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Hawks close again but come up short in agonizing loss to Pelicans

Running out of different ways to say ‘Hawks play well, in contention to win in fourth quarter but lose.’

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks dropped their fourth consecutive game after falling at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans 106-105 at the Smoothie King Center on Monday night — finishing their three game road trip with an 0-3 mark.

Kent Bazemore led the Hawks with 22 points while Tyler Cavanaugh added 16 points (more on that later). For the Pelicans, DeMarcus Cousins led them with 22 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and a block while E’Twaun Moore added 24 points.

Another game lost down the stretch

While Hawks lost this game and are now 2-12 on the season, it’s been crazy how many of these types of games they’ve been involved in (and equally crazy how many of these have escaped the Hawks).

Let’s go through how this one was lost down the stretch.

We’ll pick it up at the 1:34 mark — Jrue Holiday has just made a three-pointer to cut the Hawks lead to one point and the Hawks lead 104-103..

The Hawks come the other way with Schröder. After Tyler Cavanaugh’s screen doesn’t create separation for Schröder, Dennis decides to go one-on-one (to be fair, it’s not like there was else much else really going on this offensive trip and the floor is spread for Dennis to do so). Defended by Jrue Holiday, Dennis drives toward the rim, pulls up at the free throw line and his shot misses:

A decent shot by Dennis (though, that type of shot wasn’t falling for him this night) but a good contest from Holiday, and the Hawks have missed an opportunity to extend their lead with a minute to go.

Anthony Davis gathers the rebound and defers to his point guard, Jameer Nelson. Nelson then gives the ball to Holiday, who works his way over to the left wing. After the screen comes from Davis, Cavanaugh does a good job preventing Holiday from turning the corner and getting to the rim. Taurean Prince tries to get his hand in there for a steal and loses his footing as Dennis actually pokes the ball away, but the ball finds its way right Prince’s man, Darius Miller, for what would be the game-winning three-pointer:

“That was lucky,” said Miller postgame. “I don’t know how it got to me, but I was ready to shoot it.”

Unlucky break for the Hawks that the ball bounced right to the red hot Miller, but that’s how it goes sometimes. It leaves the Hawks down two with 55 seconds left — so there’s still time.

Coming the other way, the Hawks can’t get anything going with Schröder, and when the chance to potentially exploit a switch fades, Schröder finds a driving Kent Bazemore, who gets to the rim and is met by the body of Davis:

On first viewing, this looked like a clear charge call. The officials decide to review the play and they actually end up overturning the call. A different angle proves that Davis was, indeed, not set when he positioned himself for the charge: blocking foul, Baze will go to the line to shoot two:

Baze took a nasty fall on his right hand on the play. It looked bad, but he dusted himself off, picked himself up and made 1-of-2 from the line — Hawks trail 105-106, Pelicans call timeout.

Out of the timeout, the Pelicans try to get Darius Miller open again and they get him a great look (no one was passing through that wall of Brow and Boogie) but Miller misses the shot:

The Pelicans decided to ride the hot hand in Miller rather than put the ball in the hands of Davis or Cousins. Luckily for the Hawks, Miller (having scored 14 fourth quarter points and four three-pointers) finally missed and the Hawks now have a chance to take the lead again.

Similar to the Pistons game the other day, when it mattered the most, the Hawks take a long, long time to get into their offense. Screens from Dewayne Dedmon — with Bazemore handling — don’t get the Hawks very far, and when Baze tries to cross again, he loses the handle. Schröder manages to pick the ball up, but by the time he has possession there’s just over two seconds on the shotclock to do something with, and Dennis — in a tight spot on the right wing — can’t help but turn the ball over, giving the Pels the ball with just over three seconds left:

There was nothing Dennis could’ve done at that point.

You can’t help but wonder — at that point of the game — why the Hawks didn’t call a timeout, why they didn’t draw something up. Obviously hindsight is 20-20 but, perhaps, it may have been better to call a timeout and draw something up at such an important point in the game... When it comes to Bazemore, he simply lost the handle of the ball. It’s tough but it happened, and it is what it is. This possession — from almost every point of view — left a lot to be desired, to say the least.

The game looks like it’s over. Pelicans are up one with 3.2 seconds left — they simply have to inbound the ball and make sure they inbound it to one of their own. They do so successfully the first time, but the Hawks had a foul to give before reaching the penalty, meaning the Pelicans have to do it again. On the second attempt, however:

Somehow, the Pelicans mess it up. Cousins throws the ball to AD in a tough spot where he’s off balance and has to throw it somewhere. He tries to throw it to Miller but Prince anticipates it beautifully, steals it and calls for a timeout.

