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Hawks unable to overcome free throw disparity in loss to Mavericks

A close game but nothing close about it when it came to the free throws differential...

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks attempted to make a late rally in Dallas but ultimately fell short as they lost against the Mavericks 114-107 on Wednesday night.

Trae Young led the Hawks with 24 points and 10 assists, Kent Bazemore also had a strong game with 22 points while Harrison Barnes scored 25 points for the Mavericks.

One Mavs run proves decisive, free throws key

This was a tight game for the majority of the way heading into the fourth quarter with no team leading by no more than six points, the Mavericks leading 78-81 heading into the final frame.

It’s at this moment where the the Mavericks reel off of 11-3 run to finally establish a double-digit lead and the Hawks left it too late to mount the comeback. Given the nature of this game, that’s all it took in the end was just this one run to create the bit of separation the Mavericks needed and that was all she wrote.

It was the second unit for the Mavericks that got the job done and when the likes of Doncic and Wesley Matthews came back, the pressure was off.

Free throws were a part of this run 11-3 run and that was a huge factor in this game: the free throw disparity.

The Mavericks attempted 43 free throws compared to Atlanta’s 14. In fact, Luka Doncic himself attempted more free throws in this game than the Hawks with 15. Postgame, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce bemoaned the lack of whistles his team received in comparison to the Mavericks.

“...Doncic shoots more free throws than our whole team,” said Pierce postgame. “To be out-shout by almost over 30, maybe 30, we’re both competing ... it’s hard when they’re living at the foul line like that and our guys are trying to do the same thing and not getting the benefit of the whistle. But got to play through it, you got to value the basketball, still had opportunities.”

“...It was a rough night all the way around in terms of trying to get calls, obviously they benefitted from the whistle more so than we did...”

Pierce then deflected somewhat from the officiating/foul shots as the primary reason the Hawks lost this game, shifting towards the (familiar) turnover story (another 21 last night leading to 23 Mavericks points).

“They played well,” continued Pierce. “I think our turnovers impacted the game more than anything in that stretch where it got away from us. That was the big picture I think.”

But the free throw difference was something Pierce just couldn’t get away from...

“...For any team to get 43 free throws, you’re slowing the game down, you’re getting empty possessions, you’re getting possessions with the clock not moving ... they got the benefit of the whistle, we turned the ball over too much. That was the separation.”

Trae Young was equally unimpressed with how the whistle fell last night.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Young when asked about the Hawks’ lack of free throws compared the Dallas’ 43 attempts. “We can’t control the refs, we can’t control if we’re get calls or not. All we can control is how we can play. Definitely frustrating but we got to fight through it.”

A quick note on the turnovers before we go back to the fouls (hey, just like Lloyd Pierce!), Trae Young had an interesting quote postgame regarding turnovers.

“We competed for the whole game but gave them the ball too much, turned the ball over too much,” said Young. “We count blocks as turnovers in here, so, (we) gave them too many opportunities.”

‘We count blocks as turnovers in here’ ... I thought that was an interesting line from Young, an interesting philosophy stemming, surely, from Pierce and the coaching staff. Just one to file away for future reference...

Back to the free throws... I’m sure you can make a case that the Hawks should’ve gotten to the line more but you can’t argue a ton with the Mavericks getting to the line as much as they did.

Firstly, the Hawks played the free throw game at the end of this one in an attempt to get back into it, hoping for Dallas to miss a few — in the final two minutes, the Mavericks shot eight free throws largely because the Hawks put them there. There’s eight out of your 43 free throws right there.

As for the rest, the Hawks found themselves in the bonus early enough and often, so every foul after that sent Dallas to the line often. So that adds up in a hurry.

The Hawks just commit a lot of fouls per game, in fact, they commit the most fouls per game in the entire league. There’s a piece coming here at Peachtree Hoops that goes into this a bit more but the Hawks commit a lot of fouls per game on average and, on average, teams shoot a lot of free throws against the Hawks.

What happened last night wasn’t anything new: the Hawks commit a lot of fouls and send their opponents to the free throw line a lot.

And the Hawks just committed silly fouls at times, such as this shooting foul from DeAndre’ Bembry:

Between committing poor fouls frequently, running into the bonus frequently and sending the Mavs to the line a ton at the end, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Mavs shot as many free throws as they did. The other thing you should take into consideration is that the Mavericks get to the line a lot on average (3rd in attempts with 26.5 attempts), so getting to the line isn’t anything new for the Mavericks — they do this often.

Again, this isn’t to say the Hawks shouldn’t gotten to the free throw line more, yes, they probably should have. But you can’t say that Dallas shouldn’t have been. Again, a combination of the the Hawks giving it to them and the Mavericks earning it. And it played a huge role in this game.

Kevin Huerter’s career-high night

An increasingly brighter spot for the Hawks these days and someone who has been fun to watch and encouraging to watch as he has stepped into the starting lineup is Kevin Huerter, who scored a career-high 19 points.

Most of Huerter’s damage was done from the outside, as you could probably imagine, hitting four three-pointers on just six attempts — high efficiency.

Even with late contests coming at him, Huerter still had the confidence to shoot when he was given the space, even if some shots were more open than others.

Shots like this one, for example:

Huerter also had some nice plays inside the arc too, hitting the Mavs with a nice spin move:

Huerter has been playing well of late, averaging 10 points per game on 50% shooting from the field and 42% from three over his las five game.

