Halfway through the third quarter on Wednesday evening, it looked as if things were slipping away for the Atlanta Hawks against the New York Knicks. However, Atlanta kept the game just in range early in the fourth quarter and showed resolve across the bulk of the final period. Still, the Hawks ended up coming up short in a 112-107 loss to the visiting team.
When the team needed an injection of energy in the second half, it came from a surprising source, one Miles Plumlee. He’s been firmly out of the rotation since Dwayne Dedmon returned from injury, but similar to what happened in the season opener in New York, the Hawks struggled to defend the Knicks without fouling. With Dedmon sitting on the bench with four fouls and Alex Len with five fouls, head coach Lloyd Pierce turned to Plumlee and was rewarded.
Plumlee amassed eight points and five rebounds in just a little more than 11 minutes of play. The Hawks were +10 during his time on the court, which allowed Atlanta to cut what had been a double digit lead for a vast majority of the second half to a five-point lead when an exhausted Plumlee finally went to the bench.
The Hawks kept the game within two scoring possessions the rest of the way but could not get the stops they needed to avoid simply trading baskets with the Knicks.
Former Hawks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. lead the way for the Knicks with 34 points on 32 shooting possessions including converting on 16 of his 20 free throw attempts.
Enes Kanter had 17 points and 11 rebounds and was the primary reason Atlanta’s centers ended up in foul trouble. He converted 7 of his 10 shots at the free throw line. Alonzo Trier (on a two-way contract) had 16 points and was aggressive on the offensive end throughout the game. Noah Vonleh had 11 points and 13 rebounds.
Omari Spellman had the best game of his rookie season to this point. He led Atlanta with 18 points and added 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. Beyond that, Spellman made plays in crucial spots in the game when his team was struggling to find consistent success on both ends of the court.
“He’s an unbelievable shooter, at the five and the four, and we know he can get three-point shots and they will fall,” Pierce said of Spellman. “We’re more concerned with him coming in and bringing us energy and effort the entire time. The and-one activated him a little bit more, the three activated him a little bit more, it got him on the boards, and competing and running around. It’s good to see him show that effort from the start more consistently.”
The production of both Spellman and Plumlee were critical in a game in which Dedmon and Len combined to shoot a collective 4 of 11 from the field. Both were a challenge for the Knicks to contain at the rim. The rookie also connected on 3 of his 5 three point attempts while the rest of his team otherwise converted just 8 of 33 attempts from beyond the line.
“You have to prepare like each day is the day you’re doing to get thrown in,” said Plumlee. “It takes a mental edge. It’s not easy, but it’s part of the job.”
“The only reason Miles even got the opportunity is Alex picks up his fifth and Dwayne had his fourth already,” Pierce said regarding Plumlee. “We just needed a little bit of life at the end of the third quarter. It’s hard, it will be game by game. You see something where we need to present at the rim a little bit better and Miles presents that. He can get behind the defense, you can throw lobs to him.”
Deandre’ Bembry got just the 4th start of his career as the Hawks coaching staff was dealing with the absence of Kevin Huerter (personal reasons) and looked to ease Taurean Prince back into action in a bit of a measured way as the normal starting forward was returning from a one game absence due to an ankle injury,
“Just another defender out there,” said Pierce regarding the decision to start Bembry. “It wasn’t anything that we were looking for we just wanted to get another defender out there and give him an opportunity when we were a man down. Just to change the rotation.”
Bembry did not put up huge offensive numbers but was the Hawks best defender throughout the night. He had 3 blocked shots and a steal to go along with 7 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
Trae Young struggled shooting the ball from the perimeter (1 of 7 on three point attempts) but managed 15 points and 8 assists. The rookie took good of the basketball in this game and had just 2 turnovers. He was far more effective when he was attacking with dribble penetration.
