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Hawks bruised in the paint in loss to Hornets

Not a pretty differential in paint points...

Atlanta Hawks v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks came up short on the second night of a back-to-back against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center on Wednesday night, falling 108-94.

Trae Young led the Hawks in scoring with 18 points, Jeremy Lamb scored 22 points to lead the Hornets’ scoring load.

Let’s break this one down.

Falling away in the second half

As always, if you need to catch up on how the game unfolded, check the recap — always a great place to start.

Having been played on Tuesday night in a game that went to the wire in Miami, one that the Hawks won in the end, they were back at it again on Wednesday in Charlotte.

In what was not the prettiest game in the world, the Hawks were able to build a lead as many as 10 points, and though that lead disappeared and went in Charlotte’s favor before the end of the first half, the Hawks were still hanging around in this game well into the third quarter despite a number of factors, such as the absence of Jeremy Lin being felt and the poor shooting numbers.

Things began to unravel for good near the end of the third quarter, where a 10-1 Hornets run to finish the quarter put this game in danger of spiralling out of control for the Hawks, down 11 heading into the fourth quarter on the second night of a back-to-back.

“...We just did a really poor job of finishing the quarter,” said Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce. “...We needed to finish the quarter and we didn’t do a very good job of it at that point...just needing a group to finish even halfway decent so it’s a five point game, four point game going into the fourth quarter.”

And sure enough, the Hawks couldn’t keep up with the Hornets and just after half distance in the final period the Charlotte lead was 17 points, too much for the Hawks to overcome and the Hawks waved the white flag not long after that, sending in Daniel Hamilton and Miles Plumlee.

Despite the circumstances (second night of a back-to-back, both games taking place on the road and minus Lin to stabilise the second unit, something Pierce lamented not having postgame), Pierce called this ‘a winnable game’ and pinpointed the Hawks’ lack of execution as a major factor.

“Looked like a team on the second night of a back-to-back,” opened Pierce. “...we ran out of gas. We were sloppy offensively, didn’t really attack, didn’t get the shots we wanted. They just kept putting pressure on us, they had 62 points in the paint. That was their mindset all night. This is a very winnable game for us. But they continued to attack and we stopped attacking.”

“Execution is probably the best word to use,” said Pierce of the Hawks’ second half on the back-to-back. “Effort goes with the execution. I thought our lack of execution was what really bothered us. They got layups down the stretch and it was just poor communication. That’s execution. And then offensively, we didn’t get the ball from side-to-side. We were easy to guard in all of our action, regardless of what we ran. Execution was key. Just not putting pressure on the rim, not getting downhill and just not being hard to guard. We could’ve slashed, we could’ve put pressure downhill, we had some paint-to-great opportunities. We had none of that tonight.”

Pierce mentioned the Hornets got some layups due to poor communication, none worse/more so than this Tony Parker layup that Taurean Prince just gifted him:

Words fail me.

Pierce also mentioned the Hawks being easy to guard at times and they certainly were at times...

The Hornets switched a ton last night, and they switch onto Taurean Prince on this possession. Even with Miles Bridges right there to contest, Prince hoists a contested shot that misses:

Again, the Hornets switch and Miles Bridges switches from Young onto the driving Collins, whose run and running shot is not difficult to difficult to keep up with and contest and the shot is missed:

Pierce called this a winnable game for the Hawks, and given how Kemba Walker was struggling in this game (6-of-19 shooting) maybe it was. But as Pierce also said, the Hawks just ran our of juice in the second half, and they were unable to halt the likes of Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lamb.

Not a terrible game for the Hawks all things considered — things, ultimately, fell as expected. They fought and ran out of gas against a better team on the road.

Hornets paint points differential

The Hornets, eventually, proved to be the better team in the end last night but it took until the end of the third quarter for that to take shape. What didn’t take nearly as long to take shape was the Hornets’ domination in the paint, outscoring the Hawks 62-38 in paint points.

Cody Zeller scored 14 of those paint points as he went off for 12 of his 19 points in the second quarter — he was just able to get into the lane so easily and put up whatever shot he wanted.

Here, he manages to out-fox both DeAndre’ Bembry and Omari Spellman (misleading them to believe he was passing to Walker) and drives to the rim for the dunk:

On the catch from Walker, the Hawks are beaten by the quick step from Zeller (yes, that’s a real sentence you just read) and Zeller is able to, again, get to the rim for the dunk:

I’m not going to make this the ‘Cody Zeller goes off on the Hawks’ piece but he was able to do a lot more offensively than Cody Zeller should’ve done last night. The Hawks just aren’t good defensively and, generally speaking, can’t guard very well. Zeller had his own way at times, especially in the paint.

Jeremy Lamb was also someone who was able to have things a little easier than he should have, especially getting to the rim.

Kent Bazemore (who did not enjoy a good game last night, shooting 0-of-10) does a poor job here of guarding Lamb, who is easily able to drive by, get all of the way to the rim and score:

Bembry isn’t able to do enough and the Hawks had to match the Hornets’ small-ball, so Justin Anderson and Vince Carter are your forward/center in this spot...not much shot blocking there. Anderson can block some, but he’s not able to rotate in time to contest this shot from Lamb.

