The Atlanta Hawks entered the halftime break in Indiana on Saturday night coming off of one of their best quarters of play on the season. The team held a nine-point lead and were spacing the floor and moving the ball as well as they have at any time on a four-game road trip. In the second quarter, all of the shots they created, except one, came from beyond the three point line or from inside the restricted area. Then, they managed just 16 and 17 points respectively in the 3rd and 4th quarters and ended up with a 97-89 loss to the Pacers.
Pacers star guard Victor Oladipo was a game time decision due to a knee injury. He played but had to exit just five minutes into the game. Tyreke Evans is the free agent that the Pacers invested in during the off-season to run the second unit offense and to help close games when opposing defenses tend to narrow their focus upon Oladipo. But he was so ineffective on both ends of the court that he did not play down the stretch despite the absence of the all-star.
Aaron Holiday entered the game having played all of 16 minutes and having scored a total of five points in first professional season. But he was prepared when Pacers coach Nate McMillan turned to him on the second night of a back to back. The rookie scored 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting, including hitting on 3 of his 4 attempts from beyond the three point line. He was a +10 in his 15 minutes of play in a game his team would win by eight points.
“When you get your opportunity, you take advantage of it,” said Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce after the game. “I thought he came in in the fourth quarter and took advantage of it. 12 point in, I think it was in 15 minutes or 13 minutes or something like that. A good young player that probably is just putting in his work. And when his number is called, he is ready to perform and he did tonight.”
For the Hawks, there was a sense of anticipation heading into the contest. Second year big man John Collins was set to play his first game of the 2018-19 season. He made an immediate impact on the game. But playing with his normal amount of effort and aggressiveness led to him visiting the free throw line on consecutive possessions in the second quarter when the plan called for him to exit the game. He was on a minutes restriction for this contest and the events that extended his time on the floor in the first half seemingly scrapped the plan they had for him in the second half. He never entered the game after halftime.
“What you get is a young athlete with a lot of energy and playing with a lot of emotion and effort,” said Pierce. “And he just got to the foul line by being aggressive. He got one foul by coming over and getting the verticality and just being in the right spot because of his activity. So it’s nice to have him back and obviously we will be more excited when we can get more minutes out of him. I thought it was a good start for him.”
Jeremy Lin was Atlanta’s best player in the contest from start to finish. He was on the court in the final minutes of play doing all he could in an effort to drive a comeback. He led Atlanta with 16 points on 7 of 11 shooting from the field. He also hit 2 of his 3 three points attempts. He had 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals.
Rookie point guard Trae Young continued to struggle in the road loss. It was his third game in a row in which he failed to reach 10 points (the only 3 games he has done so on the season). He had 9 points on 3 of 11 on field goal attempts. He missed on all 5 of his three point attempts. He is now 0 for 14 shooting from beyond the three point line in his last 3 games. He is still having regular success when attacking in dribble penetration.
In addition to the return of Collins, the Hawks also had the services of Dewayne Dedmon, their veteran center. He had missed the last three games tending to the birth of his child. Both he and Collins played off of the bench. Dedmon had 12 points and 7 rebounds in his 23 minutes of action.
“It definitely felt good to be out there and also to have John coming back too,” Dedmon said after the game. “He played great in his minutes. I think he was on a minutes restriction tonight. I wish he could have played a bit more but he did a great job out there today.”
It’s fairly evident that Dedmon is the team’s best center and Collins their best power forward. It will be interesting to see how quickly each of them presumably work their way back to being part of the starting unit on a game by game basis. The way the rotations worked out in this game resulted in the Hawks having no rim protection on the floor in the closing minutes.
Kent Bazemore was a team best +16 in the box score. He had 13 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. He brought a lot of energy and activity to the defensive end of the court.
Kevin Huerter started at the other wing position but struggled to make shots. He had just 5 points on 9 shooting possessions.
Like Bazemore, DeAndre’ Bembry was active defensively. But he also contributed to the shooting difficulties. He had 8 points on 10 shooting possessions and missed all 3 of his three point attempts.
Pacers’ sharp shooter Bojan Bogdonovic led all scorers with 22 points. He was 7 of 12 from the field and hit on 3 of his 5 three point shots. He has the best percentage from the three point line among qualified shooters.
“He’s had a great year so far. He’s shooting over 50% from three and from the field overall,” Pierce said of Bogdonovic. “He’s more confident putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim and not just relying on his three-point shot. So, with Oladipo out and Tyreke not finishing the second half really. So, he is a guy that is a closer. He’s done that and he’s a guy that they use in their offensive movement coming off of screens and he is able with his size to get into the paint.”
Rough third quarter play continues to be a consistent issue contributing to Hawks ability to stay competitive in games. They were outscored 26-16 in the third period in this game which resulted in the Pacers taking the lead into the fourth quarter at home.
“You know, what they do is they put their foot on the gas and they keep going,” said Pierce about Indiana. “And I think we got comfortable and just tried to play the game even the rest of the way. That’s not the mindset you’re going to have playing against a playoff caliber team with a lot of veteran guys even when some guys are missing. They know how to stay the course and play the rest of the half. We got comfortable. We’ve got to learn how to finish. I think our guys competed the entire night, all 48 minutes. That wasn’t a lack of effort. It’s just understanding how to finish the game.”