“If your shot’s not falling, it’s finding other ways to contribute,” Pierce commented on Young’s play. “He’s always going to be our lead facilitator. So, if he can get by his guy, and Frank did a great job defending him and pressured him. But he’s got to find other ways to contribute and I thought he did. He was part of the group that got us back into the game.”
Kent Bazemore had 16 point on 4 of 16 shooting from the field and hitting on just 1 of his 7 three point attempts. He did convert 7 of his 9 opportunities at the free throw line.
Prince had 16 points in his return and had 3 assists and just 2 turnovers. His play was up and down, but he made plays in critical spots in the fourth quarter to help the Hawks stay in the game.
Despite the loss, the Hawks did seem to emphasize areas of play in which their head coach has said he wants to see more from them. One of those areas is using defense to create offense.
On this play, Bazemore and Len work together to create a steal and a transition opportunity.
The activity of Spellman can be seen on this defensive possession. Emmanuel Mudiay is working to attack before the Hawks can get the defense set. Spellman helps with rim protection which allows them to another opportunity to run.
Mudiay is slow to recover to the defensive end. The result is a 5 on 4 opportunity and Bazemore finds Spellman for the uncontested dunk.
The Hawks defensive unit works together on this possession to create another steal and favorable numbers in offensive transition. Prince runs the floor and Jeremy Lin hits him in stride for the dunk.
In spite of their difficulty shooting the ball, there was a lot of play that if sustained should serve them well as the season progresses. They were very active defensively and were aggressive when opportunities to run were presented.
On the defensive end, the Knicks were very purposeful in working to trap Young in an effort to contain him. When under control, and especially when working from left to right, the Hawks rookie point guard was able to use that action against them to create good looks for his teammates.
Young finds Len for an open three point look as Alex Poythress occupies several defenders by diving to the rim. You will often see the two big men in opposite roles as seen on this play. But the comfort and effectiveness with which they communicate and execute this action is positive.
This is a similar look in the second half. Young draws the attention of multiple defenders as he works from his left to his right. The results in an uncontested three point attempt for Prince.
But when New York was able to force Young to his left, there were significantly fewer passing lanes available. A shot from the corner is never an undesirable look but the action is predictable and easier to contest.
On this play, the ball should have found it’s way to Alex Len after the Knicks defenders over-commit to the perimeter. But the offensive unit is not quite in sync and the ideal passing lane never materializes.
Young is also generally less effective attacking with the dribble from the left side of the offensive floor. This might be the wildest shot he has taken on the season.
But the young point guard makes the adjustment on the very next offensive possession. He is just a bit more assertive and the result is that he gets into the heart of the New York defense. Spellman benefits with an open look at the left three point break. This is impressive possession to possession adjustment from Young.
It’s uncanny how often that specific shot is available when he is able to use his craft to breakdown the opposing defense in the middle of the floor.
The Knicks do a better job staying balanced in their defensive coverage on this play late in the fourth quarter. But Young’s ability to pull defenders towards him as he works to his right opens up an opportunity for Prince to attack his close out defender.
But as the Hawks got on track offensively, they just could not get the stop or two they needed. Hardaway converts a tough shot on this play to push the New York lead back to 6 points despite the solid defensive effort from Bembry.
On the next possession, Young forces a three point attempt. The thought process is understandable. The team is down six points as the clocks ticks toward the one-minute mark. But the Hawks were, at this point, pretty consistently generating uncontested shots at the rim or quality looks from the three point line when working together as a unit.
As he grows, the rookie will likely learn to keep attacking in actions that are generating offensive success and will need to trust that, as a team, they will come up with the necessary defensive stops to keep the game in range.
Young’s ability to use a step back dribble to get separation is impressive and should serve him well as he continues to grow his game. But this was likely not the best time to go to that tool when he had been having so much success breaking down the New York defense and creating good looks for himself and his teammates.
The Hawks will host the Detroit Pistons on Friday night, before beginning a four-game road trip on Sunday in Los Angeles.