The Atlanta Hawks hope the defensive effort they produced in their opening game will continue when they make their first road appearance of the season against the winless Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.
With a balanced scoring attack and stellar defensive work, Atlanta defeated the Dallas Mavericks 113-87 on Thursday. The Cavaliers fell 123-112 to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday in their home opener, moving them to 0-2.
Atlanta’s defence was led by De’Andre Hunter, who is healthy after being limited to 23 games last season because of a knee injury. Hunter was the main defender assigned to Dallas star Luka Doncic and limited him to 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting.
“We can tell Dre, ‘Sic ’em,’ on anybody and he’s up for the challenge,” Atlanta forward John Collins said. “Running over screens, getting hit, doing whatever he needs to do to be a great defender,”
“He really set the tone for us by really just making [Doncic] work,” Nate McMillan, the Hawks’ coach, said
The other eye-opening performance in the Atlanta opener came from Cam Reddish, who missed the final 42 games of the 2020-21 regular season with a right Achilles injury.
Reddish is adding more offensive skills to his noted defensive prowess, making him a more complete player. He scored a team-leading 20 points off the bench against Dallas.
“I thought he played a beautiful game,” McMillan said. “He showed he can play on both sides of the floor.”
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Hunter may be asked to guard Cleveland’s Collin Sexton on Saturday.
Sexton grew up in the Atlanta suburbs, where he starred at Pebblebrook High School before going to Alabama. He scored 71 points in the three games against Atlanta last season, including 29 in a 112-111 win on February 23 in Cleveland.
In two games this season, Sexton has scored 50 points, including 33 against Charlotte.
Cleveland veteran Kevin Love needs 11 points to pass World B Free (6,329 points) for 11th on Cleveland’s all-time scoring list and five defensive rebounds to pass John ‘Hot Rod’ Williams (3,049) for fifth on the team’s all-time list.
The Cavs committed 19 turnovers against Charlotte, which led to 34 points for the Hornets and contributed greatly to the outcome of the game.
“They’re live-ball turnovers,” Cleveland coach, JB Bickerstaff, said. “It’s not like they’re shot-clock violations and the ball is going out of bounds.
“We’re turning it over and giving it to a team that wants to play fast and get up the floor quickly. That’s putting too much stress on our defence. You can’t survive those.”
Cleveland led Charlotte 59-54 at the half, but got outscored 69-53 in the second half.
“We just need to be more solid with the basketball and take the play that’s in front of us,” Bickerstaff said. “We find ourselves in tight games and now we’re trying to press and make the play instead of letting the game come to us.”
The Cavaliers won two of three games against the Hawks last season, with the clubs splitting the two contests played in Atlanta. The Hawks have lost on each of their past four visits to Cleveland.