The Hawks have seen their losing streak extend to six games now after a loss at Washington on Wednesday night and a loss at Milwaukee on Friday night. Atlanta’s record has been outperforming it’s point differential for most of this season by converting enough of their games that have gone to the final possessions; they are 6-7 in games the end with a differential of three points or less and are 4-0 in games that reach overtime.
Let’s take a look at the final possessions of these recent narrow losses and see what contributed to their coming up short in each game.
The Hawks enter this possession down by six with less than 1:30 remaining in the game. The Hawks run simple off the ball screen action and Ersan Ilyasova gets a very good pick from Dwight Howard to force the switch. With Marcin Gortat now switched on to Ilyasova, he puts the ball on the floor and gets easy separation as he attacks with dribble penetration. Tim Hardaway Jr. also contributes to creating space for Ilyasova by faking a back screen on Otto Porter. The timing was not perfect but it was just good enough in combination with Hardaway’s threat as a shooter that neither Bradley Beal nor Porter are not able to offer Gortat any help with “dig action” (we’ll see other examples of this later). The result is a pretty simple 3 point play that draws the Hawks to within 3 points with 1:07 remaining.
On the next possession, (enjoy the play-by-play call) the Wizards run a basic 1-5 pick and roll clearing the entire left side of the offensive floor effectively forcing Dwight Howard to defend John Wall with all of the space he wants. Howard’s effort may appear to be lacking on this play but the Hawks want Wall to operate as a jump shooter in this scenario and Howard does finish the play with a solid box out on Martin as a potential rebounder. Wall converts the 13 foot jump shot to take the lead back to five for the Wizards with 0:49 on the clock.
Washington has possession here again after Wall forced Dennis Schroder into a jump ball before the Hawks even got into their offensive action. The Wizards easily secured the possession and set up a 1-4 pick and roll with potential shooters on each side of the floor in this case. So why did they use Markeiff Moirris to set the pick on this play instead of Gortat?
The priority in this situation up two scoring possessions is to bleed as much clock as possible before getting up basically any reasonable shot they can get. Since the plan is to get as deep in the shot clock as possible the Wizards did not want to allow the Hawks to use a trap to force the ball to Gortat as the shot clock winds down. Regardless of how the Hawks defend the play here either Wall or Morris can make a play to ensure a turnover is avoided and a shot is taken. Despite Wall missing this shot the possession is a success for the Wizards as the Hawks rebound the ball down 5 points with only 18 seconds remaining in the game.
The Hawks are obviously in a hurry here and Thabo Sefolosha creates really effective dribble hand off action to get Hardaway freed up as a potential three-point shooter very quickly. While Beal looks frustrated after the foul call the result is probably a slight positive for the Wizards as the three-point attempt is prevented with the foul prior to Hardaway getting into his shooting motion. Hardaway would make both free throws to get the Hawks back within three points with 10 seconds remaining. The game is not over at this point.
The Wizards call a time out and choose the to advance the ball to half court. They put two players in the front court and two players in the back court to create maximum space for the inbound set up. Beal gets separation and is fouled by Taurean Prince. Beal makes one of his free throw attempts to secure the victory for the Wizards.
There is one thing to call out on this play. Prior to the inbound pass from Porter, Beal gets his hands pretty deep into Prince’s body to set up for the separation he wants. As Prince gets more experience he will learn to accentuate the contact on that play; refs aren’t likely to call a foul in this situation but Beal takes enough risk with the slight push off that a player needs to create any opportunity for a foul call in this situation with the clock stopped.
Here in Milwaukee the game is tied at 94-94 as the clocks ticks into the final minute of play. The Bucks identify a potential mismatch with Khris Middleton isolated on Hardaway. THJ executes very well here bodying up Middleton and then forcing him toward the baseline where help is available in the form of Dwight Howard.
Middleton might have missed an opportunity to feed the ball to Giannis Antetokoumpo here. But in this situation with Howard helping on the shooter many teams coach their players to just get a shot up with a really favorable rebound edge for a potential easy put back. But the Hawks get the block here and secure the ball with the game still tied with 55 seconds remaining.
Hardaway looks to be leaking out here for a potential transition opportunity and Howard gets a little too eager with an attempted outlet pass to him. Giannis makes a good play to get a hand on the ball with a deflection and follows that up with an amazing play in grabbing the ball while avoiding both the ball and his feet from going out of bounds. It pretty easy to criticize Howard here (and at least somewhat fair) for this turnover but this is not the first nor last time Giannis will surprise an opponent with an incredible combination of length and athleticism to break up a play. A big missed opportunity for the Hawks here late in a tie game.
