The Atlanta Hawks met the Orlando Magic in Mexico City for a rare international tilt — just Atlanta’s second ever for a regular season contest. The Hawks rolled with their most common starting lineup featuring Jalen Johnson at power forward to counter budding star Paolo Banchero. In the end, the Hawks took back to the United States a 120-119 win in a very topsy-turvy contest.
The main story for Atlanta was Trae Young shaking off some early season rust and tallying a record-tying 41-points for a game in Mexico City. Young came into the night averaging just 22 points per game on shooting efficiency that was unsustainably low for him. But after his 12-for-27 (44%) night from the field that featured 5-for-15 (33%) shooting from three, this performance may be just what he needs to put the prior seven games behind him.
Here, Trae Young sizes up Goga Bitadze on a switch. With the seven-footer shying away from crowding Young at the arc, the electric guard hits him with a step-back for three.
In the same vein, veteran forward Joe Ingles has no real shot at walling off Young from getting into the paint and scoring with his patented floater.
Below, Trae comes off the screen with Moritz Wagner playing drop coverage. And Wagner drops and drops and drops, leading to a three-point play after the foul from Cole Anthony.
And here, he splits the Orlando blitz at halfcourt and easily wins the 4-on-3 situation.
Young finished the half with 33 points on 9-for-14 (64%) shooting from the field to easily lead all players.
Orlando didn’t go away quietly, however, even as Trae Young continued to go nuclear. Atlanta had a tough time preventing the Magic guards from getting into the paint and breaking down the defense. As such, the Hawks settled for a 73-69 margin at the midway break due to 32 points in the paint ceded to their division rivals in just the first 24 minutes.
Even after a hot start in the third quarter, the Hawks hit a wall towards the end of that period, and a 10-0 run helped Orlando race to a 88-83 edge with 12 minutes left in regulation.
But at around the seven-minute mark in the fourth quarter, the Hawks put together a late burst of defensive intensity. That is, of course, the most generous reading of what happened late Thursday night into Friday morning as the high altitude air surely played a large part as well.
Here, Bogdan Bogdanovic uses his quick hands to break up the pass from Jalen Suggs to Paolo Banchero and start an important fast break for Atlanta.
Here, the Hawks force the Magic to drain the shot clock, and Jalen Suggs has to force up a tough attempt over an outstretched Jalen Johnson.
That defensive possession led to a Dejounte Murray score in transition to cap off a 12-2 Hawks run and pull Atlanta to within one point.
Johnson had a fair number of other defensive highlights down the stretch as well, adding to a 19-point, nine-rebound night.
First, a long closeout on Jonathan Isaac.
Then, a huge charge drawn as he’s isolated against Banchero.
Atlanta made clutch stop after clutch stop down the stretch to give their offense a chance to pull this game out, holding the Magic to just six points in the final six minutes. But it took until the final minute for the Hawks offense to finally capitalize on these chances.
Below, Trae Young was able to penetrate and use a wraparound pass to find Dejounte Murray in the corner for what would be the winning shot in this contest.
The Hawks stamped the victory with more stop on Orlando.
“I just wanted to try to make a play,” Young exclaimed about the final assist. “I got Paolo [Banchero] on me and just wanted to try to attack him. I know we were in the bonus, so he’s not going to be too physical on me. I just wanted to try to use my speed to get by him. If there was no help coming, I was going to shoot the layup.”
“So when [Isaac] came and helped, it was time for me to make the read,” he continued. “I saw another guy clamp down on our big. Like I said a couple of game ago, I should be able to throw that blindly and know my teammate’s gonna be there. Yet again. [Murray] was there and hit a three. And it was the biggest three of the night for us.”
Trae Young’s 41 points were both tied for the most points ever scored in an NBA game in Mexico as well as the record-setter for points for a Hawk against the Magic — marks tied with Luka Doncic and previously held by Joe Johnson respectively.
“Two things to me that really stood out,” head coach Quin Snyder had to say after the contest. “We got two charges late when we really needed stops defensively. And then the final play, Trae [Young] drove it. Got by his man and then found [Murray] in the corner. And he was ready to shoot and obviously knocked down the shot.”
“They have a thing called ‘qSQ’ [Quantified Shot Quality],” he explained later about the popular analytics service. “It ranks the shot selection. That’s really important to us. We have enough guys who can make shots. And it’s just important for us to take them. Because if you stop taking them, you don’t get an opportunity to make them.”
Asked about the 7000-foot altitude in Mexico City, Young replied, “Hell yeah. The altitude affected all of us. It affected me too. There was a moment in the third quarter I asked to come out. I usually come out early in the third quarter anyway, but I think I asked to come out a couple of seconds before because the altitude got to me.”
The teams combined for just 97 points after halftime compared to 142 points before it, further illustrating the toll the travel and high elevation took on both sides. Still, the Hawks were able to overcome that and a feisty Orlando Magic team to reach 5-3 on the season.
The Atlanta Hawks head back stateside for their next game — a home matchup with another Southeast Division rival in the Miami Heat. This game will get underway just after 7:30 PM EST on Saturday, November 11 in State Farm Arena.