The Atlanta Hawks up and down start to the season continued with a 90-86 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday night. The loss capped off an 0-4 week that included three losses at home. For a team that only lost seven times at home last season that is mildly concerning. The Hawks made many improvements from their last loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in last night's game, however when was all said and done the result was ultimately the same.
If these four losses all had a common thread it would be that the Hawks couldn't overcome the damage that they ultimately caused themselves. Turnovers and allowing offensive rebounds have undone some pretty good shooting nights. Even last night the Hawks shot 49% from the field but committed 16 turnovers which directly led to 14 points for the Jazz. Also factor in 15 more offensive rebounds for the visiting team and that was quite an obstacle for the team to overcome. Yet they might have did just that if not for a complete self destruction from the free throw line. Atlanta had virtually been in the top five in the NBA in free throw percentage but their 11-21 performance from last night now has them outside the top 10. It is true that the Hawks won't shoot that bad from the line on most nights but it is frustrating knowing that it ultimately cost them a win on this night. A win that they desperately needed despite how early it is in the season.
We knew coming into the game that the Jazz wouldn't quit as they had proven in wins against the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic just this week. So even when the Hawks lead stretched to double figures there was no doubt that the Jazz were capable of a comeback. Coach Drew said this after the game:
"We have to learn how to grind in crunch-time situations," L.D. said. "We’ve got to make the plays."
It was those plays at crunch time that the Hawks simply couldn't make down the stretch. Trailing by two down the stretch the Hawks went with a pick and roll play that got Al Horford to the free throw line for the tie. On this night Horford missed them both but it was that kind of execution where the Hawks got exactly what they wanted and yet couldn't make the play. The same case could be made for several offensive rebounds that they allowed down the stretch. It seemed that the Hawks were in position yet just couldn't secure the play.
Even in a loss there were a lot of positives to take from this one. Marvin Williams and Mo Evans returned from injury. Williams started and played 30 minutes while Mo Evans came off the bench to play 12 minutes. With seemingly all of the key pieces back in their accustomed roles, the bench didn't play the disappearing act that they had in the Hawks last two losses. Josh Smith was a beast scoring 20 points and grabbing 13 rebounds while being dominant for some stretches. Joe Johnson was an efficient 10-17 from the floor for 23 points. Yet the Hawks still lost due in most part to the points they left at the free throw line.
In the grand scheme of things we are ten games into the season and the Hawks are winning at a .600 clip having won six of their first ten games. The important thing for the team is not to let a loss like this linger. It is easy to forget an overall meltdown like the Milwaukee game but games like this Jazz loss tend to linger a bit longer in the back of a players mind. After never getting rattled in the first six games of the season, the Hawks suddenly doesn't look that confident coming down the stretch of games. That is what this team and coach Drew is faced with regaining in the short term. The team is back on the court Sunday for a home game with the Timberwolves that dare I say is a must win. At this point the Hawks can't overlook anyone and it is paramount that they go out and right the ship on Sunday.