During the Atlanta Hawks' 89-85 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night, there were periods of productivity and efficiency on the offensive end, but on the whole, it was a sub-par performance from the Atlanta attack. Yes, the Indiana Pacers came in with, by far, the best defense in the NBA by the numbers, but even while accounting for that, the Hawks left several opportunities on the table, and that was echoed from every corner of the locker room in the post game.
"I think tonight was on our offense. We just missed open shots and couldn't get it in."
"Offensively, it wasn't one of our better nights."
"We were out of sync. We missed some shots that we normally knock down."
The three quotes above came from three different individuals (Mike Scott, Mike Budenholzer, and Elton Brand, respectively), and all referenced the same sentiment in that it simply wasn't Atlanta's finest hour from an efficiency standpoint offensively. In the same breath, all three did mention and credit Indiana's defense, but a quick glance at the numbers certainly clarifies the Atlanta struggles.
On the night, the Hawks shot 43.4% from the floor and 28% (7-for-25) from 3-point range, but it wasn't necessarily the overall output that was the chief problem. During a stretch of over 6 minutes of clock time (an eternity in an NBA game) between the 1st and 2nd quarters, Atlanta missed a staggering 11 consecutive field goal attempts and failed to notch a single point in allowing Indiana to build a 7-point lead. Obviously, 7-point deficits happen all the time in the NBA, but when you factor in that Indiana committed a woeful 14 turnovers in the first half (nearly matching their season average of 15.3 per game), it's tough to reconcile the Hawks leading by only 1 point at the break.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the only time that the offense sputtered, as the 3rd quarter was a house of horrors for Mike Budenholzer's club. In the first 5 minutes and 44 seconds of the period, Atlanta missed 8 of 10 field goal attempts (and 2 free throws), and while the defense did all it could to slow down Indiana in order to keep things close, only 3 jump shots from Elton Brand stood between the Hawks and a complete offensive collapse.
On the (much) brighter side, the home team did battle back in a valiant way once the 4th quarter kicked off, and they did so with many members of the regular rotation as purely observers. Atlanta scored 30 points in the final frame while Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll and company were glued to the bench, and it was the bench providing the lift that would ultimately bring the Hawks within 2 points in the final minute. Mike Scott and Cartier Martin played wire-to-wire in the 4th, combining for 19 points on only 10 field goal attempts, and while Mike Budenholzer was apparently content to play out the string (at least at the start of the quarter), it was an encouraging, scrappy effort.
"Winners" and "losers" are always interesting in a game like this, and the Hawks had players in both categories. The only disastrous night from an offensive standpoint came from Paul Millsap (2-for-11 from the floor), but the team's lone All-Star contributed in a big way elsewhere (12 rebounds, 4 steals) to offset some of that baggage. It was also a bit of a rough night for Kyle Korver, as he finished just 1-for-5 from three-point range (the streak continues!) while missing some uncharacteristically open looks at inopportune times.
As far as positives were concerned (on the offensive end, especially), Mike Scott and Elton Brand were the two brightest lights. Brand carried the torch, almost single-handedly, through the 3rd quarter, and despite a "negative" plus-minus rating for the game, I thought he was fantastic in putting up 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots in less than 21 minutes of playing time. In the case of Scott, he needed a big-time late burst with 11 4th-quarter points in order to keep his 12-game streak of double-digit games alive, but he was the biggest reason why the game was in doubt late and the efficient forward deserves a hat-tip for that.
In the midst of the relative negativity surrounding the offense, this was actually quite the defensive showing for the Hawks, and that's worth discussion. Mike Budenholzer led off his press conference by saying that he was "proud of the way our group competed defensively all night", and it's tough to disagree. Indiana was forced into 19 turnovers by the opportunistic Atlanta defense, and DeMarre Carroll did yeoman's work on Paul George from the opening tip in holding the All-World swingman to just 18 points on 6-for-16 shooting. David West presented problems for the Hawks all night (finishing with 22 points and 10 rebounds), but aside from his "throwback", mid-range effort, the Pacers were forced into tough shots for the duration of the night.
There are much greater crimes than dropping a 4-point decision (even at home) to the ultra-impressive Pacers, and based on that alone, it was a positive performance from the still undermanned Hawks. Many were quick to bash Budenholzer's decision-making late for leaving Teague and company on the pine in the midst of a run, but in defense of that choice, the game looked to be all but over with a 16-point, 4th-quarter deficit against Indiana's stingy defense, and the strong late push (including a 17-5 run) should be attributed to big-time fight from the club rather than to the detriment of rotation deployments.
On one hand, it is almost inspiring to see criticism of a 4-point defeat to the current #1 seed in the Eastern Conference, simply because it shows, at the very least, perceived growth from the program that Danny Ferry and Budenholzer have put into place. Still, though, it is greatly important to achieve perspective, and on a solitary night when the shots aren't falling, it is more than okay to simply chalk up a respectable defeat and look ahead to Wednesday night's bounce-back effort in New Orleans.
On to the next.