After three and a half tightly contested quarters in which neither the Hawks nor the short-handed Pelicans were able to pull away, Mike Muscala assisted Paul Millsap on a cutting layup that began a 6-0 run for Atlanta. Alvin Gentry called a timeout for New Orleans after Jeff Teague’s driving floater with 5:10 left to play. But the 93-85 cushion was enough for the Hawks to withstand Eric Gordon’s heroics as they improved to 8-2 with the 106-98 victory at Philips Arena.
Atlanta got off to a slow start, something that has been an unsettling trend in this young season. The injury-plagued Pelicans (who have already been without Norris Cole, Tyreke Evans, and Quincy Pondexter all season) entered tonight’s game without Anthony Davis after he bruised his hip the night before against Dallas. They were still able to outplay the Hawks for most of the half. There were eight lead changes and seven ties in the first quarter and New Orleans went up 26-24 on a goal-tending call against Thabo Sefolosha (Ish Smith was credited with the basket). Atlanta wouldn’t take the lead again until midway through the third quarter.
The Pelicans’ 56-47 advantage at halftime was largely due to outstanding shooting from behind the arc. Three of their starters were 2-for-3 (Luke Babbitt, Gordon and Smith; Ryan Anderson made two of his four attempts) and the team as a whole shot 61% (11-for-18). Al Horford kept the Hawks in the game with 20 first-half points and Millsap had 9 rebounds during that span. Coach Bud made a point of addressing his team’s inability to match the Pelicans’ early intensity during his postgame press conference:
A lot of credit [goes] to New Orleans coming in on a back-to-back without Anthony Davis and all the injuries they’re dealing with. They had us definitely on our heels. I think we’ve got to play a lot better coming out to start games and not put ourselves in that kind of hole.
Fortunately for Hawks fans, this team has shown they are capable of making significant adjustments in the second half. Horford opened the third quarter by hitting a 3-pointer (assisted by Teague) and blocking a pull-up jump shot by Babbitt. Kent Bazemore rebounded Smith’s failed 3-point attempt and found Millsap for a running layup that cut New Orleans’ lead to four. The Pelicans failed to hit a single shot from behind the arc during the third quarter (0-for-5), and when it was over the Hawks had outscored them 29-19 and entered the fourth with a 76-75 lead.
Atlanta never fell behind again. New Orleans kept it close until the Hawks’ 6-0 run midway through the quarter put them ahead by eight. After Millsap capitalized on a pair of and-1 opportunities resulting from fouls by Alonzo Gee, Atlanta was up 105-91 with 1:40 to play. Gordon and Gee both had dunks in the final minutes and Toney Douglas hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but ultimately the Hawks’ strong finish was too much for the Pelicans to overcome.
“Obviously credit to the players for finding a way to play much better in the second half, especially defensively,” Coach Bud said when asked about the adjustments his team made. “I think it’s the players and their effort and committment. Whether it’s coverages, assignments or any of those things, it doesn’t really matter if you don’t bring the energy. I thought the players brought the energy in the second half.”
Those familiar with their careers will understand the irony of a healthy Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson keeping New Orleans in this game despite so many of their teammates being sidelined. Gordon scored a team-high 26 points on 10-for-20 shooting (4-for-6 from three) and Anderson contributed 17 points (7-for-16) and 11 boards. Smith had a double-double as well (18 points, 10 assists) and Douglas added 12 points off the bench. Despite missing his only field goal attempt, Omer Asik was New Orleans’ only starter without a negative plus-minus (he was dead even).
Kyle Korver was Atlanta’s only starter with single-digit points (seven on 3-for-7 shooting), but the Hawks were still plus-13 during his team-high 33 minutes on the court. Bazemore was quiet as well, contributing only 10 points and missing all 4 of his 3-point attempts. Teague didn’t have a particularly efficient game either as he needed 16 shots to score his 14 points, but his 10 assists still gave him a double-double. Horford had the best game offensively by far (26 points, 11-for-15, 4-for-6 from three, eight rebounds), but Millsap stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, 16 rebounds, two assists and three steals.
Dennis Schröder added 12 points (5-for-11) off the bench and Hawks fans everywhere rejoiced when Coach Bud put Mike Muscala in the game. He and Schröder were the only bench players with a positive plus-minus (plus-2 and plus-3, respectively), and though he only attempted 2 shots, the fans at Philips nearly lost their minds on both his failed dunk attempt and his successful 3-pointer. Perhaps fans will have some opportunities to shout “MOOOOOSE” from the comfort of their own homes when the Hawks face off against the Boston Celtics Friday night at 7:30 PM EST.