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Offense explodes again as Hawks top Blazers to sweep back-to-back

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks flashed some of their considerable team-wide potential on Friday evening, zooming to a lopsided win over the Brooklyn Nets. The team was challenged to repeat that effort just hours later, however, with a match-up looming against a rested (and short-handed) Portland Trail Blazers team. While it wasn’t a performance that featured wire-to-wire dominance, the Hawks exploded in the middle portion of the contest and, in the end, Atlanta emerged with a 129-117 victory and a back-to-back sweep.

The evening began in strange fashion, with both teams flailing when it came to execution. Atlanta struggled to score in the early going and, after eight minutes of play, the Hawks trailed by nine points after a spurt by the visiting Blazers.

Things did awaken a bit from there, with a few high-end passes from Trae Young and a late three-pointer from Vince Carter to slash the deficit to five points at the end of the first quarter.

Fortunately, Atlanta’s defense did a respectable job in the first quarter, allowing the offense to come alive a bit in the second period. The Hawks cut the deficit to only one point by the first media timeout, with Kevin Huerter generating a steal and a three-pointer in transition.

The home team then pushed the lead to seven points in a hurry, scoring 32 points in the first nine minutes of the third quarter. Slowly, the Hawks extended the margin to ten points and, even with a three-pointer by the Blazers to beat the buzzer, Atlanta took a seven-point edge into halftime.

Considering the hideousness of the first period, the Hawks did yeoman’s work in the second, scoring 40 points and converting 57 percent of their field goal attempts, including a robust 6 of 11 from three-point range. Young produced 10 points and eight assists before halftime, and he was joined in double-figures by Huerter and De’Andre Hunter.

Following the break, Atlanta’s offense kicked into high gear, with Hunter scoring 8 of the first 10 points. The Hawks scored 21 points in the first five minutes and, with two high-level passes from Young, the juices were flowing for the home team.

The Hawks took a 16-point lead on a three-pointer from Young and, with the All-Star guard in a groove, he attempted to nutmeg Trevor Ariza. Portland’s veteran forward elected to “stop” the play by shoving Young in the midst of the maneuver and, after some pleasantries were exchanged, Ariza was called for a flagrant-1 foul. The sequence resulted in Young hitting a floater on the next possession, pushing the lead to 20 points, and while he got his own technical foul, the Hawks were in a very favorable position.

Portland did respond to some degree, scoring at a solid clip in the third quarter. With that said, the Hawks were simply too much offensively, shooting 73 percent from the floor in the period. In fact, Atlanta shot a blistering 64 percent from the floor (and 11 of 21 from long distance) in the second and third quarters combined, paving the way for 107 points through 36 minutes and a 17-point advantage as the fourth quarter arrived.

Though the Hawks led by 19 points in the early portion of the fourth quarter, the margin slowly narrowed, with Portland climbing within ten points. The Blazers’ run came with Cam Reddish on the bench, with word breaking later that the rookie swingman was sidelined with low back pain. Atlanta did reverse the negative trend, however, with back-to-back threes from Hunter and John Collins to essentially close out the game with three minutes remaining.

Ultimately, the Hawks slammed the door on a 12-point victory, and it was a win headlined by the offense. The second and third quarters were utterly dominant on that end of the floor and, in totality, Atlanta shot 54 percent from the floor and 18 of 42 from three-point range, with 34 assists to boot.

“Our guys put together back-to-back efforts of offensive movement,” Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce said of his team’s performance. “We had 28 assists at the end of the third quarter. We had 32 last night in the game. We thought we were tremendous moving the basketball. We had 28 at the end of the third. It got stagnant in the middle of the fourth, but the guys are finding something that’s very special with ball movement. (We had) 19 three’s last night and 18 made three’s tonight. It’s pretty special now. Consistency is the key and that’s always going to be the key for us. Can we keep it up? Can we continue to share the basketball and move the basketball that way. But what a great effort by our guys tonight.”

Much like Friday night’s showing, it was a balanced night in terms of individual contributions, though there were some standout efforts. As one would expect, the starting group grabbed the headlines, but Treveon Graham enjoyed his best game as a member of the Hawks. The veteran forward scored 12 points (on 5 of 5 shooting) in 13 minutes and played well on the defensive end.

“Treveon was great tonight,” Huerter said after the game. “He was aggressive and that’s something we’ve been telling him he has to keep doing. He hit a couple of three’s for us too. He was great downhill, great rebounding and great on defense. To get those type of minutes from him...he’s obviously capable of it and he’s going to continue to get more opportunities. He was really good tonight.”

Graham wasn’t alone in providing value off the bench, as Pierce used all 11 available players in effective fashion.

“Treveon was tremendous tonight and he only got 13 minutes... You see the effort by Treveon tonight,” Pierce said. “He goes 5-for-5 from the field. They were all aggressive plays, and-ones, he gets a great stop defensively, and then Bruno. Bruno goes 5-for-5 from the field. Again, he’s coming off the bench with just a tremendous bounce and energy. But that’s really, more than anything, getting a consistent rotation of guys. Playing them and playing them a long stretch where they can impact the game has been, kind of, the biggest adjustment we’ve made these past couple games.”

“It’s like in anything,” Pierce said of the bench. “If you understand or know when your minutes are coming and where you’re getting your opportunity, you’re prepared for it. I think as we’re adjusting and playing guys at certain times, we’re trying to find a consistency of the rotations. When they’re able to do that and not looking over their shoulder, but playing free and playing aggressive, we’re getting some chemistry with certain guys. So, I think that’s really what’s helping it out a little bit.”

As for the starters, Young finished with 25 points and 15 assists to lead the way, with Collins adding 24 points and 10 rebounds. Both of Atlanta’s linchpins were highly effective, with Young setting up teammates and Collins continuing to build on his elite efficiency by making 9 of 14 shot attempts and all three of his long-range offerings.

“It was really special,” Young said after the game. “When we play like that, it’s tough, it’s tough to beat us. Obviously, I’m going to get trapped a lot so whenever I get trapped, getting off it and then when guys make plays like that tonight, you can’t trap for too long. It’s good. Everybody contributed to this win.”

“I’ve been putting in a lot of work and like I’ll continue to say, it’s all about shooting with confidence and shooting the right ones for me,” Collins said of his three-point marksmanship. “Guys want to play me in the paint, I’ll keep taking open threes and make them with confidence.”

Elsewhere, Hunter drew rave reviews, scoring 22 points, knocking down six three-pointers and playing at a high level in 38 minutes.

“D-Hunt can play in back-to-backs now,” Pierce said with a smile. “We just learned that. He’s recovered from the back-to-back plague that he had earlier in the year. I thought he was tremendous tonight. Really good.”

Huerter also performed quite well, finishing with 19 points and eight assists, and Reddish added eight points and important defensive contributions before exiting with an injury that Pierce did not seem particularly concerned about in postgame.

Following the back-to-back, the Hawks will recover with a day off on Sunday before hosting the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday evening.

Stay tuned.