The Atlanta Hawks got their 2020-21 NBA campaign underway on Wednesday night and notched a victory at their first attempt behind a dominant display against the Chicago Bulls at United Center, winning 124-104 — the final score and winning margin of 20 not remotely doing the Hawks’ performance justice.
The Hawks were led by Trae Young’s 37 points and seven assists in just under 26 minutes, while Bogdan Bogdanovic and Cam Reddish each added 15 points — the former coming off of the bench and the latter starting as Clint Capela missed out with Achilles soreness.
For the Bulls, Zach LaVine led their scoring with 22 points while Lauri Markkanen added 21 points.
The Hawks may have won by 20 points in the end but for much of the second half it was 30 or more points (at one point it was even 40 points), allowing the Hawks to take the foot off of the gas and allow some of the end of the bench guys like Skylar Mays and Nathan Knight to rack up some minutes — thus, outscored by the Bulls 25-13 in the final quarter to bring that gap down.
What allowed the Hawks such comfort was an outstanding first half, a first half in which they scored 83 points (a franchise-record) on 67% shooting from the field, 50% from three (10-of-20) and got to the free throw line 18 times.
The Bulls, in contrast, scored 59 points on 43% shooting from the field, 28% from three and got to the line 12 times in the first half.
With the first half and the Hawks’ insane offensive output obviously being the absolute key to this victory — and not a lot else happening in the second half because of the blowout — that’s going to be our focus today.
There’s probably no better place to start when talking about the Hawks’ first half last night than Young, who scored 27 points in the first half (!!).
This is how Young got going last night, coming off of the screen, taking the bump and banks the shot, plus the foul:
Young got to the free throw line 10 times in the first half last night and he is elite when it comes to drawing contact and fouls, especially in this type of situation when the defender is behind him and Young takes that bump.
“We just weren’t in our shifts,” said Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. via NBC Sports. “Trae Young is a hell of a player and he caught us a lot on the screen-and-rolls in terms of drawing fouls. Gotta learn to just know the scouting report on certain players, know that Trae Young is good at stopping as soon as he comes off that screen.”
Other than the free throws, the majority of Young’s scoring in the first half came from behind the arc, shooting 5-of-6 from downtown in the first half alone.
It didn’t matter who was guarding Young, he cooked them up every which way, the first three drained on the much bigger Zach LaVine, whose contest is about half a second too late to get a block in:
Poor Ryan Arcidiacono didn’t stand a chance on this highlight play as Young plays with his prey before draining the three on the step-back:
There were times where the Bulls did not help themselves, and this was such a possession where off of a miss, Coby White gives up on the play, expecting the ball to run out of bounds. Young, however, does not and collects the loose ball before draining an easy three in the corner to break the 70-point plateau for the Hawks:
Young then proceeded to punish White further on the perimeter, dancing on the second year guard before draining a three on him too:
With Kris Dunn now off of the Bulls and, ironically, with the Hawks, this is an extremely favorable matchup for Young now, and it showed last night as he just cooked the Bulls (we’ll talk more about Young’s overall game later).
Something else the Hawks had going for them in the first half was their transition offense/fastbreak points, 16 in the first half alone as the Hawks attacked the Bulls hard and fast.
Cam Reddish turns defense into offense as he picks off the loose pass on one end before scoring at the other:
Again, the Bulls didn’t help themselves as they easily allow Young to get down the floor and score at the rim with relative ease:
Off of a miss for the Bulls — and a good contest from Collins — Young grabs the rebound and finds the streaking Collins in transition for the alley-oop, plus the foul:
Off of a good contest at the rim by John Collins — helping to force the miss — he sets off in transition as Bogdan Bogdanovic takes the ball down the floor before finding Collins for the dunk:
I won’t call this next play a ‘fastbreak’ but as the Hawks bring the ball up the floor it is, again, very easy. Bogdanovic brings the ball up and one pass and hand-off to and from Kevin Huerter and boom, three-pointer:
“I think out of all of our guys, you can’t speed him up. I’m trying to speed him up a little bit, he’s so poised and plays at his own pace,” chuckled Lloyd Pierce on Bogdanovic.
You might notice that these opportunities aren’t being created off of a ton of turnovers (which is encouraging from the Hawks’ side) but here’s another one from a Bulls turnover, and Bogdanovic caps off a quick eight point stretch for himself with the steal and finish in transition:
Reddish get himself another steal but the manner of the finish this time is much more extravagant on the skip and reverse:
I think you get the idea: behind Young’s 27 points, the Hawks’ 16 fastbreak points and four Hawks in double-digit scoring at the half, they just pulled away from the Bulls, who still scored 59 points in the first half — that’s not terrible, that’s not even bad for a first half. They just couldn’t stop the Hawks in terms of resistance or stop them from cooking in different spots (such as Young, such as Bogdanovic).
The Hawks benefitted offensively from starting Danilo Gallinari and John Collins together and I can’t help but wonder what turn this game may have taken if the Hawks hadn’t been able to charge out the gates blazing as they did...would they have done that with Capela starting? It’s not to say they don’t win this game but it’s interesting that things unfolded as they did...would they have started as quick? The complexion of this game was changed because of how quickly the Hawks got to the races.
The Hawks, in recent memory, have been a slow starting team at times, so this was a welcome change of pace. To be honest, I think it has more to do with the Bulls being, well, bad, than the Hawks’ lineup. Perhaps they don’t score 83 if Capela starts, perhaps they do. The one consistent of the game was how poor the Bulls were and how they couldn’t slow down anyone.
