Hawks edge Pelicans for ‘gut-check’ road win

Holding off a comeback attempt, the Hawks (3-1) edged the Pelicans (1-4) for a 102-99 win Wednesday in New Orleans.

Next up, the Hawks will play in Washington on Thursday for the second half of their first back-to-back of the season.

Below are some takeaways from the win:

1. It took a while for the Hawks to get going, but eventually they settled in to nab their first road win of the 2021 season on the first of a three-game trip, holding the Pelicans to 40 points in the second half. Getting down 16 early, they looked flat in the first quarter before making it a game again in the second and finally taking the lead midway through the third. Although the Hawks took an 84-77 lead into the fourth, they let the Pelicans back in it, and the game ended up coming down to the wire. John Collins (16 points, four assists despite early foul trouble) had an emphatic putback dunk to make the score 100-98, the Pelicans’ Herbert Jones made one of two free throws to whittle it down to one and Brandon Ingraham (guarded by De’Andre Hunter) missed a jumper with 3.5 seconds to play.

“Our defense showed up in the second half,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “It was kind of a gut-check for us tonight going back and forth with the lead, being down, and I thought the guys stayed with it and found a way to win.”

2. In the past, the Hawks have massively struggled against 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas may have led the Pelicans with 15 rebounds (to go with 16 points), but it was the Hawks dominating on the boards, 61-52, with 21 offensive rebounds to the Pelicans’ 10. That was a huge help throughout the game, with Collins and Capela grabbing 12 rebounds each (seven offensive for Collins, five offensive for Capela). The Pelicans were missing Zion Williamson (right foot fracture) and Josh Hart (right quad tendinosis), and were led in scoring by Devonte’ Graham (21 points, six assists) and Ingraham (20 points, eight rebounds).

3. After struggling with a bout of left shoulder soreness, Danilo Gallinari was available to play for the first time this season, finishing with nine points, seven rebounds and a steal in about 20 minutes. At full strength, he should space the floor and provide the second unit with more scoring pop, though it may take a while for that group to build up chemistry, McMillan pointed out pregame. Hunter, who missed Monday’s win vs. Detroit with a non-COVID illness, also was available and added 13 points.

4. In his 208th game, Trae Young became the fastest player in Hawks franchise history to reach the 5,000-point milestone, surpassing Bob Pettit (212), Pete Maravich (218), Joe Johnson (227) and Dominique Wilkins (230) on the list. Young led the Hawks with 31 points, seven assists and five rebounds

5. Backup guard Delon Wright helped the Hawks lock in on defense in the second half, finishing as a plus-11. Wright (11 points, five rebounds, three assists) hasn’t made a flashy impact on offense, but showed what he can bring on defense: “He’s just solid, and that’s what we need,” McMillan said. “He does a good job of controlling the tempo and does a good job of organizing us. He’s going to bring defense to the game, he doesn’t need offense to get him in the game.”

Hawks 102, Pelicans 99 (box score)

Stat of the game: 21 (offensive rebounds the Hawks tallied, to help extend possessions)

Star of the game: Young (led the Hawks in scoring with 31 points and seven assists)

Quotable: “This is exactly what we want, not in the way we executed it, but in the way we stuck together and fought our way back into the game. That’s what we want more of.” (Collins on overcoming struggles to get a win)