Devin Booker led the Suns with 34 points while T.J. Warren added 31 points.
For the Hawks, they were led by Ersan Ilyasova’s 21 points while Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schröder both added 20 points.
Let’s look at how this one went wrong, shall we?
Capitulation down the stretch
This game was the Atlanta Hawks’ to lose.
The Hawks led by 12 points with 4:51 remaining and were up 10 with 2:53 remaining. And then the cactus began to lose its sting...
Devin Booker — who had struggled in the second half — awoke late in this game and Marquese Chriss hit a big three-pointer to bring the Suns within five points with 1:29 remaining. Both teams would go on to miss big opportunities respectively, with Kent Bazemore turning the ball over and Troy Daniels missing the three that would’ve brought the house down.
Miles Plumlee (yes, Miles Plumlee was playing clutch minutes) misses two free throws with 43 seconds left — Hawks still up five — and the Suns take a timeout. Out of it, they run a nice play where Booker makes a cut to the ball-side wing through a gap that Chriss and Tyson Chandler would then close, giving the separation Booker needs to hit a three:
Not a whole lot Bazemore can do here, he does a good job as it is to fight through and get some sort of contest up there, but we also know that Devin Booker is just a shot maker. A nice play by the Suns.
The Hawks take a timeout, still in a decent spot, up two, with the opportunity to score and get a 2-for-1 out of it if they want.
Coming out of the timeout, the floor is spread for Dennis and bide their time. Ilyasova comes to set the pick, Dennis uses it and turns the corner to get by Booker. The Suns’ defense begins to collapse onto Schröder as he bears down on the rim, but a great heads up play by Isaiah Canaan — who recognizes what’s obviously about to happen — to plug himself between Dennis and the rim, and Schröder barrels into him and an offensive foul is called:
“...Those block/charges are tough calls,” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer postgame. “You got to see the defender behind the guy driving, you got to see the guy in front, you got to see the charge circle. It’s not an easy job for the referees.”
I’m personally conflicted on this play. On one hand, it’s just a great bit of defensive awareness by Canaan to stand in that gap but on the other hand — and hindsight is always 20-20 — maybe Dennis would’ve been better off passing it out to Taurean Prince in the corner?
Canaan does get to the spot pretty early, could Dennis have recognised this earlier? Do you want your leading scorer to be aggressive (as he was) in this situation or do you want your point guard to maybe look to set a teammate up who was in a good position after he had collapsed the D?
It’s a tough one, you can make arguments for either one, but I think it’s ultimately just a good play from Canaan.
Anyway, the Suns come the other way now with the chance to tie the game with a two, or take the lead with a three. Booker brings it up and gets a screen from Chriss to shed Baze. As Booker goes to step into a three, Ersan Ilyasova does a good job taking that shot away and this allows Baze to get back into the play. Booker, having used his dribble, gives it up to T.J. Warren, who hands back to the moving Booker on the right wing. Bazemore, who has to go around Warren, is trailing Booker again and as Booker rises for a three, Bazemore — in an attempt to block the shot — whacks Booker on the top of the head and is called for the foul:
Despite Bazemore’s protests (of which I’m not sure of in the slightest, he clearly makes contact with his head), Booker heads to the line to shoot three free throws (three of 15 free throws he would take in this game), and he knocks them all down to give the Suns a one point lead, 101-102, and the Hawks call for time.
Coming out of the timeout, the Hawks run a pick-and-roll with Schröder and Prince. Prince rolls to the rim, Dennis raises the lob, Prince catches it and is about to throw it down when Marquese Chriss arrives to emphatically block the shot:
Both sides played this really well. It was a great play from the Hawks (stationing Belinelli on one wing and Bazemore screening for Ilyasova on the other as Prince and Schröder run their action) and it was a monster block by Chriss to deny a certain dunk — you just have to give Chriss a lot of credit, because it was a huge block that saved the game for Phoenix.
Booker grabs the rebound and the Hawks are forced to foul. Bazemore takes it and fouls out of the game in process. Booker goes to the line and sinks the free throws, putting the Suns up by three-points with six seconds left.
The Hawks have to go down the floor straightaway (out of timeouts) and need a three to tie the game. Dennis goes the length of the floor (makes good ground) and decides — for whatever reason unbeknownst to humanity — that the best thing to do is lay the ball in for a two-pointer and not a three-pointer. Suns allow it, inbound the ball and the game is over:
There is so much to break down here...
Dennis must not have known the game situation — that the Hawks were down by three. Surely (SURELY) this is the only reason why he went for a two at the rim and not take a three. It makes absolutely no sense otherwise.
If he did know that the Hawks were down three...I have no words. Surely... But if he thought they were down two, judging by the fact he didn’t celebrate/acknowledge the fact he may have just tied the game with seconds remaining...maybe he did know... And if he did... No, surely...
The other thing about this play is that Taurean Prince was wide open for a three-point attempt with enough time on the clock had Dennis had got his head up. But Dennis being Dennis, that isn’t always the case...
Again, surely he couldn’t have known the game situation, and that’s obviously on Dennis if that’s the case...
After the made layup comes all the reactions to it (and you can see them all in the video).
Coach Bud raises his arms and goes after his point guard before remembering to wave to the opposing bench (which teams from different conferences usually do since they only meet twice a season).
Bud also makes a motion as he goes to Dennis, a kind of rip through kind of motion... Did Bud want Dennis to try and draw contact and maybe draw a foul instead of going for the clean layup as he did? Hard to know, surely Bud would’ve wanted a three-point attempt?
