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Hawks unable to execute down the stretch on way to fourth straight loss

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The Hawks finally head home after season-long five game road trip.

Atlanta Hawks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks dropped their fourth straight game to finish off their five game road trip, falling 91-86 to the Chicago Bulls at the United Center.

The Bulls had six players score in double digits, led by Robin Lopez’s 16 points while David Nwaba added a double-double off the Bulls bench with 15 points and 11 rebounds. The Hawks were led by Marco Belinelli’s 23 points off the bench in what was an ugly game where both teams shot under 40% from the field.

End of the road trip

The Hawks’ brutal five game road trip to begin the season is over.

They went 1-4 in the end, could’ve easily ended 2-3 and or possibly even 3-2/4-1. They were in contention to win four of these five road games, hung around in the fourth quarter in the Nets, Heat and Bulls games. The only game you could say that got really got out of hand was the Charlotte game, a game where the Hawks led by 20 points at one stage.

You can’t say this team hasn’t resolve and fight — it’s been shown in abundance. Talent? Depth? Yes, these things have been lacking, especially when the injuries hit hard, with Dennis Schröder, Ersan Ilyasova and DeAndre’ Bembry all going down. But a lack of effort and fight? No, absolutely not.

Going home, the Hawks can hang their heads high, much higher than their 1-4 record.

Another game lost down the stretch

In four of these five games on the road, the Hawks have managed to hang around and still be in the game in the fourth quarter. This was another. But, just as what happened in the Nets and Heat games, when the Hawks finally tied/took the lead of this game (thanks to a Marco Belinelli three-pointer to put them up 86-85) the Bulls reeled off a run — a 6-0 run to end the game.

So, how did the Hawks lose this one down the stretch?

Declining to take a timeout after the Hawks re-took the lead after that Belinelli three, the Bulls come the other way with Jerian Grant. After handing it off to Justin Holiday, Holiday whips it to Robin Lopez behind the three-point line. After choosing not to hand-off to Denzel Valentine, Lopez ends up spinning around in circles as he scans for the best option to pass to. Suddenly, a golden opportunity presents itself in the form of a cutting Holiday, and Lopez rifles a pass to him, and Holiday scores the layup to give the Bulls the lead again:

Unfortunately, hard to blame anyone other than Kent Bazemore for this basket — he clearly loses track of his man, Holiday recognises the opportunity and cuts for the layup.

Going the other way, Mike Muscala comes and sets a screen for Malcolm Delaney and fades behind the three-point line. Delaney doesn’t look to exploit the switch (on Lauri Markkanen), and whips the ball to Moose behind the three-point line. Moose takes the shot but it misses:

I’m not mad at that shot but, perhaps in hindsight, there was a better one available. You could see, as Moose was taking the shot, that Marco Belinelli was arriving on the scene, and, given that Marco had the hot-hand in fourth quarter, perhaps, it might have been better for Moose to maybe hand-off and screen for Marco.

But, alas, hindsight is 20-20, and the Bulls go the other way, up by a point.

Off of a missed shot by Jerian Grant, the ball is tipped out by Bazemore, and the Bulls get the ball back with a full shotclock with 59 seconds remaining in the game. After the Bulls inbound the ball, they get it to Grant, who finds Markkanen behind the three-point line after the screen-and-fade, and Markkanen hits the clutch three to put the Bulls up by four points with 48 seconds left:

You could make a case that Moose was too far away from Markkanen and that there’s no need to sit that deep in the lane off of the pick-and-roll when Jerian Grant is the ball-handler — he’s not going to blitz past you. Sure, but at the same time, Markkanen was 1-of-7 from the three-point line before this shot and had missed looks that were more open than this one. Plus, he’s a rookie, and a rookie in a clutch situation — just think there wasn’t a great chance of this shot, going in given all of those factors, so I don’t blame Moose much here.

But credit to Lauri, he made the shot, and the Hawks find themselves down by four with 48 seconds remaining.

Coming out of a timeout, the Hawks want to go back to the hot-hand of Belinelli. Muscala sets a good down screen for Belinelli, shedding Justin Holiday. As Belinelli curls and gets to his spot, Jerian Grant — very cleverly — recognises the obvious danger (Belinelli was 5-of-7 from three at this stage) and leaves the much lower three-point percentage threat in Malcolm Delaney (a 23% three-point shooter last season and 30% so far this season) and takes away the three from Belinelli.

Once the shot is no longer there, Marco does the right thing and finds the open man, Delaney, but Malcolm misses the three and the Bulls take the rebound, with the Hawks now in real trouble:

Give credit to the Bulls, they did the right thing by eliminating the Belinelli three and taking their chances with Delaney shooting instead. As for Delaney, don’t be quick to criticise this miss — it was a good look, it just didn’t go down.

After a horrible offensive possession for the Bulls that ended with an airball three from Denzel Valentine, the Hawks come the other way and, coming off of a Dewayne Dedmon screen, Belinelli misses the pull-up three and the game is basically over, with Grant heading to the line to ice the game:

Good contest from Lopez in the end, the Hawks were already looking pretty desperate at this stage — down four with 17 seconds left.

The Hawks would have one more go — down five — but Belinelli’s three would miss, and that was the game.

So, that’s how this game got away from the Hawks...

Obviously, people are going to be angry that it’s the fourth loss in a row and some players aren’t playing well but, again, what more could you have asked of the Hawks in this game? On the fifth game of a five game road trip, they fought until the end of this game with a shorthanded squad.

You have to be happy with the fight and the competitive spirit of this side. Coach Mike Budenholzer certainly was.

“I think we’re competing. We’re playing hard,” said Bud postgame. “...proud of the guys’ effort, proud of the way they’re competing.”

