If you had asked me coming into the playoffs what the biggest area of concern for the Atlanta Hawks would be I would have said rebounding or their defense. Their offense or more specifically their ability to score would have been far down the list. Yet Atlanta has shot less than 40 percent in two of the three games against the Brooklyn Nets and flatlined Saturday scoring just 83 points on 36 percent shooting.
Just to put their struggles in the first round into perspective. The Hawks shot 47 percent from the field during the regular season and 38 percent from three-point range. Through three games of the playoffs they are shooting 39 percent from the field and just 31 percent from beyond-the-arc. I don't care if it is the Warriors, the Nets or the Sixers, but you aren't winning many games when your shot chart looks like this at the end of the game.
So what is the problem and how do the Hawks fix it? That is where Game 3 gets a bit interesting. According to SportVU data at NBA.com, the Hawks on Saturday had a contested field goal percentage of 41 percent. That means when closely guarded, Atlanta converted 19-of-46 attempts. Not a bad percentage at all. On uncontested field goal attempts however, they shot just 29.5 percent converting just 13-of-44 opportunities. If you watched the game you know that many of those misses came at the rim.
So on one hand I'd like to say that the law of averages will eventually catch up for the Hawks but that isn't giving nearly enough credit to the Nets. The Hawks simply have to play better on offense and that starts at the point guard position. Jeff Teague is shooting just 39 percent from the field and 30 percent from deep in the three games. His backup Dennis Schröder is at 38 percent and 28 percent. Together they are averaging a combined 8.3 assists and 6.0 turnovers. That isn't going to get it done.
Forget Teague and Schröder's shooting for a moment. The Hawks need them to set the pace and to get high quality shots for the rest of the team without turning the basketball over. Brooklyn did an excellent job on Saturday defensively of snuffing out Atlanta's high pick and roll. They have made a concerted effort to run Kyle Korver off the three-point line despite Lionel Hollins' insistence that it wasn't a priority early in the series. The Hawks have to find a counter and that starts with better decision making from their two point guards.
They can start with shot selection. The three-point shot is probably the No. 1 weapon for this team but they have done well to set those shots up by attacking the paint. The Hawks settled early and often in Game 3 for three-pointers. Granted many of them were open looks and we wouldn't be talking about them now if they had gone in. Still, when a team is struggling they have to find a way to get to the rim and to the free throw line. Atlanta simply didn't do enough of that in Game 3.
Coming into the series we talked a lot about pace and its importance during the series. We discussed it on last week's podcast about how Atlanta needed to avoid low scoring games and how the Hawks were smaller but quicker and more skilled but the Nets were bigger and stronger. That has played out well in the series but believe it or not, Atlanta is actually playing at a higher pace in the playoffs than they did during the regular season. The Hawks are averaging 96.69 possessions over 48 minutes which is up slightly from the 96.25 they finished the regular season at. Brooklyn finished the regular season at 94.97 so they are playing over two possessions faster in the playoffs than they did in the regular season. The Hawks are getting what they want, they just have to find a way to make some shots.
So am I worried about the Hawks in this series? No I'm not. Although I am concerned about their performance. This team though showed the ability to bounce back well after disappointing outings during the regular season. Mike Budenholzer summed Game 3 up by congratulating Brooklyn and declaring that his team will be ready for Game 4. They had better be or this first round series may become a lot more interesting than was first thought.