Huerter also took the job of defending Luka Doncic in this game. I initially thought this was going to end poorly (Huerter picking up an early foul didn’t inspire confidence) but Huerter did an admirable job in the end on that end.

“...I thought Kevin did a good job of putting him in tough positions, tough situations...”, said Pierce of Huerter.

“Kev did a great job on Luka,” said Young of his fellow rookie. “It’s not easy. He’s a really good player. You can only hope to contain him and not let him get too many good looks. I think Kev did a great job of making him take tough ones...”

Good game all around from Huerter, continuing to show great value at 19th overall in the draft.

Final meeting of season between Young and Doncic

Not going to spend a ton of time here because it’s boring and overdrawn at this stage but because it’s relevant to others, we’ll talk about it briefly...

To be fair, it was a fun enough matchup between Young and Doncic, each scoring 24 points apiece, Doncic got to the line a ton, Young had 10 assists and shot the ball well — 11-of-20 from the field.

We’ll use this spot more so to talk about Young because there’s a few things to discuss...

I think it’s easy to say that this was Young’s best game in a while — 24 points is the highest Young has scored in a game since November 19th (scored 25 against the Clippers), he shot 55% from the field (his best field goal percentage in a game since he shot 69% from the field against the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 30th [not the 35 point game]) and this was Young’s first double-double/game with 10 assists since November 27th.

“We’ll take that,” said Pierce of Young’s night.

Young, however, isn’t getting ahead of himself.

“It’s going to come,” said Young of his shot ‘coming back’. “Still feel I could’ve made a few more shots. I’m not there yet. I know I’ll be there soon. But it’s not about me, it’s about my team. We could’ve got a win tonight. That’s the one thing I’m focused on.”

There were some issues, however.

Young didn’t get to the free throw line (Pierce tried to deflect this postgame on the fact the team didn’t get to the line) and, again, he was targeted on defense often by the Mavs.

One thing the Mavs did was they put Young in multiple pick-and-rolls that involved Harrison Barnes, and the Hawks switched these screens and Young ended up guarding Barnes on multiple and thaaaat’s a problem...

Once Barnes has the switch, there’s going to be issues:

Here was another instance of Young being caught on Barnes in switch, in which Young commits an easy foul, sending Barnes to the line (another example of the Hawks giving the Mavs easy free throws):

Interesting night for Young but don’t let those last few things I mentioned distract you from Young’s best game in a while — just wanted to highlight something interesting the Mavs did with Young with that Barnes pick-and-roll...

John Collins and Atlanta’s offensive rebounding

One area where the Hawks held a significant advantage over the Mavs (and helped keep the Hawks in this game despite the free throw difference) was offensive rebounding and second chance scoring.

The Hawks grabbed 16 offensive rebounds compared to Dallas’ four and scored 24 second chance points to Dallas’ nine points.

John Collins had a big impact in this regard, grabbing nine offensive rebounds and 18 rebounds on the game itself, turning those offensive boards into 10 second chance points. When you watch the game, this was actually a low return in second chance points for Collins considering the positions he put himself in.

His coach, however, wished that Collins had turned some of these rebounds into more points.

“John had a numbers night,” said Pierce of Collins. “Typical John, he normally finishes a lot of those (chances) in the first half. He had too many offensive rebounds, I’d rather take the points than the offensive rebounds.”

“All of his offensive rebounds were often misses,” Pierce went on to say. “A lot of plays I thought maybe he should’ve ended up at the free throw line. I’d take the baskets and the free throws as opposed to just the offensive rebounds but I appreciate his effort and he stayed with it a lot tonight.”

Collins was basically able to work himself into almost any situation he wanted underneath the basket.

Plays like this exemplified his advantage over the Dallas bigs:

That play tells you about everything you need to know, really...

Lack of bench help

Almost as big of a factor in this game was the bench difference. We’ve talked about how the Mavericks’ second unit really gave them a boost heading into the final quarter but the Hawks didn’t have such help.

The Mavericks’ bench outscored Atlanta’s by a whopping margin of 45-13, led by J.J. Barea’s 18 points.

It was this, the bench difference, that Lloyd Pierce opened with in his postgame comments.

“A good night for our guys,” began Pierce postgame. “Struggled to get any production out of our bench which we really needed just to buy John and Trae and some of those guys some minutes, just couldn’t get the offensive production from our guys on the bench. Thought everyone came in and impacted a little bit but not a consistent night from our bench...”

Part of this can, straight away, be attributed to the Hawks missing bodies. Taurean Prince remains sidelined with ankle injury — bringing Kent Bazemore off of the bench — while Jeremy Lin also missed this one, leaving the Hawks without a proper backup point guard. Ball handling duties were shared between multiple Hawks (outside of Trae Young) through the likes of DeAndre’ Bembry, who was scoreless last night.

Even to begin the aforementioned fourth quarter, Pierce even went to 2-way player Jaylen Adams in search of something, in hope that the bench could give the Hawks something but nothing came of it in the end.

The bench has been a strong spot for the Hawks this season (ranking third in the league in points per game before Wednesday, averaging 47 points per game) but with injuries to some key members of the roster — and others just struggling last night, such as Bembry — it just wasn’t to be for the Hawks’ bench.

The Hawks (6-21) are back in action on Friday night in Boston where they’ll take on a rejuvenated Boston Celtics side, winners of seven straight games.

Should be fun.