The Hawks improved to 2-0 at home in the preseason with a dominating 97-68 victory over the New Orleans Hornets. In a tale of two halves, the Hawks sputtered out of the gate and were down 26-23 after the first quarter and were tied at the half 40-40.
In the first half, the Hawks forced a lot of contested jump shots but were dominated on the boards. The Hornets outshot the Hawks 38.9 percent to 31.8 percent in the first half, and out-rebounded the Hawks 29-17. Anthony Davis dominated the first quarter with 11 points, including the Hornets first seven points. Davis showed why he was the top draft pick and a member of the US Olympic team this summer finishing the game with 19 points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes.
The Hawks struggled in the first quarter defensively, especially defending the Hornets pick-and-roll offense. They made a change in the second quarter to stop switching screens and instead pressured the ball-handler, which made a big difference in their defensive effectiveness for the rest of the game. Larry Drew would not offer any specifics to what defensive adjustments were made at the half, but did say they made some changes to try and slow down the pick-and-roll.
“I thought our guys came out in the second half and really turned the energy up,” said Drew. “We made some adjustments in the second half, in the first half the pick-and-roll was hurting us, and in the second half we made adjustments…and we were able to neutralize their pick-and-roll game [in the second half].”
The Hawks came out in the second half on a mission to be more aggressive defensively and get to the basket offensively. Atlanta outscored the Hornets 26-7 in the third quarter to give them a comfortable 66-47 lead. The Hawks forced the issue on defense and were able to jumpstart their transition game. Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Devin Harris all had a good quarter and really were catalysts for the team on both sides of the ball. Devin scored nine points in the quarter, while Josh added seven. Al, Josh and Devin each got and-one opportunities early in the quarter by driving into the lane and taking contact. Coach Drew challenged his team at the half to be aggressive and get the ball inside in the second half, and the team delivered.
“We really tried to make a conscious effort of going inside, particularly after the first half when we settled for too many jump shots. We have guys that can make shots, but I told the guys, that jump shot’s not going to be on night in and night out, so we have to be able to establish ourselves in the low post which I thought we did a really good job of in the second half.”
Jeff Teague went down with a sprained left ankle with 3:57 left in the quarter and did not return. His status remains uncertain, but it would seem unlikely that he would risk playing Saturday night against the Mavericks. Zaza Pachulia also went to the ground in the fourth quarter grabbing his left leg and stayed down for about 30 seconds, but immediately returned to the game after what turned out to be just a scare.
Josh Smith led the Hawks in scoring with 16 points along with seven rebounds and three assists. Al Horford had a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards, while Anthony Morrow had his best showing scoring 15 points, many of which coming down the stretch in the fourth quarter. Lou Williams continued to be an offensive threat scoring 10 points, but led the team with eight assists. Mike Scott and Anthony Tolliver played nicely with Scott finishing with seven points and five boards and Tolliver scoring eight including two three-pointers.
Despite the Hawks sluggish start, they were able to rally and finish the game with a 41.9% field goal percentage and closed the rebounding gap by out-rebounding the Hornets 27-16 in the second half. The change from switching screens to staying with their assignment seemed to have a big impact on the defensive performance in the second half, and their pressure forced 11 second half turnovers which they turned into 18 points.
Atlanta will be back in action Saturday night against the Mavericks at 7 p.m. in the Highlight Factory. The game is not televised, but will be broadcast on radio on 680 The Fan.