Kent Bazemore, meanwhile, hides his head behind Hawks assistant coach Taylor Jenkins for a brief moment in a ‘he did not just do that’ kind of moment, while Malcolm Delaney just has his arms outstretched in the direction of the wide open Taurean Prince.
And there you go: an incredible way to lose a basketball game. And to add insult to injury...
Over the last 20 seasons, the Hawks were 400-0 when leading by at least 10 in the final 3 minutes of the game entering Tuesday.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 3, 2018
They lost to the Suns under such circumstances tonight
Postgame, Bud lamented the Hawks’ ability to make plays on both sides of the floor as well as acknowledging his side’s mental mistakes.
“Tough loss,” said Bud postgame. “To have the lead and not make enough plays on both ends of the court... I think we’ll learn from it, that’s the great thing about tough games like this. There’s lots of mental mistakes from all of us, we can get better, look at the film and be better in those late game situations.”
Devin Booker was obviously huge down the stretch: 12 points including 7-of-7 from the free throw line in the final three minutes of this game. Booker had struggled in the second half up until that point, scoring just four points, but was able to cash in late from the line.
“The big ones that stand out is him getting to the free throw line, the one opposite their bench — Baze is playing good defense and probably bumps him, knocks him down, two easy free throws,” said Bud. “The foul on the three-point shooter, gets three free throws... He (Bazemore) has got to make him make that shot and not put him on the line. 15 free throws... He scored a lot points in the second half on the free throw line, we got to do a better job of keeping him off the three-point line.”
Again, Bud was left rooting for positives for his side moving forward but admitted his locker room was frustrated after the loss.
“There’s a lot of positives,” said Bud postgame. “It’s hard when you lose a game like this, you feel like you should win. I think the way we’re playing, the way we’re competing, the togetherness on both ends of the court. It’s frustrating in the locker room right now but there’s a lot of positives the group has been playing the last 10-14 days.”
It’s amazing how the Hawks lost this game. It wasn’t just one play but a string of bad plays/decision making. Not the ideal way to start a five game road trip...
Lack of bench help
The bench didn’t do a whole lot to help the Hawks in this game. Sure, they outscored the Suns’ bench but outscored them 27-15 — not exactly a lot of Phoenix points to outscore...
Heading into last night’s game, the Hawks’ bench averaged 39 points a game which was 9th best in the league — one of the few positives this season.
20 of those 27 bench points came in the first half, and 12 of them came from Marco Belinelli, who had it going in the first half. and finished with 16 of the bench’s 27 points.
Just seven bench points in the second half...that puts your starting unit under a lot of pressure to score the ball.
John Collins struggled in this one: six points on 1-of-6 shooting. Collins took two mid-range shots but missed them both. Even though he missed him, I like him taking those shots. He’s capable of making them but he has been reluctant to take them at times, so seeing him attempt two in one game is encouraging.
The Hawks’ bench is normally pretty good but it’s unfortunate they couldn’t have had a better run of things last night.
The Plumlee-Collins conundrum
Here was something a lot of Hawks fans were not too pleased about: the fact that Miles Plumlee played more minutes than John Collins — a season-high 27 minutes for Plumlee and just 20 for Collins (he had a tad bit of foul trouble in the final period but nothing major).
Before we go any further, it’s important to remember that the coaching staff make decisions to win games, or what they feel is the best decision in a particular game. Players and coaches don’t tank. They play to win. So the Hawks, by playing Plumlee last night as long as they did, (I’m assuming here) believed he brought more to the table in this game than Collins.
I like Miles Plumlee. I like what he has brought to the Hawks and he has an overall better impact on the Hawks (the numbers back it up, and Plumlee had a team-high plus-8 last night) but everyone loves to shit on him — overlooking what he does bring to the table — because his contract isn’t good, because it’s the easy thing to do. It’s easy to be more harsh on a guy because his contract isn’t good/he doesn’t live up to his contract (same goes for Bazemore in that regard)
However, I do think it’s a problem if Plumlee plays more minutes than John Collins.
I think John Collins is a better player than Miles Plumlee right now and this really should be reversed: it should be Collins playing 27 minutes a night and Plumlee playing near 20 (at least until Dewayne Dedmon comes back).
I understand the Hawks trying to win games but at some point — and it should be soon — the Hawks will, surely, prioritise the development of their younger players over their vets.
Collins will eventually be playing 27-30 minutes a game and he’s obviously a huge part of the Hawks’ future, unlike Plumlee, (we all know that) but Collins is ready for that playing time right now. Hopefully we see it soon...
TP falls back to earth
After lighting it up in his last two games against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Toronto Raptors (which saw him record a new career-high of 30 points), Taurean Prince fell back to earth last night as he scored nine points on 2-of-14 shooting from the field and 1-of-7 from three.
TP settled for jumpers/threes at times in this game and didn’t look to drive it as much as he did in his last two games. Despite that poor shooting, he was still one of only two Hawks (the other being Miles Plumlee) who had a positive plus/minus rating of plus-2.
Prince had a similar game, very recently too, against the Wizards where he scored 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. He followed that game up with his career night in Toronto, where he scored 30 points on 12-of-16 shooting, so let’s see how he responds in the next game.
The Hawks (10-27) continue their five game road trip on Friday in Portland when they take on the Portland Trail Blazers again.
Should be fun, especially if Damian Lillard is playing in this one. Stay tuned.