A lapse at the end of the second quarter proved costly for the Atlanta Hawks who fell to the Philadelphia 76ers by a score of 98-87 at Philips Arena on Saturday night. Atlanta has struggled since returning home from a five-game road trip that saw them go 4-1. The Hawks have lost the first two games of a four-game home stand and will be trying to get things turned around on Monday when they host the Suns.
Atlanta essentially played to a first quarter draw taking a 21-20 lead over Philadelphia. The lead seesawed back and fourth in the second until the Sixers closed the half on a 26-11 run that was fueled by turnovers and stagnant play at both ends of the floor.
Lets be clear now, despite making a concerted comeback attempt we have yet to see in the last eight quarters of basketball that crisp play that we saw for most of the road trip. There are several reasons why in my opinion and none necessarily involve Atlanta's lack of depth at the center position. If the Hawks thought they could get 14 points and 13 rebounds out of Ivan Johnson on a regular basis then that situation wouldn't look nearly as bleak as it does currently. It is important to remember that the Hawks have had center issues since Al Horford went down. Yes losing Jason Collins takes what little depth away that they had but he has been getting DNP-CD even after Al went out and Ivan has been playing backup minutes regardless.
In the last two losses Atlanta hasn't appeared to move the basketball anywhere near the fluidity that they did on the road trip and the result has been turnovers that have led to transition buckets. For the first time all season it looked like Saturday that the frustrations on the offensive end led to defensive breakdowns especially in transition defense where Philly found some open three-point looks simply by pushing the ball up the court.
The offensive numbers are still respectable with 43 percent shooting and 20 assists on 32 made baskets. Atlanta even built a 47-37 rebounding advantage but the easy baskets off of turnovers and a lacking defensive effort on the perimeter led to another huge 54-38 deficit in points in the paint.
Simply put Atlanta's offensive struggles has put their defense in a bind the last two games and the fact is that the Hawks need Joe Johnson or Josh Smith to play well and many nights need both of them without Al Horford. Smith has struggled with his shot of late and has only hit half of his shots in one of his last six games. He was 2-11 for nine points on Saturday although he did finish with 10 rebounds, five assists and seven blocked shots.
Without Smith or anyone else finding a rhythm offensively, opposing teams are going to load up on Joe Johnson. Andre Iguodala provides a tough matchup at any rate for Johnson who finished with 16 points on 7-16 shooting. Atlanta got virtually nothing from Zaza Pachulia and Marvin Williams was semi-productive in just 20 minutes of action.
Jeff Teague did a lot of his damage in the second half finishing with 21 points and six assists but Atlanta is a much better team when he is dictating things early on. Still it was nice to see him make a charge in the second half and hopefully he can carry that over on Monday.
For the most part, Atlanta's bench has played well together for stretches but they pale in comparison to what Philadelphia can run out there. Saturday night the Sixers played four guys off the bench and all four finished in double figures. Nikola Vucevic led the way with 15 points off the bench while Thaddeus Young and Louis Williams each added 14. Evan Turner scored 11 points although three came a ridiculous play where he was throwing a lob inside during Philadelphia's second quarter run. Combined Philly's bench scored 54 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, handed out 13 assists while turning the ball over only two times.
I haven't even mentioned Spencer Hawes' 14 points in his return from injury, Jodie Meeks 10 points and five steals or Andre Iguodala's nine points, eight rebounds and 10 assists as starters. Doug Collins' squad is one deep team that doesn't figure to be an easy out once the playoffs roll around.
Atlanta is in a rough stretch right now and have another long road trip looming. They may in fact get some reinforcements for their front court soon but the reality is that they have to get back to doing the things that have made them a successful team. That means crisp ball movement as well as a relentless effort on the defensive end of the floor. A rough stretch was inevitable for this club and now it is important to see how they respond and if they can get back to doing the things that made them successful.