Ball security dooms Hawks in ugly loss to Grizzlies

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Ball security is crucial in the NBA, but when the pace slows to a virtual halt, every possession is doubly important. The problem on Saturday night was that someone forgot to alert the Atlanta Hawks in their 3rd consecutive defeat.

With the Hawks leading 26-12 at the 4:22 mark of the 1st quarter, it looked as if it was going to be a fun, productive night in Philips Arena for the home team, but from that point forward, the Memphis Grizzlies dominated the proceedings in route to a 79-76 victory. Although there were many (and I do mean many) culprits for Atlanta's collapse in the final 40+ minutes, ball control was chief among them, and Mike Budenholzer was quick to reference the turnover issues in his post-game remarks.

"Against teams like Memphis and Indiana, you have to value possessions. Every night, we value the ball and we value possessions. 21 turnovers becomes difficult to overcome when the game becomes even slower, and you lose out on possessions. They're always important, but in a game that's played at a slow pace, turnovers become even more important."

Because the Hawks have committed 21-or-more turnovers in four previous games this season, the shear volume of giveaways may not be the pure issue, but Budenholzer's point about pace is a salient one. Memphis was able to overcome their lack of guard play (this is an understatement) by grinding from the moment the Hawks took their 14-point lead in the 1st quarter, and Atlanta simply isn't as effective when playing a slow-down brand of basketball. However, the turnover issues are simply inexcusable at this threshold, and they were the biggest reason for the defeat.

If there was a major controversy and/or takeaway from the night (aside from the final, hideous result), it was the notable absence of Shelvin Mack. In the post-game, Coach Budenholzer had this to say when prompted about the decision to use Lou Williams over Mack:

"Just looking a little bit at Lou at the point guard spot. Letting Lou play with both DeMarre and Kyle, or, we played Cartier a little bit. Cartier came off the bench and helped us. We’re all looking to improve. We’re all looking to get better. As a coach, sometimes you maybe try a different combination, and Lou hasn’t had a lot of chances to play those minutes as just the point guard, and I thought he competed. He had 5 rebounds, 4 defensive, and that was a big emphasis coming into this game. Lou is a competitor, and getting him out and giving him that chance was something that we wanted to try."

For me, this explanation rings hollow. There is certainly an argument (one that I would make myself, by the way) for providing Williams with an opportunity at the point guard spot against a team like Memphis, who was playing Nick Calathes (who was -16 in a 3-point victory on the night) and his 6-foot-6 frame against the Hawks. However, Mack's unceremonious benching is a bit curious no matter the explanation (especially given that it was his first "DNP" in more than 2 months), and while I wouldn't go as far as to say that it cost the team a victory, there is a real argument that supports Mack as a far superior facilitator and "pace"-maker than Williams provided on Saturday night.

The first half was incredibly kind to Paul Millsap, as he looked to be on the way to a triple-double with 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists to go along with 3 steals at the break. However, not even Millsap was immune to struggles, and while he finished with a 20-point, 11-rebound double-double for the night, Paul went nearly the entire second half without tallying a point before scoring 8 points in the final 3 minutes. Sadly, Millsap was the brightest statistical spot by a significant margin, and things fell off considerably from there.

Reserve forward Mike Scott had been lights-out entering Saturday night with 13 consecutive games with double-digits in points, but frankly, his performance was borderline disastrous here. Scott missed all 5 of his field goal attempts in nearly 16 minutes of game action, and it wasn't a coincidence to see him put up a team-worst +/- of negative-12 on the night. Scott looked overwhelmed in attempting to defend Zach Randolph, and while there is no shame in that on the surface, it seemed to visibly affect his aggressiveness and effectiveness offensively.

The starting backcourt for Atlanta didn't have a "banner" night either for Atlanta, and the Kyle Korver-Jeff Teague duo combined for only 17 points in 69 minutes of playing time. There were positive moments for Korver (including a continuation of his 118-game streak of a made 3-pointer), but he was only able to convert 3-for-9 from the field in the game, and the big shots seemed to carom off the rim at inopportune times. In addition, both Korver (5 turnovers) and Teague (4 turnovers) had ball control issues, and Teague was benched in favor of Lou Williams for the final 5:47 of the game.

It is nearly impossible to lose a (home) game in the NBA while allowing 41% shooting and creating 15 takeaways, but there was another incredibly damning stat for the Hawks in this one. The Grizzlies were only able to generate one free throw attempt in the game, which was the first time in NBA history that an NBA team was able to grab a win while accomplishing that feat. In a game where the Memphis offense stalled considerably at times (and Budenholzer correctly lauded the Atlanta defense for some of that ineffectiveness), it is difficult to imagine this particular set of offensive woes in a winning effort, but when the Hawks consistently give away opportunities with careless ball security, that is the final result.

There are seemingly endless amounts of questions after a game like this, and with it coming at the end of a 3-game losing skid, the whispers turn into full-blown screams. That said, the end result of a 3-point loss to a very solid Memphis team isn't the disaster that some would lead you to believe (despite the season-low point total), and with a Budenholzer-led team, there is reason to be confident in a swift turnaround before Tuesday's game against the Bulls.

If "winning cures all ills", I'm not sure what losing is supposed to accomplish, but whatever the cliche may be, the doubters will have free reign until tip-off in Chicago.

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