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Hawks begin road-trip with narrow victory over Pelicans

Not the prettiest victory but the Hawks got it done.

Atlanta Hawks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks notched a second straight victory as they kicked off their road-trip in New Orleans with a victory on Wednesday night, 102-99.

Trae Young led the Hawks with 31 points while John Collins added 16 points. For the Pelicans, Devonte’ Graham scored 21 points, Brandon Ingram added 20 points.

Heading into the first night of a back-to-back, the Hawks began this game in less than ideal fashion as the Pelicans ran out 33-19 advantage at the end of the first quarter as the Hawks shot 28.6% from the floor and 0-of-9 from behind the arc. The looks the Hawks were getting were OK — they just weren’t falling in the first quarter.

The Hawks got two opportunities here on this possession, first with Collins from Young. That attempt is missed but rebounded by the Hawks and Young finds Bogdan Bogdanovic for another three-point attempt but that one is missed too:

Here, Kevin Huerter gets a good look at a three-pointer after the pass from Young and screen from De’Andre Hunter:

Good ball movement from the Hawks on this play to get it to the corner to Huerter but, again, the shot is missed:

Some good looks from the Hawks from three but they just didn’t fall as the Hawks opened 0-of-10 from behind the arc. The Hawks’ offensive rebounding helped them buy extra possessions — grabbing nine offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone — but only scored two points in the first quarter from those nine offensive rebounds.

The second quarter, the Hawks came out with a vastly different energy and it took the second unit — plus Collins — about half of the second quarter to eradicate the Pelicans’ 14 point lead. Collins joined that second unit having collected two fouls in the first quarter and Hawks head coach Nate McMillan inserted Collins on two fouls to begin the second and I thought Collins made a huge impact not just offensively but defensively, too, you could hear Collins talking loudly on defense too and the Hawks just looked so much more organized on that end of the floor in the second quarter to begin and I don’t think that was a coincidence.

Offensively, the Hawks shot 68% in the second quarter for 34 points and hit 4-of-7 from three as things finally began to click. Again, however, the Hawks were left a bit wanting as Collins — who scored eight points in the second quarter — picked up his third foul during the quarter, limiting him to just 10 first half minutes.

The Hawks and Young continued to push on and eventually took the lead in the third quarter before taking a seven point lead into the fourth quarter but the offense crashed again to begin the final frame and the Pelicans would rally to take a five point lead themselves. This game went down to the wire, so let’s look at how the Hawks got this done in the end.

First, let’s look at how the Hawks tied this game to begin with and it came with a big three-pointer from Bogdanovic, who struggled at times this game but hit a big, contested three on the wing here:

Fast-forwarding a bit to when the Hawks took the lead again as Young comes off of the Clint Capela screen to get into a smooth mid-range jumpshot:

The Pelicans attack the next possession with Ingram, who get separated from Hunter after the screen but Capela does well to prevent the drive to the rim before Hunter is able to get back with Ingram, who has to kick it out to Herbert Jones for the perimeter attempt:

Ingram had proved a tough matchup from the off and separation from Hunter hadn’t always proved easy but when he did break free on the screen, Capela’s help halts Ingram’s momentum.

Next, Young and Capela link in the pick-and-roll again and Young gets to the mid-range again and hits the tough, fallaway jumper to put the Hawks up by four points:

The Pelicans respond immediately with a nice double-drag screen and Jonas Valanciunas gets the jump on Capela for the alley-oop:

The Hawks were called for an offensive foul on the trip from Capela before the Pelicans tied the game with a beautiful step-move from Jones around Collins for the lay-in:

Credit where credit is due: that is a great offensive move from the rookie.

It felt at this point that the momentum was swinging away from the Hawks and towards the hosts after the offensive foul and the two made Pelicans baskets and, now, this missed contested three from Bogdanovic with some decent time on the clock only added to that notion:

The Hawks, however, catch a big break as Ingram attempts to go hero-mode and tries to shoot a straightaway three over Capela which catches air:

This was a big momentum play in the game and the Pelicans took the sting out of the swing they had going for them with this shot from Ingram.

Young attempts to respond with a three of his own after he sees an extra body out front but Collins is on-hand to punch home the offensive rebound to give the Hawks the lead:

One of the Hawks’ 21 offensive rebounds (leading to just 19 second chance points) on the game last night and it proved fitting that the basket that put the Hawks ahead for good would come from an offensive rebound — Collins procuring seven offensive rebounds himself.

Out of the subsequent timeout from the Pelicans, Jones gets to the free throw line where he splits the pair, leaving the Hawks with a one-point lead. Heading down the floor, Young can’t shed Naji Marshall on the perimeter — who played good defense to be fair to him — and Young’s flipped shot as he crahses to the floor is missed but, fittingly, Collins is there to grab the offensive rebound and draws a foul in the process as the Hawks then call a timeout:

Huge rebound from Collins again here, contested by the long Ingram behind him. Rebounding really was a story from last night’s contest and these offensive rebounds an even bigger one from the Hawks’ perspective.

