Nine months is a long time, but the Atlanta Hawks finally returned to competitive NBA action on Friday evening at State Farm Arena. While the game had all of the hallmarks of the preseason, the Hawks also showed flashes of encouragement, though Atlanta eventually fell to the Orlando Magic by a final score of 116-112.
The Hawks began the night struggling to convert possessions into points, but there were some encouraging moments. DeAndre Hunter notched the first points of the season at the free throw line, and newly acquired wing Bogdan Bogdanovic made an early dent.
Not to be outdone, Trae Young found Clint Capela for a gorgeous lob and finish.
The Hawks began the night shooting just 4-of-17 from the floor (and 0-of-7 from three) with five turnovers, trailing by 13 points after just nine minutes. For the rest of the half, though, things were much improved, with Atlanta finally drawing even midway through the second quarter.
The Magic inched ahead once more, but Atlanta finished strong behind the play of John Collins and a (very) long-distance connection from Cam Reddish.
Despite shooting just 35 percent from the floor prior to halftime, the Hawks went into the break tied. Part of that was the team’s 11 offensive rebounds, including seven combined from Capela and Collins, but Atlanta was also aggressive in generating free throw attempts, and the team’s defense improved after a sluggish start.
The opening of the second half certainly featured sloppy play but, given that it was a preseason setting, that was anything but a surprise. On the bright side, Young dug into his bag and found an on-brand (and gorgeous) assist to Capela.
Orlando did get the best of the third quarter, shooting 57 percent to take a 10-point lead. Atlanta committed ten turnovers in the period, and sloppy play was an issue, to the extent that it normally would be in a preseason game.
The Hawks did respond, though, scoring the first five points of the fourth quarter and using a 15-5 overall run to tie the game at 92-92. Hunter was a catalyst, attacking the rim with effectiveness, and Atlanta’s defense picked up at the same time.
Given the setting, the Hawks relied heavily on reserves down the stretch, including the professional debuts of rookies Nathan Knight and Skylar Mays. Atlanta led by a 103-101 margin with less than four minutes to play, but Orlando nudged ahead from there and finished off a narrow victory.
Hunter led the team with 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 6-of-8 from the free throw line. Elsewhere, Collins and Gallinari scored 14 points each, with Reddish adding 13 points and eight rebounds. Capela finished his Hawks debut with eight points and a team-leading 14 rebounds in 20 minutes.
The Hawks and Magic will square off again on Sunday evening at State Farm Arena, with the Hawks scheduled to head to Memphis to face the Grizzlies next week.