

Huerter obviously enjoyed success at the rim in this one but heading into yesterday’s contest, there was an emphasis placed on layups and floaters — shots at the rim.

“Honestly the last couple games I’ve been struggling around the rim, especially last game when I missed a couple of easy ones,” said Huerter. “That was an emphasis for me going into this game; try to shoot a lot more layups and floaters in warmups. Today they started to fall.”

Bench boost

The bench scoring numbers won’t blow you away (the Hawks’ bench outscoring the Pelicans’ bench 36-31) but their impact was significant in shaping the outcome of this game.

Kent Bazemore added a significant spark with his 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists and was a plus-15 on the game. Jaylen Adams scored just three points but was a plus-19 on the game (which is certainly higher than you would’ve thought, watching this game and Adams play) while DeAndre’ Bembry scored 11 points in just 13 minutes of play (Bembry’s minutes were odd last night, it’s unusual for him to play under 15 minutes without foul trouble or otherwise).

Dewayne Dedmon returned to the fold from his short-term knee injury on a 20 minute restriction but made his presence known as he scored eight points but was plus-26 on the game — hugely impressive from Dedmon.

The significance of the Hawks’ bench in last night’s game did not go unnoticed by Lloyd Pierce postgame.

“...We made runs with our bench tonight,” said Pierce. “I thought Baze played extremely well, DeAndre’ (Bembry) played great for a stretch when he was out there and Jaylen (Adams) played well...”

Vince Carter kind of floated through this game (taking just one shot which he missed) but dished out three assists on the game, still a positive in that regard.

Pierce only ran through a 10-man rotation last night, electing against playing Justin Anderson, B.J. Johnson (the last game of his 10-day contract, let’s see what happens there) and Tyler Zeller.

The Hawks (23-45) are not back in action until Wednesday when they take on the Memphis Grizzlies at State Farm Arena.

Should be interesting.

Until next time...