Again, Bazemore is defending Lamb and this time you can say that the body of Marvin Williams doesn’t help Bazemore defensively. So, Lamb drives by and the Hawks and John Collins are too slow to rotate, doesn’t contest the shot awfully well and Lamb is able to score at the rim again:

On the pass from Parker, Lamb drives on the catch, immediately drives by his man, Kevin Huerter (who played well last night offensively, hitting those four three-pointers) and neither Collins or Dewayne Dedmon rotate to stop Lamb once he has penetrate:

I think you get the general idea: the Hawks just aren’t staying in front of their man and the defensive help wasn’t good enough once initial penetration had been achieved.

From the Hawks’ side, they were thwarted by good Hornets defense, poor shot selection but also, as Pierce referenced, made it easy for the Hornets to defend their shots.

In transition, Collins leads the way, hands the ball to his point guard on the move, Young finds Prince, Prince gets to the paint and puts up a contested runner:

Might John Collins have served as a better option underneath? Plays like this highlight the fact that the Hawks didn’t do enough to break the Hornets down over the 48 minutes.

Collins did get an opportunity on this play in the paint but the presence of Zeller in the paint forces him to adjust his shot and his underarm scoop is high and wide:

On the block, Collins tries to back-down Bridges, puts up a shot that is well contested by Bridges and it’s another easy shot to defend for the Hornets:

To be fair, the Hawks didn’t give Collins a ton of options to kick out to from that position — again, easy to guard.

On the wing, Bembry tries to find an avenue by Lamb, turns, fades and another contested shot in the paint is no good:

In the third quarter, Young drives into the paint and puts up a shot that is easily blocked by Zeller:

Those are shots Young has to try and stamp out. NBA defenses are so adept to those kind drives and they eat them for breakfast — Young is driving into a crowd and right into a position where the help defense can do its job. Two Charlotte players could’ve blocked that, and with Zeller right there as a help defender Young has to realise that those are poor shots at this level. Possibly the easiest block Zeller will have for a while, knocking this one away with minimal effort required.

When you compare the tape, it’s no surprise that the Hornets just dominated in the paint over the Hawks. Poor defense and poor offense is sure fire way to lose an NBA game quickly...and if Kemba Walker was his normal self in the first half, I scare to imagine how things would’ve ended up.

Living and dying by the three

The Hawks have made three-point shooting a point of emphasis this season — they want to get up as many as possible. They certainly took a lot more threes than Charlotte last night but, as has often happened this season (ranking 29th in the league in three-point percentage with 31%), they did not convert a good percentage on these threes and this, in addition to their poor scoring inside the paint, killed them.

The Hawks shot 11-of-44 from three — 25%. The Hornets, in contrast, shot 4-of-20 from three. Unusual, given that the Hornets who, like the Hawks, like to hoist a lot of threes — 34 a game. The Hawks, for reference, attempt 35.7 per game. I think it was a case of playing to the matchup somewhat, taking what the Hawks’ defense was giving them — which was a lot of drives and points in the paint.

Though, one player who did have success shooting the three-pointer was Kevin Huerter, who shot 4-of-7 from three, including this impressive play where he caught the ball, faked Lamb off of his feet before shifting back behind the three-point stepping to his left and draining the three:

Not a lot to say in this spot other than this was a great play to watch from Huerter and the Hawks’ three-point shooting, again, killed them.

Live and die by the three, and there’s been a lot more dying than living with that 29th ranked, 31% shooting from three.

Alex Len: DNP-CD

An interesting move last night from coach Pierce saw Alex Len notch his first DNP-CD of the season. This was a little odd to see, especially as the game developed in the first half and it became abundantly clear that Len wasn’t being played but coach Pierce gave his reasons postgame, saying that the Hornets’ small-ball lineups early on influenced his decision to leave Len on the bench and look more so towards Spellman and Vince Carter.

“They did a good job, they went small early and we countered,” said Pierce of the decision not to play Len. “We were playing well enough. They had Zeller at the five and they went (with) Kaminsky at the five and he hits a three to start. Right then and there you feel that this probably isn’t a game for him (Len) and you try and throw Omari out there, you try and throw Vince out there, keep John at the five. And it’s tough. It’s tough to put a player who hasn’t played in the first half, try make a late adjustment going into in the fourth quarter and try get him a rhythm. I didn’t want to put him out there in a bad position and think he was going to be our saviour. The guys were going, they were going to have to try and get us going.”

I wouldn’t be reading a ton into this or show too much concern — it was just a tough matchup for Len with how small the Hornets went and how they were switching a ton. Expect him to play a much larger role when the Hawks roll into Oklahoma City on Friday, who play with a more traditional big in Steven Adams.

The Hawks (5-17) wrap up this three-game road trip on Friday in Oklahoma City and the OKC Thunder.

Should be fun.