There is now some hope and an opportunity to somewhat makeup for the previous possession and, hey, the timeout you should’ve used before is available to you (and the Hawks took it).

But something wasn’t right. The clock showed 0.7 remaining at the time, and when you look at the replays, Prince appears to call timeout with 1.4/1/5 ish seconds remaining. Despite the protests of the Hawks, it is not reviewed, and 0.7 is what the Hawks have to work with.

When asked postgame why time wasn’t added on, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters postgame that he was told by officials that “it just wasn’t reviewable.”

It’s unfortunate that the New Orleans clock management crew has taken time off the clock when it shouldn’t have been (and, to be fair, it’s tough to call in real time) but all is not lost. 0.7 is just enough for a jumpshot — you need the right shot to make it work with that time — and it’s definitely enough for something going to/at the rim.

With how little time there is left and the Hawks only needing a two to win the game — or even a foul to be called and just one free throw needed to send it to overtime — drawing something going to/at rim might be better for the Hawks given their game situation. Here’s what the Hawks run with in the end:

Game over — a lot to dissect here.

Cousins tips this inbounds pass, so it wouldn’t have mattered if Bazemore had hit this shot — the ball was still in his hands when time expired. So this possession is not about Bazemore himself missing the shot — it didn’t matter.

Though, that’s not my gripe with this (give Cousins credit, big time deflection). Bud put his shooting lineup out there (plus Collins) and the final shot was a jumpshot.

Even watching this, without knowing what sort of shot the Hawks were going to take (if they were going to get one off at all), I didn’t understand why they didn’t run something going to/at the rim. I just, personally, think a jumpshot was the wrong option to go for in this instance, given the game situation — again, down by a single point with 0.7 left.

I also wondered why Dennis Schröder wasn’t out on the floor, no matter what shot you’re taking at the end. Dennis is a guy who can burst past anyone with his speed — without the use of a screen.

Perhaps, it might have been better to run, maybe, a down screen (or some sort of screen) for Dennis (or even anyone else) going to the rim for a quick hitting layup, which has a better chance of being released in time, than a jumpshot that has to be rushed enough as it is with 0.7 left — a layup would’ve just been a better quality shot.

Just worth pointing out that I, personally, have massive respect and admiration for coach Bud and his coaching staff. They’re very good at the their jobs and they have their reasons for doing what they do but I — like many I’m sure — was left confused by some of their actions down the stretch, not just this play.

But, alas, that’s how it went and the Hawks lose by a point.

Again, you have to admire the competitiveness and the spirit of the group. They’re there in games, they just have to execute better down the stretch.

Coach Bud was, again, left encouraged with his side’s effort.

“Positives . . . the way guys competed on the road against a good team, two of the premier big guys in the league . . . just impressed with our front line, good things from our perimeter guys and some defensive possessions that were good . . . just a play here or there... I'm proud of the effort. I'm proud of the competitiveness of our group."

Just a play here or there... That’s all the Hawks need to get on that winning track. They came close again last night, but no cigar this time.

The Conundrum: AD and Boogie vs. the supporting cast

From the outside looking in, this what the Hawks’ game-plan seemed to be: limit Davis and Cousins as best you as you can and let others make plays and make shots.

That’s what happened, and you have to say the Hawks executed this strategy very well, actually.

Coming into this game, Boogie and Davis averaged a combined 56 points per game. Against the Hawks they totalled 35 points — Davis scoring just 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting while Cousins scored 22 points.

More attention seemed to be placed on Davis than Boogie, which was justified given the Hawks’ shortages at power forward (no Mike Muscala or Ersan Ilyasova), meaning Luke Babbitt was guarding Davis during this game. And the Hawks doubled him/denied him the ball very often but when you place so much focus on one guy, other guys are going to see more opportunities:

For the Pelicans, it was E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller who were the beneficiaries of the Hawks’ tactics — Moore tied a career-high with 24 points and Miller scored a career-high 21 points.

So, it’s a fine balance to strike when it comes to this: what do you do? Do you allow Boogie and Brow to go off for their averages (or possibly beyond) and limit the supporting cast? Or do you allow the supporting cast to go off and try limit the stars?

The Hawks chose the latter, and they have to live with the results. Bud acknowledged the plan on Davis and Cousins and was happy with how it was executed but conceded it did allow a few open shots for others.

“I thought the activity on both of those guys (was good), everybody was active,” said Bud postgame. “It started with the big guys, I thought our perimeter guys were trying to get in there and dig balls out — make it difficult on Davis and Cousins. They’re just really, really good players. They’re a tough cover.”

