The Atlanta Hawks opened the 2013-14 NBA season Wednesday night with a 118-109 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. As was the case for much of the preseason, Atlanta's struggles on the defensive end of the floor proved to be the difference.
Dallas jumped out of the gates quickly by answering Al Horford's opening basket with a quick 9-0 run. Atlanta trailed by as many as 10 points in the opening quarter before they slowly started to pull themselves out of the hole. The Mavericks closed the first quarter with a 33-28 lead.
The Hawks' best defensive quarter came in the second when they outscored the Mavericks 27-20 to take a 55-53 lead into halftime. Atlanta was able to force some turnovers which helped ignite their transition game and led to easy baskets. Jeff Teague picked up where he left off in the first quarter with six points and four assists while Paul Millsap scored 10 of his 20 points in the second quarter.
Atlanta led 70-67 with 5:49 to go in the third before Monta Ellis found Vince Carter with an alley oop that ignited a 17-4 Dallas run to put them up 84-74. The Hawks tried to fight back in the fourth cutting the lead to just seven at a couple of different opportunities but Dallas knocked down 7-of-8 three point attempts down the stretch to keep them at bay.
Atlanta's defensive effort was somewhat of a mixed bag. In some cases it was a situation where they were beaten off the dribble by Monta Ellis or were slow closing out to Nowitzki and Carter on the perimeter. They had their good stretches where the rotations were sound and the help defense was apparent. Al Horford turned back four shots at the rim and overall the team was active with 16 steals. Still, you can't allow NBA teams to shoot 57 percent from the field and 46 percent from the three point line and expect to win often. Finding consistency defensively remains a key for Atlanta.
Scorers like Nowitzki, Ellis and Carter don't need much to get them going. They made some tough shots and some of those were with defenders right in their face. However, two or three blown defensive assignments can sometimes ignite a scorer and Dallas showed Wednesday just how dangerous they can be when their talented trio are zoned in.
The biggest thing that stood out offensively was the way Jeff Teague was on the attack. Dallas came in with concerns about their backcourt's defense and Teague showed them that it's going to be a problem for much of the season. Paul Millsap also played well offensively, showing off a nice step-back jumper and a soft touch around the rim. It's no coincidence that Dallas' big second half run coincided with Teague and Millsap both going to the bench.
The team will also need to look for ways to get Al Horford more involved offensively in their next game against the Raptors. Horford finished 5-for-12 from the floor but just four of those attempts came in the second half. Kyle Korver also struggled his way to a 3-for-9 showing for eight points but was able to extend his consecutive games streak with a made three to 74 games. Atlanta got a nice boost off the bench from Cartier Martin, who finished with 17 points, and Elton Brand with eight on 4-5 shooting. It's worth noting that Brand failed to grab a single rebound in 13 minutes of action.
Rebounding as a whole was a problem as it was for most of the preseason. If you watched the box score during the game you saw that Dallas' lead seemed to coincide with their rebounding margin. Dallas finished the night with a 42-33 advantage on the boards. DeMarre Carroll led the team with seven rebounds. Horford and Millsap finished with five boards each as did Kyle Korver.
- Atlanta recorded 27 assists on 37 made baskets while turning the ball over 17 times.
- Dallas' turnovers played a big part in Atlanta staying in the game. The Hawks scored 26 points off of the Mavericks' 20 turnovers.
- Dennis Schröder made his debut and finished with five points, five assists and four rebounds in just under 19 minutes of action. There are going to be growing pains for Schröder this season but he is exciting and can be a game changer defensively.
- Mike Budenholzer essentially went with a three-guard rotation for much of the game with Teague, Schröder and Korver. John Jenkins and Jared Cunningham received DNP-CD's.
- Mike Scott picked up three fouls in his first five minutes of action and went scoreless on the night with one rebound and two turnovers.
- Pero Antic also made his NBA debut, going scoreless in eight minutes while grabbing two rebounds.