The spacing and ball movement was solid from early on in the contest. Alex Len cuts to the rim after setting a screen on this possession which creates enough space for Bazemore to get a comfortable look from the three point line. Alex Poythress offers a constructive quasi-screen after his defender shades help toward the cutting Len.
Lin and Dedmon work in the pick and roll action on this play. A nice bounce pass to the rolling big man sets him up with the space to attack the rim. Dedmon uses a pump fake to get the and one opportunity.
The Hawks use a sideline out of bounds (SLOB) set to get Bembry freed up attacking the basket. The Pacers defense reacted more strongly to times Collins would roll to the rim than any of the other Hawks’ bigs. The presence of the second year power forward should help his teammates get just a bit more space to attack than they were getting while he was out.
This is an example of execution Coach Pierce is probably emphasizing with his team the most, using the defense to create offense. The defense creates a turnover which leads to a transition opportunity. Young lobs it to Collins who finishes with the dunk.
Here is another example. Young is demonstrating the principle of “see the ball and see your man.” He gets the steal which leads to an easy lay up in transition.
Another example of good timing and movement. Bembry attacks his man with the dribble. Dedmon moves to the perimeter to “replace” Bembry to maintain the spacing. Omari Spellman cuts along the baseline and gets the feed for the dunk.
It’s not often that you are going to catch Thaddeus Young ball watching. But it happens on this play.
More offense being created from defense on this possession in the second quarter. Bazemore gets the deflection and Huerter benefits with the opportunity to attack in transition. He gets the easy lay up.
Huerter and Collins are operating in the pick and roll on this play. A simple bounce bass to Collins sets him up to attack the rim for the and one opportunity. He is probably the team’s only big man that can receive the ball at the top of the key and get to the rim without a dribble.
On this possession, Young recognizes that he is matched up with the Pacers’ weakest perimeter defender, Doug McDermott. He easily gets past him and gets creative with the lay up that he converts.
Lin was making intelligent plays throughout the contest. On this play the Pacers defense decides to trap him in the pick and roll. Len does the right thing and runs straight to the front of the restricted area, Lin delivers the ball before Kyle O’Quinn can recover in an effort to keep Len from the rim.
The Hawks attack aggressively in transition again on this play, Bazemore pushes the ball and is able to hit Collins with a lob. When Collins was being evaluated as an NBA prospect his speed was the skill that probably stood out the most. They are not many big men than can often outrun a good number of opposing team’s five man lineups.
More high-IQ play from Lin on this play. He gets the ball and realizes he can create a 2-for-1 opportunity (2 Hawks’ possessions, 1 Pacers’ possession) if he works fast. He sprints the ball up the floor before the Indiana defense can get set. He converts the lay up with enough time to get another offensive possession before halftime.
And he masterfully executes the following possession after a turnover is created. He hits Bembry in stride for the uncontested dunk to create a 9 point lead heading into the half.
This play offers another example of Bazemore’s defensive activity. He helps off of Evans with a “dig” on Bogdonovic. He is able to get the strip and a run out lay up.
This is a beautifully executed set by the Atlanta five man lineup. After executing a dribble hand off (DHO), Bazemore and Dedmon convert into a side pick and roll. It may look like a fairly straightforward play. But look at the weak side. Notice how frequently Poythress, Young and Huerter are exchanging positions. Also notice how perfectly Huerter mirrors Dedmon’s roll to the rim.
This activity on the weak side creates confusion for the Pacers’ defenders in terms of which player has the responsibility to help towards the rim.
But as the third quarter is winding down, Mr. Holiday shows up. He shows no hesitation on his first shot attempt stepping into and knocking down a three point attempt.
Another heads up play from Lin early in the fourth quarter. On the previous possession Holiday looks like a rookie taking an ill-advised low percentage shot at the rim and ends up on the floor on the baseline.
Len notices a potential 5 on 4 opportunity. The veteran Vince Carter is not able to beat Holiday back up the court. But 4 on 4 situations also create confusion for a defense, even if briefly, as to how to get matched up. He takes advantage and gets an uncontested three point attempt to fall.
Holiday knocks down another three point shot as the Pacers are able to force his defender, Tyler Dorsey to help on McDermott in the corner. Dedmon is not able to rotate in time to chase the rookie off of the three point line.
The three point attempts NBA coaches value the most in the half court come from drive and kick action. Here, Holiday initiates a drive and a kick to Corey Joseph who then initiates a drive and kick back to Holiday. The rookie knocks down his third long ball and put the Pacers up 11 with less than 4 1⁄2 minutes to play.
Here, Holiday is chased by Lin over the screen. But the rookie is able to attack with the dribble and deliver the ball to Domantas Sabonis who finishes the play to put Indiana back up by 11 points. The Hawks have no rim protection in this lineup with Spellman playing at the 5 and Carter at the 4.
And this is the Hawks shot chart the rest of the way. They hit on just 3 of 9 field goal attempts and struggle to finish some mildly contested shots at the rim. Lin was 3 of 5 during this stretch. All other shooters were 0 of 5.
The Hawks will head home after going 0-4 on the road trip. They will host the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday at State Farm Arena. The Clippers will enter play on Monday with a four-game winning streak and the fourth best offensive in the league as measured by offensive rating.