The Bucks get into their offensive action on this play very quickly as they are naturally looking for a 2-for-1 opportunity with the game tied. In this situation players are taught to target about 35 seconds remaining on the game clock for the ideal shot execution. Since Malcolm Brogdon ends up with the ball after the turnover he initiates a basic 1-5 pick and roll with Greg Monroe. The Hawks defensive execution is here is pretty awful.
Schroder does a decent job of staying attached to Brogdon after navigating the screen. Ilyasova has the “dig” responsibility on this play and he gets into Brogdon a bit but not as much as you want to see in this situation. The most effectively executed dig action in this situation should result in the dribbler feeling some amount of pressure to switch the ball to his left hand (when dribbling right). That did not happen here but that is not all on Ilyasova. The execution of this play in on the two players defending the pick and roll action and the third player that ends up with the dig responsibility.
The most serious offense here is that Howard ends up almost completely flat footed as Brogdon and Monroe penetrate. That means Howard is poorly positioned to respond regardless of how the action plays out. Once Ilyasova starts to get into his dig action it is Schroder’s responsibility to offer resistance in the passing lane but he is not able to do that. As mentioned, he does a decent job of staying attached but offers no obstruction in the passing lane. If Howard and Schroder provide a little more resistance here they would be pushing Brodgon just enough further to his right that Ilyasova would likely have been able to get deeper into Brogdon with his dig and have more of an impact on the play. The result is a pretty easily converted bucket for Monroe and a 2 point lead for the Bucks with 40 seconds remaining.
The Bucks allow the Hawks to roll the ball all the way across half court before Schroder grabs it and calls timeout. The first thing to note here is that the Bucks basically punted all the 2 for 1 advantage that they achieved with their preceding offensive possession.
After the timeout, Schroder takes advantage of a screen from Howard and punishes a really bad overplay by Monroe to get to the basket for an easy layup to tie game with 29 seconds remaining and get the 2 for 1 advantage back on the Hawks side of the ledger.
The Bucks decide not to call timeout in this situation and smartly force the Hawks to defend with Mike Dunleavy Jr. on the floor instead of Thabo Sefolosha. The Bucks set up for the 1-5 pick and roll again. Notice Howard communicating with Hardaway here as the Bucks set up. It looks to me like Howard is communicating that they are going to play the pick and roll differently and that THJ needs to be ready to offer help on the backside of the play.
Ilyasova has the dig responsibility again. But Howard and Schroder let Brogdon get even deeper this time such that both Ilyasova’s dig and THJ’s help are of no consequence. The result is another easy bucket for Monroe and a two-point lead for the Bucks with 17 seconds remaining.
The Hawks make a similar decision and decide to go on offense without calling a timeout as they look to put Monroe back into the pick and roll. Monroe is a little more proactive here and maintains tighter spacing as he navigates the screen. The result is that Schroder effectively delivers the pass to Howard on the roll. But Middleton offers excellent help here on Howard’s roll toward the rim and Monroe is able to put Howard on the free throw line. Fairly predictably Howard makes one of his two free throw attempts. The Hawks now trail by a point with 10 seconds remaining.
Atlanta quickly fouled Middleton after the Bucks inbound pass and he would make both free throws to give his team a three-point lead with nine seconds remaining.
After a timeout, the Bucks adjust their defensive personnel and come out with a very small lineup: four guards and Giannis. They are playing small and switching everything. Coach Budenholzer designs a play in which the Hawks balance the floor and use Howard and Hardaway Jr. to set separate screens for Ilyasova and Dunleavy to come up to the 3-point break looking for space to get up an attempt to tie the game.
Notice that Ilyasova frees up sooner and Schroder delivers the ball to him. Brogdon gets significantly more tied up on the other side of the floor and allows Dunleavy to achieve full separation from his defender; but the action is later. Ilyasova misses an opportunity to deliver the ball to Dunleavy for a potentially wide open 3-point attempt. But it’s almost impossible to expect Ilyasova to anticipate the way the timing works out on the play. He tries to draw contact to get to the line for 3 free throw attempts with a chance to tie the game. But Tony Snell defends him in a very disciplined way and the officials go with a correct no call and the game is effectively over.
This game came down defensive execution in this case and Howard and Schroder’s inability to defend Brogdon and Monroe in the pick and roll was the difference.