“I think the way we were putting a lot attention on Cousins, a lot attention on Davis, it probably freed up Miller for a couple of shots.”

“It’s really tough, because we played hard and battled against two of the best bigs in the league,” said Tyler Cavanaugh. “We followed the game plan really well. We were right there.”

I think the Hawks did the right thing. Even if it’s frustrating to see other players, like your E’twaun Moore’s and Darius Miller’s go off (and give them credit, they made their shots when it counted, especially Miller) you just have to accept that that’s one of the by-products of allowing just 35 points from Cousins and Davis.

Give the Hawks huge credit too: it’s one thing to game plan and limit those two players, another thing to actually do it execute the game plan successfully. Davis took just seven shots while being guarded Luke Babbitt, John Collins and Tyler Cavanaugh (plus the others like Prince and Baze on switches/help/double-teams). That’s a massive success, no one could’ve hoped for a better outcome on that end.

The game of Tyler Cavanaugh’s life

Darius Miller wasn’t the only one to emerge with New Orleans with a career-night — Tyler Cavanaugh had the game of his NBA life, exploding for 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 from behind the arc.

With Dewayne Dedmon in significant foul trouble (limiting him to 13 minutes) Cavanaugh — in the absence of Mike Muscala, Ersan Ilyasova and Miles Plumlee — got to see some extended playing time and took advantage in a big way, giving the Hawks a huge boost off the bench.

“It’s one of those good stories,” said Bud postgame of Cavanaugh. “It’s certainly frustrating that weren’t able to find a way to get the win but to have a young player like Tyler Cavanaugh come into an NBA game on the road and play the way he did, give us a chance to win the game and for his teammates to celebrate in his play... You got to find those (bright) spots when you’re frustrated or having a tough night, and Tyler certainly was one of those guys tonight.”

You have to stay ready in this league but even Cavanaugh was surprised at what transpired last night.

“I'd probably be stupid if I told you that it didn't surprise me,” Cavanaugh said postgame. “But you've got to stay ready and coach was confident enough in me to put me in. I missed my first shot but then I got a tip-in and my teammates found me open shots in the second half and I was fortunate enough to make them. But it’s just tough to taking a loss with all this.”

Though Cavanaugh was clearly disappointed to lose this game, he has taken a lot from the this road trip.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Cavanaugh. “Travelling around and playing great teams, teams that are playing well. We were very close in two of the three games and we’re right there. The ball is going to start bouncing our way soon.”

Cavanaugh, a player signed under the two-way contract, won’t be with the Hawks very long (limited to 45 days as part of that two-way deal and with Muscala, Ilyasova and Plumlee all due to return soon) but he has shown signs why the Hawks used their second two-way contract on him.

A great game for the young man.

Kent Bazemore

A good game for Kent Bazemore here — 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting, 3-of-7 from three, 5-of-6 from the line, seven assists and one turnover.

People are criticising Bazemore pretty hard on social media and elsewhere after this game, which is quite unfair because he played well. Sure, he took some bad shots here and there and, obviously down the stretch, it was tough, but he’s not the reason the Hawks lost this game.

Everyone is quick to bash him — and we all talk about it when he has a bad game — and those games stand out so much more because of his contract, but when he actually has a good game it’s only fair to say so, and he was very effective last night. Seven assists and one turnover... People would be going nuts if Dennis Schröder did that, Bazemore deserves the same amount of credit, if not more. His abilities as a ball-handler and creator are much improved and last night it was very effective.

Yes, Baze didn’t end the game as well as everyone hoped, but give him credit — he was good in New Orleans.

Another tough night for Dennis Schröder

After struggling against the Washington Wizards (seven points on 2-of-16 shooting), Dennis had himself another tough night — 11 points on 5-of-18 shooting and 0-of-4 from three.

That mid-range shot wasn’t falling for Dennis last night — nor was the three-point shot — and he seemed reluctant to drive to the rim at times (possibly wary of Cousins and Davis?).

Even when Dennis was switched onto Davis and he tried driving past him, Davis blocked Dennis on multiple occasions. Even at the third attempt of trying to drive past Davis to the rim, Dennis still hadn’t learned his lesson and he missed the shot again, so his shot selection — at times — wasn’t great either.

Dennis has, obviously, been the Hawks’ best player and has had a great offensive season so far, but these last two games haven’t been kind to him. Wednesday night’s home tilt against the Kings provides Dennis with the next opportunity to bounce-back.

The Hawks (2-12) return home ahead of Wednesday’s home game against the Sacramento Kings, which, surely, presents the Hawks with their best chance so far of a possible home victory — which would be their first of the season.

We shall see.