“We’re not this fast, explosive foot-speed team,” said Bulls head coach Billy Donovan postgame via NBC Sports. Part of the reason I played Adam (Mokoka) is because the guy can really guard with his feet and he can handle guys 1-on-1 at times. I thought we didn’t have really good built-in help where it needed to be and then our guys on the ball got beat too easily. Therefore, you look at the number of shots they took in the paint, it was drastically too high. That’s going to require the guys to make a lot of multiple efforts. I think we’re willing to do that. I just don’t think we did it particularly well today.”
The Hawks continued their scoring output in the second half and hit the century mark just as the third quarter ticked under the six minute mark, leaving the remaining 18 minutes of the game largely a formality, even if the lead got trimmed in the fourth as the Hawks took the opportunity to relax some of the minuted for their main rotation players.
Postgame, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce was pleased with how his side reacted to entering the second half with a 24 point lead.
“I really enjoyed the third quarter,” said Pierce. “Having a big lead for a team that’s not used to having a big lead and playing together for the first time, to come out in the third quarter and hold them to 20 points and keep that defensive mentality, I thought that was an area of growth. We obviously need to finish better in the fourth, regardless of who’s on the court, but that was really the big key for us tonight: coming out of halftime with the big lead and respecting the game.”
In the end, it was a dominant win for the Hawks, who get the season underway with a win.
“Happy for the guys,” said Pierce in his opening statement. “I thought they came out...it was a gameplan game for us. We wanted to play to our strengths offensively: get out and run, see if we could get something early in transition, get a ‘paint-to-great’ game, create some threes from our ability to attack. Trae got going in that first half but I thought more importantly I we got in the bonus early, in the bonus with eight minutes in the first, bonus again in the second quarter. It opens up the game. I thought our ability to rebound and run was tremendous tonight.”
As you watched the game, it definitely seemed to be a point of emphasis for the Hawks: to charge at the Bulls in fastbreak and transition, finishing with 23 fastbreak points in the end.
Young finished with 37 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field, 5-of-6 from three, 12-of-14 from the line in just under 26 minutes. 37 points on 12 shots is ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous from Young — astonishing efficiency last night from the third year guard, who struggled by his standards in the preseason.
As Young was quick to point out postgame, “It’s just one game,” but it was a great start to the season for Young who, as Pierce noted, enjoyed himself on the floor.
“I thought it was the most fun I’ve seen him have on the court with a group of guys,” said Pierce of Young. “That’s why I mentioned the point of him not getting the rebound: he just took off and ran. There’s an area of trust, there’s an area of joy. I thought he was balanced, I thought he led us, I thought he was aggressive, I thought he was getting off the basketball quick, I thought he was running his lanes as we need all of our guys to do. I think he really enjoyed the game.”
“It was really fun,” said Young in agreement. “It was fun to be able to play with a lot of the new guys and being able to go there and put on a show in the first game was really good. Not every night is going to be like this but it’s really good to have an opening game like this. (To) continue to get better each and every day is our mindset, and not just satisfied with winning this first game...”
Collins usually feasts against the Chicago Bulls and even in the limited time he was on the floor (playing just 18 minutes last night) he scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Collins had some good contests around the rim and on some jump shots last night, doing a decent job holding down the Hawks’ defense at the back in the absence of Capela.
De’Andre Hunter had an interesting game, scoring 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, also finishing with a plus/minus rating of plus-40 (!!). He only got up the one three-pointer last night (which he made) but I enjoyed some of the drives from Hunter last night, such as this as he fakes, drives and dunks at the rim:
In the third quarter, another strong drive from Hunter as he evades the defense out front and behind to finish at the rim:
Not a ton else to note of for Hunter last night — a very solid game. He was one of seven players (including all five starters plus Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter) who scored in double-digits. There’ll be plenty of scoring opportunities for Hunter this season as that fourth option on offense with the attention elsewhere.
While Pierce was happy with the scoring of those seven players, he was more pleased with his team’s ‘team’ mentality.
“It’s great. To me, it’s not the scoring, it’s the ‘we’ mentality. It’s really all of our guys that played well, our guys played together. When Trae didn’t get a rebound, and Cam, Dre or Kevin or one of those guys got it. Not running back to the basketball allows us to play a little faster. I thought that ‘we’ mentality, that trust was tremendous tonight. We’ll have nights where it’s all over the place with scoring and big numbers and things of that nature but I just thought we played team basketball.”
While this was a good win for the Hawks and a monster game for Young I think it’s incredibly important to preface last night with this: not only is it one game of 72 but the Chicago Bulls were not good, they will probably not be a good team this season. This could not be a better matchup for the Hawks’ star players offensively, for Young, for Collins etc.
The Hawks were great last night but the showing on the court between the two teams said more about the Bulls than it did the Hawks, and how this could be a very long season indeed for Chicago. Saturday’s contest against the Memphis Grizzlies, that’s where we’ll find out a lot more about the Hawks than this showing yesterday, impressive as it was.
Given how poor the Bulls were, it’s tough to have a ton of takeaways from this one game, a game that was over arguably by the half, certainly within the first few minutes of the third quarter. As well as that, there was no Capela, still no Dunn, no Rajon Rondo, still no Onyeka Okongwu, so it’s hard to assess any meaningful rotation bits while those players (mostly Capela and Dunn are out).
While the Hawks (1-0) were well worth their win yesterday, everyone will find out a lot more about them when they tackle the Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum, where they split the two preseason games they played there.
Until next time, and happy holidays!