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Hawks swallow Pelicans behind record third quarter, win fourth straight

A good night at the office for the Hawks.

New Orleans Pelicans v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks notched their fourth straight win — and seventh straight home win — as they emerged on top of the New Orleans Pelicans with a 123-107 victory on Tuesday night at State Farm Arena.

The Hawks — without John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Kris Dunn and Cam Reddish — were led by Trae Young’s 30 points and 12 assists. Bogdan Bogdanovic added 21 points.

For the Pelicans — without Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker — Zion Williamson dominated with 34 points. Eric Bledsoe added 14 points.

To begin, you’d be forgiven for thinking that, perhaps, this was going to be a potentially tough night at the office for the Hawks, or certainly one that resembled the Golden State game: a game a little closer than you’d perhaps think was going to be the case, as the Pelicans and Hawks were tied up at 61 points apiece after — at times — a ‘defense optional’ first half.

That said, it was the Pelicans who threw together some stops first and took an early 13 point lead in the second quarter. The Hawks’ second unit let them down somewhat during this stretch but when Young returned to the game, he picked the Pelicans apart to get the Hawks back into the game.

Here, Young circles his way around in the paint, patiently waiting for the opening under the rim which eventually arrives to him:

As Young unleashes this step-back three on Lonzo Ball, he cuts the Pelicans lead to just two points:

Down the stretch of the first half, it felt as though Young could get to his floater almost every single time, doing so on this possession as he comes off of the screen:

Between Ball and Williamson, the Pelicans don’t communicate this pick-and-roll very well and a very easy floater for Young is the outcome:

It was the third quarter, however, where the Hawks made their move, their statement, hitting 11 of their 11 three-pointers in the third quarter: an NBA-record on their way to 46 third quarter points and pulling the Hawks away from the Pelicans, from which they would not recover from.

So, let’s take a look at those 11 three-pointers — the game flipping on its head as the Hawks went berserk from downtown.

The Pelicans initially showed a little more on Trae Young to begin the third quarter, and when the Pelicans don’t go with Clint Capela, Young slips him the ball. From there, Capela bounces the ball to Kevin Huerter, who makes the extra pass to his left to Solomon Hill who hits the three-pointer:

Next, Young passes the ball to Huerter, who shows little hesitation — despite the presence and contest of James Johnson — pulling up and connecting on the three-pointer:

Those threes are always welcome from Huerter, who has shown hesitation in the past in this regard.

A similar three follows for the Hawks as this time it’s Bogdanovic who cuts to Young’s left, receives the ball from Young and hits the three-pointer:

This time, it’s Huerter who bobs and weaves through the paint, eventually finding Hill behind the arc, who kicks it to the corner to Bogdanovic who continues his fine form as he connects on the corner three to increase the Hawks’ lead to seven points:

A change of pace this time around as the Hawks attack in transition off of the Pelicans miss, with Young leading the way one-on-one against Ball. Not feeling comfortable to take the shot at the rim with the larger Ball present, Young kicks the ball to the accompanying Bogdanovic, who hits the three-pointer to give the Hawks their first double-digit lead of the night:

In isolation, Young tries to shake-and-bake Zion Williamson but, to his credit, Williamson does a good job staying in front of Young, who decides to shift the ball to Huerter, who, again, shows little hesitation on the attempt and he connects:

Next, Young decides the show the range as he connects on a logo three-pointer:

A simple down screen gets Williamson switched onto Young on the left wing before Young initially thinks about driving before stepping back and getting the friendly bounce on the Hawks’ now eighth straight three:

Next, Bogdanovic comes off of the screen as he gets towards the paint, steps back, considers taking the jumper but moves the ball to his left again and he finds Huerter for his third three of the quarter to put the Hawks up by 16 points:

For the Hawks’ 10th three of the quarter, Young, again, shows the range and he hits another deep three-pointer:

To cap off a record-breaking third quarter, Lou Williams comes off of the screen from Onyeka Okongwu and hits the leaning shot going to his left to give the Hawks a 17 point lead heading into the fourth quarter:

An NBA record 11 three-pointers in a quarter without a miss:

From there, the Hawks were able to seal the deal in a largely redundant fourth quarter. While the second unit/end of the bench contributed to underwhelming fourth quarter shooting numbers, for the game the Hawks shot 20-of-31 from behind the arc (64.5%). Through three quarters, the Hawks shot 19-of-24 — 79% from three in three quarters. Madness.

Postgame, Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan revealed he wasn’t even aware of the Hawks’ shooting success, saying that he was so immersed in the Hawks shoring up their defense.

“I didn’t even know we were shooting the ball that well, I was so focussed on our defense,” said McMillan of the third quarter postgame. “I thought we played soft in that first half, we were allowing those guys to run their offense as if it was 5-on-0 out there. We just wanted to turn up our defensive pressure in the third quarter and I thought we did that and it led to us being able to get out, get into transition and get a rhythm on the offensive end of the floor. I didn’t know we hit 11 threes and set a record until after the game. My focus was on us getting more aggressive on the ball.”

For the players themselves, it was one of their more enjoyable nights of the season.

“We were just playing and having fun,” said Young of the third quarter. “Whenever you’re doing that, whenever you’re just out there playing and having fun, things like that are going to happen. I didn’t notice that we were on a roll like that but it definitely felt like it for a second and we were just having fun.”

Bogdanovic went a step further, definitively labelling last night’s win as the most fun the Hawks have enjoyed this season.

