Atlanta dug themselves a big hole early. Brooklyn used a 31-7 run across the first and second quarters to push the lead to as many as 22 points.
“We dug ourselves too big of a hole, and we could never get back into it after the way we finished the first quarter, going into the second quarter,” A disappointed Mike Budenholzer told reporters after the game. “We just have to play better from the start of the game, and we can’t have lulls like that and get down 20. Credit to Brooklyn. A lot of their guys played well.”
The Hawks entered Sunday shorthanded and were down an additional starter by the time the game started. Paul Millsap missed his fifth straight game due to tightness in his knee. Sunday was the fourth straight game missed by Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha was a late scratch to the lineup due to a right groin strain.
“He wasn’t feeling where he could go,” Budenholzer answered when asked about Sefolosha’s status. “He tried to warm up, came down and got treatment this morning, and wasn’t able to go. We started Taurean. We’re down Paul, Baze and now Thabo, so three starters out. Everybody has to be ready to contribute and play. We just have to play better than we did today.”
And for the Hawks, that has been one of the biggest problems of late. Being down three starters has exposed the team’s lack of depth. Atlanta’s bench was outscored 46-7 on Sunday and it was the second unit’s struggles that directly contributed to the early deficit.
“That’s kind of the game, Budenholzer added on Brooklyn’s 31-7 first half run. “We talk about a 48-minute game. With the position we’re in now, to have a stretch where it’s 31-7, it’s going to be hard to come back from.”
Budenholzer looked visibly disappointed and the locker room wasn’t in any better spirits. Most of the players were clearly frustrated and none had a real good answer for what they could do to turn things around.
“It’s tough to see and to feel that way,” Jose Calderon said of the seven-game losing streak. “Sometimes when things don’t go your way, stuff like this happens. You dribble the ball off your foot and they go the other way. You have some bad turnovers. You can’t make shots. We have to work harder. I know we have the perfect excuse, we’re shorthanded or whatever you want, but we have to be better. Today, we were good for some of the game, but we can’t get down 20 and have to try and fight back.”
Calderon rejoined the rotation on Sunday and made an impact despite going 0 for 5 from the field. Budenholzer paired Calderon with Dennis Schröder in the first half as the Hawks whittled Brooklyn’s 22 point advantage down to just eight at the half.
“Jose just does the right things that may not show up in the box score. Makes the right pass, makes the right screen,” Budenholzer said when asked about the two-point guard alignment. “We got going a little bit. That group was good. I think we were a little bit smaller. I think Ersan was at the five and Taurean at the four. Just a little little more spacing, a little more spread. That group was probably our best group.”
Atlanta got within five points twice in the third quarter but the Nets answered every charge with a run of their own. In the end, the hole the Hawks dug themselves in the first half was more than they could overcome.
“For one, we have to fight for each other. We can’t allow the enemy to be ourselves,” Dwight Howard answered when asked about the seven-game skid. “The enemy has to be the other team. There are a few times we have to a better job collectively of staying together and staying strong, especially when we have tough times.”
Howard logged another double-double finishing with 19 points and 16 rebounds. However, he was just 3 of 12 from the free throw line and finished the game minus-13 in the box score.
“At this point, it doesn’t matter who’s out there on the floor,” Howard added. “The guys who step on the floor have to get the job done.”
Sunday’s loss drops Atlanta to 37-36 on the season. They are part of a three-way tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference along with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Indiana Pacers. Atlanta is two games up on eighth place Miami.
Next up for the Hawks is a home matchup against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday followed by a trip to Philadelphia on Wednesday.