If you’re freaking out about the team and its state of affairs, I think that’s unwise. You have to remember the process going on here, the objectives of the front office for this season that go beyond this season, the roster has been struck by injuries (not least to their best player) and, remember, that this team hasn’t even been home — they’ve travelled over 5,000 miles so far!

Give them a proper chance or try and see the bigger picture.

Fourth quarter free throws

The Bulls executed on both ends (sort of) down the stretch to win this game, but their free throw differential over the Hawks in the fourth quarter definitely helped them a treat — 9-of-12 compared to the Hawks’ 0-0.

Coach Bud went so far as to pinpoint this loss on these free throws.

“The thing I hit the guys with, the amount of times they were in the bonus, the amount of time they went to the free throw line. Basically, they won the game at the free throw line, that’s the difference,” said coach Bud. “Both teams are struggling to score and we just gifted them with free throws.”

The Hawks found themselves out of team fouls to give with 6:43 remaining in the fourth quarter, which gave the Bulls a lot of opportunities to get to the free throw line (with every foul the Hawks commit after five in a quarter leading to two Chicago free throws).

“I think it came down to us fouling too much on defense,” said Mike Muscala postgame. “There was a couple of plays, me in particular, just silly fouls. I don’t think they necessarily had a great advantage at the basket. Got to be more aware of that in the fourth quarter.”

“Anytime that’s the case (when you’re in the bonus), any foul, of course, you can draw, you’re getting to the line, and that stops time,” added Muscala. “Especially in the fourth, when you’re stopping time and getting two points potentially, that’s tough.”

Tough indeed.

Two-man bench lifts Hawks

The Hawks were able to hang around in this game thanks to two big bench efforts, coming from Marco Belinelli and John Collins.

Belinelli scored 23 points on 8-of-16 from the field and 5-of-9 from behind the arc while Collins scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and gathered five rebounds.

To say ‘two-man bench’ is a tad harsh to Isaiah Taylor (who did score five points) but it’s basically what happened on Thursday night: Josh Magette scored two points and was terrible defensively in less than four minutes of play and Luke Babbitt was scoreless in 13 minutes.

Belinelli and Collins scored 36 of the Hawks’ 43 bench points and helped the Hawks’ bench outscore the Bulls’ bench 26 points.

These were hugely important contributions, not only to outscore the Bulls’ bench, but because the majority of the Hawks’ starters struggled to score. Malcolm Delaney: six points. Taurean Prince (who, for the most part, you didn’t even know he was on the floor on Thursday night, the game seemed to drift past him) three points. Dewayne Dedmon: four points.

Belinelli had the hot-hand in this game and was the best offensive player on the floor Thursday night. And the Hawks trust him to take/make shots in clutch situations and run plays for him coming out of timeouts down the stretch as they did Thursday night.

“He’s a unique player,” said coach Bud postgame of Belinelli.

As for Collins, he continues to bring energy, and, last night, he displayed his confidence with his jumper:

Hassan Whiteside, Robin Lopez... It doesn’t matter, Collins is going to rise anyways. Have to love the confidence when it comes to that shot on the block.

“I like the energy John’s bringing, the effort that he’s bringing,” said Bud of Collins. “I thought offensively, he created some things for us...”

He surely did:

The only thing missing from Collins so far this season is a poster dunk. He’s been knocking on the door, but hasn’t nailed it yet. Sooner or later...

Rebounding margin

The Hawks were out-rebounded by a whopping margin of 62-40 — that is a not a misprint. The Bulls also managed to grab 18 offensive rebounds, but didn’t punish the Hawks — only scoring nine second chance points.

Robin Lopez (eight rebounds) caused issues at times as did Markkanen (12 rebounds), but particularly Lopez when John Collins was matched up with the seven footer.

“It’s probably one of the tougher matchups for him,” said Bud of the general Lopez-Collins matchup. “...he’s (Robin Lopez) is so big and so strong. I thought John battled him. Obviously, we had a pretty big deficit on the boards, and part of that is John playing a little out of position...”

Lopez did school Collins at times, but Collins managed to come up with a nice block on Markkanen, at least:

Despite occasional defensive struggles against the much more experience Lopez, it was another good night for Collins and his development. He should receive a great ovation when he checks in at home for the first time on Friday.

Kent Bazemore

Can’t have a game without talking about Kent Bazemore, can we?

Another tough night shooting for Bazemore, who shot 7-of-19 from the field on his way to 16 points. Baze is now shooting 39% on the season on almost 13 shots a night.

In the absence of Dennis Schröder (who missed his second straight game due to an ankle injury), Bazemore has taken 36 shots in those two games but has only hit 13 of them.

It’s good that Baze is being a bit more assertive in the absence of Dennis (since he’s one of the better players on the team) but that field goal percentage isn’t going to cut it if the Hawks (the team, not the front office) want to win games.

But it isn’t a total loss — Baze dished out three assists (though, coughed it up four times) and came up with three steals.

Some Hawks fans continue to grow frustrated with Bazemore because he isn’t living up to his hefty contract and performances like this don’t help his cause (he was also at fault for Holiday’s crucial go-ahead basket last night).

Turnovers

Normally, when you see this heading it means the Hawks have turned the ball over excessively and it has led to many opposition points.

Not today. It’s actually one of the bright spots from this loss.

The Hawks committed a season-best 10 turnovers on Thursday night.

“I don’t think that was the issue tonight,” said Bud of the turnovers.

Got to find some positives, right?


The Hawks (1-4) are back in action tonight (Friday night) when they finally return home for their first home game of the season in the, partly, renovated Philips Arena to take on Paul Millsap and the Denver Nuggets.

Should be an entertaining game with emotions running high.