Hawks Resurge: Nab Home Opener Win Over Mavs
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
Story by KL Chouinard
ATLANTA -- For 12 minutes of basketball, the debut of State Farm Arena wasn't a success by any metric for the Hawks. Then the Atlanta defense reset itself, and the Hawks began the process of laying a 26-point deficit to bed while turning their home building's rechristening into a smash hit. And despite some early hiccups, rookie Trae Young was the star of the night's final act.
Kent Bazemore played a wire-to-wire game, scoring a career-high 32 points and setting an example that his younger teammates eventually picked up on. Taurean Prince made five threes and scored 24 points. DeAndre' Bembry had 11 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, notching his first career double-double in the process.
On the other hand, it wasn't that trio's offensive numbers that changed the game; it was their defense. Led by rookie sensation Luka Doncic and his 12 first-quarter points, the Dallas Mavericks got their offense rolling early and posted a 42-point first quarter.
Head coach Lloyd Pierce then turned the game over to his best perimeter defenders. Bembry, Bazemore, and Prince each played over 10 minutes in the second quarter. By combining their length and agility on the perimeter of the defense, Pierce changed the flow of the game.
"We challenged our guys at one of the timeouts to just get three stops in a row," Pierce said. "I think we finished the second quarter with 12-of-15 stops. It was just personal pride on the defensive end."
According to Bembry, the Hawks tilted their defense toward the Mavericks' top offensive threats.
"We started locking in and keying on certain players to make other players take shots," Bembry said, "and those defensive plays led us to offense."
The Hawks held the Mavericks to 16 second-quarter points and clawed their way back into the game, but they didn't take their first lead of the night until the 5:13 mark of the fourth quarter, when Young drew a shooting foul on a three-point attempt and made all three free throws.
Moments later, Young froze a defender with a spin move and drove in for a layup while getting knocked on his back. After sitting on hushed emotions for over three quarters, the fans inside the new building had something to scream for.
"I'm super proud of Trae Young," Bazemore said. "The first three quarters were rough, but down the stretch, he got the crowd into it and he really helped us separate down the end."
Young scored 12 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and made 8 of 9 free throws over the same time frame. When Dallas applied some physical full-court pressure in the final two minutes, Young carefully maintained possession of the ball and converted all but one of his free throws.
Bembry quipped afterward about his incredible rebounding performance that more than doubled his previous career-high.
"It's what I do."
Despite the humor, he's not wrong. Without his defense, there weren't going to be as many missed shots – and those misses led to rebounds and easier offensive chances.
"It feels amazing to come out here and get those type of minutes in this type of arena," Bembry said.
Then DeAndre' hit on the theme of the night, summing up an incredible comeback spurred by a feisty and attentive defense of the final three quarters.
"First game in State Farm Arena was pretty dope."