The Hawks tipped off their 2023-24 campaign with a battle against their Southeast Division rivals, the Charlotte Hornets. Atlanta began with a new starting lineup this year: Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, De’Andre Hunter, Saddiq Bey, and Clint Capela.
It was a rough beginning for the Hawks defense which gave up numerous easy opportunities at the rim to their opponent. At the first timeout, the Hornets led 17-12 with neither side able to hit a three in the first section of the new season.
The Hawks’ bench mob of Young/Murray, Bogdan Bogdanovic, AJ Griffin, Jalen Johnson, and Onyeka Okongwu came in and gave the team a big lift. Griffin is looking to jumpstart a breakout year in his sophomore season with moves like in the below clip:
AJ's bag is like that. pic.twitter.com/USmnd49X6e— Bally Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnBally) October 25, 2023
The bench was able to turn defense into offense and throw down some nasty dunks in transition. Jalen Johnson here finished off maybe the most audacious off the backboard lob in history:
Dunk 3: Trae OFF THE BACKBOARD to Jalen pic.twitter.com/2h30CBD8C5— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) October 25, 2023
After one quarter, the Hawks led 29-25. Between the end of the first quarter and the start of the second quarter, the Hawks went on a dunk parade with no fewer than five emphatic dunks.
The Hornets managed to punch back early in the second quarter, however, and Quin Snyder was forced to use a timeout with the Hawks holding onto a 35-31 lead. After that, the Hawks again took control of the proceedings with strong passing lane defense and runouts toward their own basket.
Unfortunately, the starters couldn’t maintain the energy bench unit brought, and Charlotte was able to close the half on an 11-3 run. As a result, Atlanta clung to a 52-51 halftime lead. Jalen Johnson was the most outstanding performer for Atlanta with 13 points and six rebounds off the bench. But with the Hawks suffering through a 1-for-12 (8%) stretch from three, they looked to right their shooting luck in the second half.
In the third quarter, the lead passed back and forth with both sets of starters in the game. Neither team could buy buckets during extended stretches, and it looked as though both teams were still in preseason or even offseason mode. Charlotte jumped out to a decent lead as the Hawks went cold for almost a six-minute stretch with no field goals.
Atlanta faced a 78-73 deficit to begin the final quarter, the Hawks had to dig deep to find the right answer to close the game out. And dig deep they did, finding a quick spurt to put them ahead within three minutes into the fourth quarter. Saddiq Bey came alive in this period, and he put his strength on display like on this drive to the hoop plus the harm:
Just like all too many Hawks-Hornets regular season matchups recently, the good guys would have to execute down the stretch to put away a feisty young home team. But it quickly looked like Atlanta had shot themselves in the foot a couple too many times to pull this one off.
A Trae Young three with under a minute to play to break a personal cold spell gave the Hawks some hope. That triple brought the score to just 111-108 in favor of the Hornets. But Atlanta would never have a chance to take the lead and fell to the Hornets, 116-110.
Jalen Johnson finished with a career-high 21 points to go along with seven rebounds. But the Hawks as a whole sagged to a 5-for-29 (17%) night from three. This was not how Quin Snyder and his staff wanted the team to start their new season, and they’ll have plenty of things to clean up in the coming weeks ahead.
Atlanta will now return home to take on the New York Knicks in a Friday night home opener.