The Atlanta Hawks faced off against the Orlando Magic on Friday night, and they quickly found themselves engaged in a rock fight with a young and feisty squad. The Hawks would correct early game wrongs, find their footing, and put away the visitors by the score of 108-98.
Trae Young, in particular, personified the tale of two halves with just two points on 0-for-7 shooting, although he did log eight assists en route to a second consecutive 13 assist performance. Friday was the first time being held without a field goal in a half since a March 16, 2022 matchup with the Charlotte Hornets. But in the second half, Young knocked down a flurry of deep bombs and floaters in the lane for 23 points on 7-for-17 (41%) shooting that half, including 4-for-6 (67%) from deep.
His backcourt mate, Dejounte Murray, very nearly added a triple-double with 20 points, nine assists, nine rebounds and four steals to boot. Young and Murray have already begun setting records for their joint prolific assists numbers in just two games.
The early story was the slow start on both ends, with the Hawks struggling to string together successful possessions on both ends. Newly-extended De’Andre Hunter kicked off the scoring with a three followed by an ‘and-1’ for Atlanta’s first six points.
First was this corner three aided by the pull Young has on Terrence Ross in a help position.
Hunter was been able to use his dribble to get to a runner in semi-transition, and he showed his strength to power through contact and finish those attempts for ‘and-1’ opportunities.
On the other end, however, the Hawks struggled to contain sixth man Cole Anthony, and he drew a number of ‘and-1’ fouls himself. The tall and long-limbed Magic lineups forced Trae Young to check the smallest opposing guard, which was usually Anthony or last year’s No. 5 overall pick Jalen Suggs. Anthony took that as an invitation to attack Young at every opportunity.
First were the two ‘and-1’ opportunities of his own. Poor Young could do little to get out of the way of either one.
In the early segment of the game, the referees were letting both sides play with contact and no whistle. This led to some barking at the zebras and inattentiveness in transition defense. The Hawks gave up eight transition points in the first half, but none in the second.
Anthony took the lack of a whistle and his improved confidence as a sign to keep attacking. This next clip was nearly a shot in Young’s grilled that went uncalled, but it did create space for the bank shot.
Cole Anthony would end with 17 in the first half, and he led the Magic on Friday with 25 points. No. one overall pick Paolo Banchero added 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Turnovers and shots blocked were also an issue in the first half. The Hawks coughed the ball up 10 times in addition to having four shots blocked in that span. Atlanta found themselves down by as much as 13 points in the second quarter.
The 7’2” Bol Bol, in particular, wreaked havoc on the Hawks trying to get off a clean jump shot.
Bol and his go-go gadget arms closed gaps much more rapidly than Atlanta had planned for.
Dejounte Murray started getting going in the second quarter right when the Hawks needed an injection of life into their offense. Head coach Nate McMillan has been deploying Murray with the bench unit to start the second quarter and then staying with him to finish with the first unit. This means the new Hawks guard has all 12 minutes in the period to make his mark on the game.
Murray has already shown a knack for poking the ball away from unsuspecting opponents and finishing breaks, like this example below.
Murray here attacks and falls on his way to the lane. He doesn’t take himself out of the play, however, and instead relocates to the near corner for an easy assist from Trae Young.
“We just didn’t shoot the ball well,” head coach Nate McMillan had to say about the early struggles. “I thought early in the first and second quarter, in that first half, we were settling for a lot of contested jump shots and we didn’t really have the ball movement that we were looking for.”
“I think that’s why we got off to a slow start,” continued Trae Young. “We were playing too slow and playing their speed. We picked it up and we were able to cut the lead down and take the lead. And so really we have to play with a faster pace.”
“I thought we were sloppy with our execution most of the game. 17 turnovers,” continued McMillan about the first half issues. “We normally do a better job of taking care of the ball. We really struggled to get a rhythm offensively and I thought our turnovers kept them in the game and basically playing at their tempo.”
“They’re a young team. They’ve got a lot of energy,” explained John Collins. “They’ve got a lot of length. You’ve got Wendell Carter, Paolo [Banchero], two guys that are tall. But then their bench, Bol Bol, Mo Bamba. As well as their wings and just the way they play the game. They’re not a team that’s just going to lay down.”
