The Atlanta Hawks notched a second successive victory as they defeated the short-handed Indiana Pacers 131-128 on Sunday evening at State Farm Arena.
Trae Young starred, scoring 47 points, while both Danilo Gallinari — inserted into the starting lineup in place of the injured John Collins — and De’Andre Hunter added 15 points as seven Hawks scored in double-digits.
For the Pacers — who were without T.J. Warren, Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. McConnell, Myles Turner and Ricky Rubio and only had eight players available — both Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield scored 25 points each in a very spirited effort.
The Hawks entered this contest as clear-cut favorites, the Pacers’ having effectively conceded their season and without many of their key players last night. And it seemed that things would unfold as expected, as Young absolutely dominated the first half, scoring 33 points.
Let’s take a look at how he did it.
Young’s dominance of the first half resided from downtown, hitting seven three-pointers.
Young’s first three comes in a pull-up situation from deep as the Pacers were slack in their defense of Young and allow him to walk into a three he’s more than capable of hitting:
A nice out-of-bounds play leads to Young’s second three-pointer as he inbounds the ball to Clint Capela, uses the screen from Kevin Huerter, receives the ball back from Capela and hits the corner three:
This time, Young utilizes the mid-court screen from Capela before springing into another deep three-pointer:
The Pacers were not tight enough to Young on screens and when Hunter creates the switch for Young on this play, Young pulls the trigger before the switch can get close enough to him:
This time, Huerter comes to set the screen/create the switch and as soon as he does Young, again, immediately pulls the trigger before the switch can properly guard/contest Young:
Now fully feeling it, Young decides to ride this wave and this time creates his own separation with this step-back three-pointer as he stops on a dime:
To cap off his domination from three, Young hits another pull-up three-pointer and, given that just about everything was falling for him at this point, converts it:
Young shot 9-of-13 from the field, 7-of-9 from three and 8-of-8 from the free throw line...in the first half. That would be a fantastic stat-line for a full-game, let alone a first half.
Young attributed his first half to an aggression both McMillan and his teammates have wanted him to enforce.
“(Nate’s) been wanting me to come out aggressive and come out playing fast and picking up the pace,” said Young of his first half. “Getting into more drags and some more pick-and-rolls with our bigs and trusting me to make the right reads. Him and everybody else have been wanting me to be more aggressive lately and just trying to be that way for them.”
“Trae was really hot,” added Onyeka Okongwu. “We really feed off of that. When a guy like that is hot it lifts everybody else up.”
Young’s 33 points contributed to a season-high 77 points in a half for the Hawks, Gallinari creeping into double-digit scoring in the first half with 11 points.
The Pacers decided that Young’s dominance was not going to carry on any further and proceeded to guard Young differently in the second-half, limiting him to just 14 second half points (and that includes free throws at the end of the game).
The Hawks had been relatively unthreatened up until the third quarter where a quick Pacers run cut the lead to seven points. The Hawks responded to this run and extended their lead to double-digits once again and, through Bogdan Bogdanovic, ran up to a 15 point lead in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Hawks would seal the deal from this point on: 15 point lead against a very depleted Pacers side. Even with 3:36 remaining in the game the Hawks led by nine points after a Hunter three seemed safe enough but back-to-back threes from the Pacers cut the lead to a suddenly unsafe three points, putting the Hawks in a position they should never have been in.
Hunter ensured some parity would be restored to the Hawks as he draws this foul at the rim on the drive from the corner:
Young then pushes the lead to seven points with this step-back shot:
The Pacers then call for a timeout and would proceed to reel five straight points to cut the lead back to two points and would then have an opportunity to tie or take the lead when Huerter was called for this offensive foul:
The Pacers, however, cannot capitalize as Haliburton can’t hit the three over the Capela switch and on the rebound the Pacers go over the back of Young and — after much review — would go to the line to shoot free throws:
The Hawks eventually held on to take victory here but in a far from convincing manner against an opponent they should have easily had the measure of.
Postgame, Hawks head coach Nate McMillan believed the Hawks didn’t always maintain spacing when the Pacers trapped/doubled Young in the second half.
“We knew they were going to have to be aggressive,” said McMillan postgame. “What they did we’ve seen that all season long trapping Trae — we call it ‘hitting’ Trae — putting two guys on Trae. You’ve just got to keep your spacing and continue to be aggressive. I thought we sort of relaxed and allowed their traps to become a stop-sign. We were just trying to get the ball to Trae and play off of that. It’s simple: space the floor. You got two on the ball you move the ball and look to attack and be aggressive.”
Atlanta effectively won this game on the strength of their first half, despite the Pacers outscoring the Hawks by 15 points in the second half. Obviously without the heroics of Young, it would be difficult to envision a victory here for the Hawks, which is honestly pretty poor given that the Pacers had eight players available and were on the second night of a back-to-back. Few people will care, given that the Hawks secured the victory, but it’s concerning that the Hawks barely squeaked by in this spot when this should have been a comfortable victory.
Offense wasn’t an issue but defense was. Other than Keifer Sykes — who was scoreless — every single other Pacer who played scored in double digits (seven in total). It should never have been as close as it was but, again, the Hawks let their foot off of the gas and appeared to underestimate their opponent and this was one of the times it didn’t cost them victory.
Ultimately, the Hawks won the game as expected and, once the game got going, as they should have. Now, the Hawks will carry on and, once again, attempt to return to .500 tonight — something the team have been aware of.
“We know that, we’ve been here before,” said McMillan when reminded of the Hawks closing in on .500. “For us it’s about closing out this home stand. We’re going to have to put these last two games behind us and come out with that focus we had from the beginning and get to that level of play once again. We’re going to need to bring that from start to finish. The game-plan doesn’t change: we have to establish ourselves right from the start, both defensively and offensively. I thought our guys did that tonight. We were able to build a pretty good lead, get control of the game and finish this game. Same game-plan tomorrow night.”
The Hawks (33-34) are back in action tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers (26-40) at State Farm Arena.
A fantastic opportunity to finally return to .500 awaits the home side.
Until next time...