Out of the timeout, you get the sense the Hawks didn’t maximize their opportunity as the shot they get with Young perhaps not the greatest as he misses the three:

Immediately after this miss, the Pelicans push with Graham in transition and gets to the rim but is contested by Capela. The ball falls to Ingram on the wing and Bogdanovic knocks the ball out of bounds and the Pelicans use their final timeout:

Capela didn’t have the best night against Valanciunas but his help defense was critical here. I could understand why some may think this was a foul from Capela (I’m 50-50 on it myself) but — perhaps surprisingly given some of the fouls called last night — the officials let it go.

Out of the timeout — the last roll of the dice for New Orleans — they get the ball to Ingram but Hunter, despite his early slip getting to Ingram, plays fantastic defense to slide with Ingram and force a tough shot which is missed:

Just fantastic defense from Hunter to force a really tough shot with limited time on the clock. Everyone saw how well he defended Luka Doncic and Hunter deserves a lot of credit here too. It may not have looked it at times because Ingram made some really tough shots with Hunter right there defensively, and Ingram deserves credit for that too.

The ball goes out-of-bounds off of New Orleans and the Hawks use their final timeout and ice the game at the free throw line to secure the road victory. Outside of that first quarter, the Hawks were —mostly — the better side throughout the course of the game, shooting 47% from the second quarter onwards compared to the Pelicans 38%.

Postgame, Nate McMillan praised a ‘team effort’ victory but paid particular tribute to the second unit (plus Collins) who got the Hawks back into the game at the beginning of the second quarter.

“I thought it was a team effort,” said McMillan postgame. “I thought our second unit came in and established us in that second quarter. The start of the second quarter we only gave up six points in about six minutes. We brought defense into the game. Second half, our defense showed up throughout the second half — gave up only 40 points. Offensively, we found a way. It wasn’t pretty tonight. I thought we still had a lot of pounding of the ball, we didn’t have that ball movement, that flow we want to play with. But they found a way to win a game on the road. The road is so tough and starting off this road trip it’s a good start.”

There were plenty of offensive struggles as McMillan alluded to.

Bogdanovic shot just 4-of-12 (though, hitting that big three-pointer in the fourth), Capela shot 2-of-8, Huerter shot 1-of-8 and Cam Reddish shot 1-of-5. Young shot 13-of-27 from the field — that’s a lot of shots but the efficiency was at least there and, honestly, the Hawks needed that kind of night from Young volume-wise given the struggles elsewhere. Collins was an efficient 8-of-11 but in only 25 minutes of action due to foul trouble in the first half.

“John, he’s so active when he’s out on the floor,” said McMillan of Collins. “He’s been in foul trouble these first few games. I wanted to get him in the game when we could get him at the five when they took Valanciunas out and I wanted to get him at that five position. I thought he was good and he was with that second group. That’s how John plays. He brings energy every time he touches the floor. Tonight, he was able to make some big plays off of the ball as well as the offensive glass.”

Speaking of that second group, Danilo Gallinari made his first appearance of the season after dealing with shoulder issues, scoring nine points on 3-of-8 shooting in 19 minutes. Added to that, Delon Wright played his best game by far with the Hawks so far as he scored seven points, grabbed five rebounds (three offensive rebounds too) and dished out three assists in just 11 minutes. Wright continues to do the little things well and was very impactful in his brief time on the court — more so on the part that the Hawks needed Young to score given their struggles offensively.

A saving grace for the Hawks in spite of their offensive struggles at times last night was their defense: their third game in four allowing under 100 points per game. The Hawks rank third in defensive rating with 98 and third in the league in opponent points allowed with 97.8 points per game.

“I thought defensively, we’re getting pressure,” said McMillan of his team’s defense. “They made some tough shots. I thought ‘Dre did a good job on Ingram. He was shooting contested shots, ‘Dre was right there, Cam was right there. If guys are making those shots, we’re going to live with that. I thought we stayed with it. We tried to mix up some things defensively as far as some traps but just stay solid, control that basketball, keep it in front of you and make them shoot it over the top. I thought we did that. We were able to control the boards — really aggressive on the offensive boards but we won the rebounding game. One-shot defense is what we want to be about, tonight we were able to do that.”

This was a spirited Pelicans side — without Zion Williamson or Josh Hart — coming off of their first win of the season earlier in the week. They made some tough shots last night and swung the momentum the Hawks built at the end of the third quarter to turn a seven-point hole into a five-point lead in the fourth quarter.

It really wasn’t a pretty win by any means but it’s these types of games the Hawks will need to pull out this season at times and the fact that they did shows how this squad continues to build on their growth last season to overcome adversity in the fourth quarter (their adversity last night came not only the first quarter but the 12 point swing in the fourth quarter). The Hawks can be encouraged that while they didn’t play a very good offensive game where multiple players struggled offensively they still found a way to win and execute down the stretch.

Time will tell how much energy was spent trying to pull this one out as the Hawks (3-1) are back in action on Thursday night against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena.

The Wizards (3-1) have impressed so far and are also on the second night of a back-to-back having taken an impressive victory in Boston on Wednesday night. It should be an interesting contest between the two division rivals.

Until next time...