Hawks beat Blazers, reach .500 for first time since December

The Hawks’ mountainous climb back to .500 is complete after a 122-113 victory over the Trail Blazers on Monday night. It wasn’t easy, but the team won both games of a home back-to-back against the Pacers and Blazers, a pair of lottery teams, to reach 34-34.

Next up, the Hawks face the Hornets (34-35) in Charlotte on Wednesday. The teams are separated by half a game in play-in tournament positioning.

Below are some takeaways from the win:

1. The Hawks are 34-34, reaching .500 for the first time since Dec. 15. It’s been a lengthy, at times frustrating journey for the Hawks, who dipped to a season-worst eight games under .500 (17-25) with a loss to the Knicks on Jan. 15.

They’re 17-9 since, still plagued by inconsistency but further distanced from the injuries and COVID-19 situations that spoiled their season’s onset. They’ve won eight of 12, with three of those four losses coming on the road against East contenders Boston, Chicago and Milwaukee.

2. The Hawks sleepwalked through much of the game, creating a 73-58 deficit early in the third. Guard Trae Young caught fire, scoring 15 of the Hawks’ next 19 points. Forward De’Andre Hunter’s free throws put the Hawks back up 79-77 at the 4:23 mark of the third. They wouldn’t relinquish the lead.

“This was not going to be an easy game,” coach Nate McMillan said. “Any team can beat you on any given night. I thought we had some open looks in that first half, and we weren’t knocking down our shots. It looked like we had heavy legs. They made a run. I’m really happy with our response in that second half.”

The Hawks ended the third on a 31-11 run. Young scored 21 in the period, equaling his first-half output. The Blazers didn’t go quietly, but the run was enough for the Hawks to protect their advantage over the final 12 minutes.

Hunter had a crucial 3-pointer that extended the Hawks’ lead to 116-111 with under two minutes remaining. The Blazers committed a 24-second violation on their ensuing possession, allowing the Hawks to essentially ice the game with a Hunter floater. Hunter, manning power forward with John Collins and Danilo Gallinari out, finished with 20 on 6-of-17 shooting.

3. Defense keyed the turnaround. The Hawks gave up 67 points in the first half; 46 in the second, including just 17 in the third quarter. They set a season high with 13 steals, pressing Portland into sloppiness. They forced eight turnovers in the third.

“We just buckled down,” Hunter said. “We talked about it at halftime. We had to keep them out of the paint, try to contain it as much as possible. They were still getting in the paint, but I think we did a good job helping, helping out (Clint Capela) when he goes up to block those shots, things like that.”

4. Young was marvelous again. After scoring 47 points Sunday, Young’s encore was a 46-point, 12-assist and six-rebound showing. He helped keep the Hawks within striking distance in the first half and took over in the third quarter. Young shot 15-for-31 (48%). His teammates shot 25-for-78 (32%).

From Hawks public relations: Young posted his 11th career contest with 40-plus points and 10-plus assists. He’s another such game from tying LeBron James and Allen Iverson for seventh most in NBA history. A reminder: Young is 23 years old.

5. The Blazers thank the Hawks for their efforts. Portland, down star Damian Lillard and other key starters, is focused on lottery position and youth development – even though the team is within striking distance of a berth in the play-in tournament. The Blazers (26-41) have lost seven of eight since Feb. 24.

Portland won’t be the last struggling team the Hawks face in the season’s final stretch. Just six of the Hawks’ remaining 14 opponents own a winning record. But as the past two nights illustrated, that doesn’t mean they can lay off the gas.

Hawks 122, Trail Blazers 113

Stat of the game:

20-4 (the Blazers committed 20 turnovers compared with the Hawks’ four)

Star of the game:

Young (The Hawks’ All-Star has scored 93 points over the past two games. He’s the first player this season to score 40-plus points in consecutive nights.)

Quotable:

“Hell yeah, I’m tired right now. But I’ll be all right.” (Young’s response when asked if he’s tired after the past two nights)