“We have fun, it was really fun. Definitely the most fun we’ve had this year. It was really fun to play that way and I think we all enjoyed it,” said Bogdanovic of the third quarter.

Having seen those 11 threes, there were quite a few of them where the Hawks moved the ball well, and this aspect pleased McMillan, who said the Hawks can be guilty of not moving the ball at times.

“We talk about that every day, every game: ball movement,” said McMillan. “We feel that we have shooters on the perimeter. Sometimes we’re pounding the ball too much. When teams are trapping and have two on the ball, we’ve got to get the ball out quickly, get the ball to the weak side. When we do that, we have shooters who can knock down some shots. Tonight we started to do that, second half it was pretty obvious in the third quarter, we got open looks, we moved the ball. Those shots are shots those guys practice every day where the coach is feeding them opportunities and it’s like practice. We preach ball movement, we want that and a lot of times we want that coming from our penetration and I thought we did a good job of that in the second half.”

While McMillan continued to emphasize that he was focussed on the defense that he hadn’t noticed the too much the Hawks’ success from three and would need to watch film, what he did notice was how the some of these attempts came naturally to the Hawks in the flow of the offense before highlighting again the importance of ball movement.

“Those shots came in the flow,” said McMillan. “We didn’t settle, we were getting good looks, we were moving the ball. We don’t want to settle, we don’t want to come down and jack quick, contested threes. We want ball movement. We feel if we get ball movement we’re going to get and make the defense defend. You’re playing your second, third, fourth option, a lot of times you’re going to get wide-open shots. I’m assuming that’s where a lot of that came from. We had a good flow, we were moving the ball and we were just taking rhythm threes. I didn’t feel we were forcing anything. To be that hot and to knock down those shots, it’s just one of those nights where the guys thought the ball was going in the hole for us.”

“When guys are rolling, it’s kind of contagious,” added Young. “A couple of possessions in games where teams are swinging it around and it goes from one side to the other and back to the other side, nine times out of 10 that guy is going to hit a three ... the momentum when guys are hitting shots and hitting tough shots it’s the same way. It’s contagious. Everybody starts doing it. That’s kind of what happened.”

Bogdanovic echoed a similar sentiment, believing the Hawks’ defense and aggressiveness on both sides of the ball fueled their run and once they began, they didn’t let up.

“Started with our defense and aggressiveness both ways,” added Bogdanovic. “We kept running the whole game. We didn’t slow down, we scored a couple of them and we kept scoring, We didn’t stop. Most of the time we stop and we didn’t keep the heat going. I think we got better tonight at that point.”

Bogdanovic was one of the headliners from this game as his fine form continued, scoring 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 from three. Over his last 10 games, Bogdanovic is shooting 17 points per game on 52% shooting from the field and 49% from three on 6.5 attempts per game.

McMillan believed that Bogdanovic passed on opportunities in the first half before showing more aggression in the second half, before eluding to the possibility that there’s more for the Hawks to find for Bogdanovic in the starting unit.

“I thought he was passing up some shots in the first half, a few of our guys looked a little hesitant in that first half,” said McMillan of Bogdanovic. “Second half, we wanted him to be more aggressive. He’s starting to get more aggressive, he just felt a better rhythm in the second half but I thought he played a little hesitant in the first half, had some shots we wanted him to take but he got aggressive in the second half. We’re starting to really add to the things we can do with him in the starting lineup. These guys are starting to get a rhythm playing together. It takes some time. We’ve been able to add and tweak some of the things we have been (doing). He’s starting to find a rhythm and we’re starting to find ways to get him the ball.”

“It’s great to have him back and have him in the groove too,” added Young of Bogdanovic in the starting unit. “Everybody has been feeding off of him knocking down shots too. Teams can’t necessarily double if Bogi and those guys are making plays. He’s been doing that and we’re going to need it to continue if we’re going to continue to be good. I don’t see it slowing up, he works too hard.”

Bogdanovic and Gallinari are the keys to unlocking the Hawks’ offensive potential — when they’re rolling, they alleviate a lot of the scoring pressure on Young as well as both being capable of commanding the defenses attention, which can open opportunities elsewhere, like Huerter contributing 17 points last night, for example.

A short sample size, but when Bogdanovic scores 15 or more points in a game, the Hawks are 6-3. For Gallinari, when he scores 15 or more points in a game, the Hawks are 9-4. When Gallinari scores 20 points in a game? 6-1.

“I’m glad we have multiple guys who can go off every single night, I think that’s the biggest quality of this team,” said Bogdanovic.

While the first half wasn’t a great defensive half for the Hawks, they blew the Pelicans away in the third quarter. It’s not the first time this season the Hawks have ignited beyond the arc in a short burst to basically seal games there and then but when they ignite like that... it’s going to be tough for any opponent to survive. From there, the Hawks are beginning to understand how to maintain those leads and not allows teams they shouldn’t allow back in, more so at the beginning of the quarter where a run to cut the lead to nine/10 points would make this possibly a game again. The Pelicans never got back within single digits and it was comfortable for Atlanta from that point.

The fourth quarter was largely a formality, with McMillan being able to throw in some of the end of the bench unit to alleviate the starters on the first night of a back-to-back.

The Hawks (27-24) are back in action tonight at State Farm Arena against the Memphis Grizzlies, who themselves are on a road back-to-back having done the Hawks a favor by beating the Miami Heat last night.

Always interesting to see these two teams compete.

Until next time...