After a back and forth affair that had 12 lead changes, the Hawks finally pulled away from the Orlando Magic in Atlanta and won 103-94. The Hawks evened their record at 3-3 with the win.
The Hawks shot a lot of jump shots for the first 24 minutes and as a result, only drew 2 free throw attempts that half. The offense has yet to become a worry, but to nitpick, this team has a tendency to fall into jump shooting lulls. The Magic outscored the Hawks 38-26 in the paint for the game, but much of that is a difference in offensive philosophy: a middle of the road-paced, post-oriented team versus an uptempo, jump-shooting team. Regardless, was an ugly clash of styles for both teams. For whatever reason, the Hawks seem to always pull out unsightly slugfests when these two teams have matched up in recent years, and tonight was no exception. Tonight’s win made it 11 straight for the Hawks over the Magic.
In the third quarter, the Hawks jumped out to a 64-47 lead on the backs of an 18-2 run, but the Magic answered with a 24-6 run as the bench bigs, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn, took over. Sloppy Atlanta defense was the culprit, as the Hawks found themselves out of position, having to save themselves with fouls. Three point shooting kept Orlando afloat in the fourth quarter and throughout the game, as they finished 8-17 from three. Thankfully, the Hawks were able to put the game away on the backs of transition buckets and free throws late in the fourth quarter to salt the game.
Defending the three point arc has been yet another a heel in the Hawks defense. Opponents are now shooting 40.8% from long range, putting the Hawks in the bottom 5 of the the league. The Hawks must jump out to defend long range shooters and have faith that their teammates will slide if an opponent drives past the original defender. This kind of team cooperation through slides and recoveries are necessary in a league where many teams, like the Hawks, employ motion-based offenses.
Paul Millsap and Al Horford continue to prove themselves as matchup nightmares. Both are regarded as accomplished jump shooting forwards, but have enough sneaky quickness to slide past the defense for easy buckets right under the hoop. It has been a joy to see them operate in tandem.
Jenkins’s absence from the rotation has finally been answered. AJC Hawks beat writer Chris Vivlamore posted press quotes before the game from Coach Budenholzer regarding why Jenkins has been planted on the bench for all but 6 minutes this game. Apparently, it is not because of his back spasms that limited him in the preseason but rather his defensive performance. Coach Bud’s quote was:
“Defensively, we feel that is where we need to be better so we are talking to John about making that his focus also and that is a real priority. Offensively, we are doing OK. That is probably John’s strength. Right now, I think he needs to focus on that defensive end and make sure he is doing everything possible at that end of the court.”
This could be a case of anticipating diminishing results, as playing Jenkins probably only marginal aid an Atlanta offense that came into tonight 6th in the Association scoring 1.038 points per possession. This can help explain the large amounts of minutes for Cartier Martin, essentially the 15th man on this roster after being signed during the preseason, whose role is to play solid wing defense and knock down three pointers.
According to TeamRanking.com, the Hawks came into Saturday night 26th in defensive efficiency, giving up 1.043 points per possession. Some of this is due to a bottom five three point defensive effort so far in the season, as well as a bottom three defensive fast break efficiency mark. It should not come as a big worry long term, however. There are a lot of pieces on this team that were other places last season; it will take sometime for the defense to mesh.
The good news is the Hawks held the Magic to only 4 points in transition last night. Of course, the Magic certainly are not known to be a transition-reliant team. They would much rather work methodically through the post with the underrated Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson. Credit the Hawks post crew to keeping Vucci Mane on ice, as he was only 2 game removed from a 30 points, 21 rebound monster of an output against the Los Angeles Clippers. In addition, the Hawks put the clamps on heralded draft pick Victor Oladipo, especially near the rim. Those two finished 5-18 for only 11 points and 9 rebounds in 54 combined minutes.
More good news comes on the injury front: Gustavo Ayón was declared available pre-game, as he was cleared medically for game action. He sat out the first five Hawks regular season games with inflammation in his shoulder and a rotator-cuff strain. However, he like John Jenkins did not appear in Saturday’s matchup.
In what has been a developing trend for the Atlanta Hawks, the team is sharing the ball at an incredible rate. As a team, the Hawks assisted on 36 of 43 made buckets. With 13 assists tonight, Jeff Teague is averaging 9.8 assists per game this season, which would rank second behind only Chris Paul coming into Saturday night.
Another trend developing is the heavy reliance on the starting quintet of Teague, Korver, Carroll, Millsap and Horford. All logged at least 30 minutes of action, including the Millsap and Horford duo recording 40 minutes against the Magic. In addition, the starters were the owners of 82 of the total 104 points scored Saturday. As noted earlier, the DNP-CD’s of Jenkins and Ayon, as well as the continued ACL recovery from Lou Williams has clearly put a hamper on the bench’s ability to help the team. In addition, Dennis Schröder easily had the worst offensive game of his young career, finishing an unsightly 0-8.
Despite a mostly lackluster 3-3 start, the Hawks are tied in the loss column for first in the Southeast Division and tied for second in the Eastern Conference. So far, there’s a logjam in the middle of the conference, with Indiana separating themselves from the pack, but it’s early. As a reminder, the Hawks started 3-3 last season, before going on a 17-7 run to get to 20-10, so anything can happen.
The Hawks next play Monday night in Charlotte against the Bobcats.
1. Kyle Korver: Horford and Millsap dominating is and will most likely continue to be a common occurrence so let’s spread out the Game Balls love tonight. Korver really looked determined to get involved early in all facets of the game. Yes, he’s an incredibly well-versed and accomplished three point shooter, but he’s much more than that. In addition to 14 points on 10 shots and extending his three point streak to 79, he chipped in with 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Rock on, Ashton Kutcher, rock on.
2. DeMarre Carroll: Everytime I seem to look up, a head of dreadlocks is flying around, drawing contact or launching three pointers. He resembles a Charlotte Bobcats-era Gerald Wallace an awful lot, with his endless hustle and lack of fear on the floor. He had a perfect shooting night, although his 5 turnovers put a damper on his fine outing.
3. Mike Scott: Scotty had 17 of the bench’s 24 points in only 14 minutes of play. The Magic big men seemed rather reluctant to step out and defend Mike’s jumpers and he made them pay big time. Who would have thought a second round pick would be the most stable and effective piece of the bench tonight?