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Hawks win with monstrous first half, troubling second

San Antonio Spurs v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks defeated the San Antonio Spurs by a final score of 109-99 last night. The best way this game can be described is a tale of two halves. The Hawks went out with their usual starters in Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, Saddiq Bey, and Jalen Johnson. Starting for the Spurs were Victor Wembanyama, Tre Jones, Jeremy Sochan, Julian Champagnie, and Devin Vassell.

Compared to the previous two outings, the Hawks came out with an entirely different level of energy. Dejounte Murray scored a midrange and a layup, then Jalen Johnson knocked down a three-pointer as well as a layup. Johnson assisted on a dunk from Capela, and the Spurs finally scored their first points of the game on an easy transition dunk. This was an 11-0 start for the Hawks.

Young nailed his first bomb from three-point range, where he notably has struggled this month. The Spurs responded with a 9-5 run of their own to make it a respectable 16-9 start. However, at 18-10, Young reentered the game and delivered what would be an incredible quarter and half. On his second possession, he maneuvered around a ghost screen from Okongwu and made his second three-point attempt.

It was good to see the triples falling for Young again, but his playmaking may have been more impressive. There’s no better way to describe him than an offensive maestro. He delivered four dimes in the first quarter, while Johnson’s early playmaking brought him five first quarter assists. Capela, and the Hawks as a whole, were good in containing Wembanyama. In fact, he only had one shot attempt in the quarter. The Hawks were utterly dominant, outscoring the Spurs 35-16 thanks to this layup from Young as time expired.

Young scored ten points in the first, and continued his excellence in the second. He hit his third three in three tries for the first bucket of the quarter, and then assisted Johnson on a dunk to extend the lead further. Young was in complete control of the game, dicing the Spurs defense up in whichever way they’d choose.

It helps that the Spurs were tripping over their own feet offensively. They were not even attempting to utilize Wembanyama, and would eventually end the half just 12-of-45 from the field. I’d like to attribute this to the Hawks’ defense, but it was horrible work from the Spurs.

Young hit yet another three-pointer before exiting for Murray. The score was 46-16, with no signs of life from the Spurs. With the Murray, Forrest, Bogdanovic, Bey, and Okongwu lineup in, Forrest knocked down his first three of the season. It was wide open, and for good reason.

The Spurs somewhat dug into their deficit, but number 11 would reenter the game. He immediately hit another three, making him 5-of-5 from beyond the arc.

He logged two more dimes, one to Capela and one to Johnson, before extending the lead to 35 with just seconds left in the half. He brought his totals to 29 points and seven assists, an absurd line in just 19:00 minutes played. However, Bogdanovic and Bey combined for zero makes on nine attempts from beyond the arc. While it was masked by a masterclass half from Young, this wouldn’t be the case in the second half.

At this point in the follow, I’d like everyone to take a deep breath. The second half Hawks were unrecognizable compared to what we saw in the first. It is no secret the Hawks’ boast a horrid third quarter scoring margin, but it carried over to the fourth.

Julian Champagnie came out and knocked down two triples to start the third quarter. As for the Hawks, the offense went as follows: Turnover (8-second violation), turnover, miss, miss, miss. The Spurs immediately carved eight points out of their deficit in the first three minutes of the half. It wasn’t until the 8:49 mark until the Hawks scored their first points, and the first field goal came at 7:49.

On the other end, Victor Wembanyama was starting to take over the game. He finished a perfect 4-of-4 in the third, and shot 12-of-14 overall in the second half. The Hawks seemed to lose focus on his defensively, conceding very easy looks in the fastbreak.

Champagnie’s 15 points with Wembanyama’s eight led the Spurs to a 33-18 quarter. The Hawks shot just 6-of-21 from the field, and the offense looked lost. Young couldn’t get his floater to drop, and the Spurs forced him to throw a couple of turnovers. Bogdanovic and Bey both hit their lone three-pointer of the game in the third, but the Hawks shot just 2-of-8 overall from deep. The Hawks conceded six turnovers and made six field goals. With the massive first half, the Hawks still led 87-67.

Ideally, the Hawks would bounce back from such a quarter by winning, or coming close, in the fourth. However, it was Wembanayama’s quarter, and the Hawks’ offense continued to sputter.

The beginning of the quarter went as follows: miss (blocked shot), miss, miss, miss, make, miss, miss. This string of offense included three three-point attempts from Garrison Mathews, and he made one. With six minutes remaining, the lead dwindled to 11 points, and that’s not as low as it would go. The Hawks only had five points from Capela and the three from Mathews at this point. Victor Wembanyama scored the last six buckets of the game, bringing it as close as six points, and five of them were dunks.

After the lead was cut to six, Johnson successfully converted a dire and-one layup.

Trae Young then assisted on a Capela dunk as well, and extended the lead with free throws on the following possessions. Wembanyama missed a couple three-point attempts down the stretch, and if those drop, the Hawks may have been in danger. They were still outscored 32-22 in the quarter, as well as 65-40 in the half. Young’s first half showing would allow the Hawks to hold on, as he only scored seven in the second half. Most of Johnson’s damage came in the first half as well.

Young ended with 36 points, 13 assists, 5 rebounds, a block, and a steal. Johnson stuffed the stat sheet again with 16 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, and a career high 6 steals. When asked about his steals, he had a very mature response.

Jalen Johnson had this to say post-game when asked about how this team can grow.

“Probably those first five minutes of the half. A lot of the times, we get a good lead in the first half, we call a timeout because they go on a run. You just gotta cut back on that style that’s allowing that to happen. That gives the other team confidence and you seen it tonight they cut the lead to, I think it was six.”

The Hawks shot 7-of-27 from three outside of Young, and Bogdanovic and Bey combined 2-of-13.

In the postgame presser, Snyder spoke to limiting the damage on six, eight point runs and not allowing them to grow further. He says these runs they allow, like in the third and fourth last night, are “obviously something we’re aware of.”