About his early shooting struggles, Young talked his halftime fix, saying, “I watched a couple clips of my misses in the first half and I’m not going to miss that many shots too many times. I’m just going to keep shooting.”
Down 54-50 coming out of the halftime break, Hawks displayed improved energy in the third quarter. This one is a total team effort, starting with Clint Capela stepping out onto Paolo Banchero to shut him down on the perimeter and start the fast break.
Trae Young came alive in a big way in the third period, logging a big 17 points. It was only a matter of time before his shot would fall, and working him more off the ball was a big spark plug for the explosion. Below, Young slips the on-ball screen, then receives a screen from a trailing Capela to pop to the top of the key for a long range bucket.
In this next clip, Trae Young gives the ball up and sees Franz Wagner turn his entire body toward helping contain Dejounte Murray. That gives Young the space to receive the ball and get to the free throw line for an easy floater.
Below is something I anticipate seeing more and more from Young with Murray in tow: corner three-point attempts. Once Trae, Aaron Holiday and Clint Capela draw the Magic into the paint with a drive and ball movement, one extra pass finds Young all alone. Technically, Young inadvertently stepped over the line during the reset of his shot giving him two points instead of three, but having Young work to opposite corners will be a boon for the Hawks’ offensive spacing.
As a team, three point shooting came alive in the second half in a big way. After going a paltry 4-for-18 (22%) in the first 24 minutes, Atlanta responded with a blistering 9-for-13 (69%) clip from deep. Overall, the team’s overall offensive rating — or points per 100 possessions — swung from an ugly 94.3 in the first half to 118.4 in the second half.
This Collins leak out dunk brought the house down, and it was started by a strip by Collins himself. Atlanta finished with 26 fast break points, with the majority of them coming in the second half.
Can you guess where this pass is going? pic.twitter.com/rjlzD1Z0d8— Bally Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnBally) October 22, 2022
John Collins added another late game swipe on Banchero that was recorded as a block for good measure.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t add this coast-to-coast defense to offense possession for Collins. The Hawks fed off of his defensive intensity all game long, so it’s always good to see him benefit directly off of that consistent hard work.
On this 94-foot play, Collins elated “That felt great. It felt like I gave the team a little juice. I wasn’t even necessarily trying to do that. But coach [McMillan] is encouraging me to take the ball out off the break and do that when it is necessary.”
And finally, this dagger pull up three from Trae Young started with a steal of his own.
The much improved defense in the second half was very evident, with the Hawks holding the Magic to just 44 points and just 17 on 5-for-18 (28%) shooting in the fourth quarter alone. “Our defense showed up in the fourth quarter,” concurred coach McMillan.
John Collins’ solid defense and grind on the boards didn’t go unnoticed after the game. Collins continued his hot start to the 2022-23 season with a crisp 23 points on 14 shots and 13 rebounds. He led all players with those 13 rebounds and tied for the game high with three on the offensive glass alone.
“He’s been playing great,” Trae Young had to say about Collins. “That’s the thing about John. He sees a couple go in and he’s able to string together a couple of more shots. He’s been able to see the ball go in and it’s been great for our team, and we’ve needed it. His energy on the rebounding. Defensive glass. We’re going to need that all year. I’m glad it’s shown through two games, but I know he can do it all year for us too.”
“Working all summer trying to improve my game in all areas,” said Collins about the evolution of his play.
“It’s good to see him get into a rhythm,” said McMillan about Collins. “He made some shots for us tonight. I thought he did a good job of defending and rebounding. We need him to get on the glass and rebound the ball.”
The improved defense in the second half also stemmed from a number of unsung heroes. Aaron and Justin Holiday have teamed with Dejounte Murray, De’Andre Hunter, and others to form a very formidable perimeter defense — one not seen in Atlanta in a long time. The Hawks also have 48 minutes of premier rim protection between a healthy Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu. All early signs point towards the Hawks improving their 26th-ranked finish in defensive efficiency from a year ago — possibly even by leaps and bounds.
All in all, despite a tough challenge from the Magic in the first half, the Hawks proved their worth and turned a 13-point deficit at one point into a 10-point win. The win keeps the Atlanta Hawks undefeated in the young season at 2-0. They now direct their attention to the final home game of this opening season home stand against a depleted Charlotte Hornets on Sunday afternoon.