Vivlamore reporting from Philips Arena.
It didn’t exactly start with defense – but it got better. A whole lot better.
Hawks coach Larry Drew has preached his team must stop the opposition before starting the new up-tempo offense this exhibition season.
After a tough beginning, the Hawks erased a nine-point deficit en route to a convincing 97-68 victory over the Hornets Thursday night at Philips Arena. The Hawks (2-3) snapped a three-game losing streak.
Josh Smith led the Hawks with 16 points and seven rebounds. Anthony Morrow added 15 points. Devin Harris (14 points), Al Horford (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Lou Williams (10 points) were the other double-digit scorers. No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis scored a game-high 19 points with seven rebounds for the Hornets (3-2).
“Clearly it was a tale of two halves,” Drew said. “The first half we were a little stagnant. The second half we came out and put our foot on the gas and didn’t look back.”
The Hornets were shooting 60 percent from the field (9 of 15) with their first basket of the second quarter. It was part of an 8-2 run that turned into a nine-point lead. The Hawks turned up the defensive effort and by the end of the first half the Hornets were shooting 38.9 percent (14 of 36).
“We were causing havoc and turning it up on the defensive end,” Harris said. “When we are doing that, obviously, offensively we’ll find ways to score.”
The Hawks were beaten badly on the boards early. The Hornets held a 14-6 rebound advantage after the first quarter and a 29-17 edge at the half. At game’s end, the Hornets held just a 45-44 advantage.
Drew might want to record his halftime speech and save it for when the games count. The Hawks opened the third quarter on a 21-1 run to pull away for good. They took a 61-41 lead with 5:15 remaining in the period. At one point, the fast-breaking Hawks scored a basket plus a foul on four of five possessions.
The Hornets, by stark contrast missed their first 13 shots of the third quarter. They were held to just three field goals while being outscored 26-7 in the decisive quarter. By the end of the period their total shooting percentage was down to a measly 29.1 percent (16 of 55).
“We turned it up defensively,” Smith said. “We picked up full court. We didn’t gamble. We were able to get some deflections. We were able to get out on some fast breaks. When we got the rebounds I think me and Al did a good job at pushing it and finding the open man for easy transition points.”
The Hawks led by as many as 32 points. Coach and player insist the early-game issues were a matter of defensive energy.
“That second half, the third quarter, we were defensively a different team,” Morrow said. “That’s all it was. We had energy. We had effort. We contested shots. That’s what we have to do every single game. … Offensively, we are going to be fine. We just have to make sure that defensively we bring that same effort we brought in the second half.”
* Jeff Teague left the game in the third quarter with a left ankle sprain and did not return. Drew said following the game he did not have an update on Teague’s condition.
* The Hawks used their fifth different starting lineup of the preseason. Thursday was closer to what the team could use during the regular season with Teague, Harris, DeShawn Stevenson, Smith and Horford.
* Rookie John Jenkins did not dress out for the game with a hand contusion suffered during a recent practice. Kyle Korver was also inactive. Damion James, Ivan Johnson and Johan Petro did not play as coach’s decisions..
* Recording stars Ludacris and Ne-Yo were in attendance. Both were featured on the arena’s Kiss Cam.
* The Hawks will not practice Friday. They host the Mavericks Saturday night.
- Chris Vivlamore
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