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Hawks set unsightly turnover mark in blowout loss to Celtics

This was ugly to start. Then it got better. Then it got ugly again...

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks dropped their second straight game as they lost in spectacular fashion, 129-108, to the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden on Friday night.

Kevin Huerter followed his career-high Wednesday night (vs. Dallas) of 19 points with another 19 points on a career-high five three-pointers. Kent Bazemore and Alex Len both added 13 points. For the Celtics, three players scored 20 or more points, with Kyrie Irving leading the way with 24 points.

There is really only one talking point from last night’s game and that is the turnover story. Now, this is a story that has been told many times for the Atlanta Hawks this season and so it was again last night.

The Hawks committed 24 turnovers leading to an NBA season-high 44 points off of turnovers for the Celtics. No, that is not a misprint. Forty-four points.

A lot of this damage was done in the first quarter, a quarter where the Hawks committed nine turnovers leading to 20 Boston points and 42 points in total for the Celtics in the opening frame — another 40-point quarter the Hawks have handed to an opponent, continuing to highlight their sluggish nature.

Part of how the Celtics scored 20 turnover points in the first quarter was to do with the fact that Boston literally didn’t miss to begin proceedings, beginning the game 9-for-9 from the field before shooting 72% from the field in the first quarter and hitting 6 of their 8 three-pointers.

I would say, ‘let’s take a look at some of these turnovers, shall we?’ but the reality is, in the first quarter — where the majority of damage was done — the Hawks committed a lot of dead-ball turnovers. Offensive fouls, passes sailing out of bounds, stepping out of bounds (they did this a lot in the first quarter) etc...

It was then going the other way the Celtics, and their red-hot start, would score in the half-court, and this racked up the points off of turnovers for the Celtics.

The, seemingly, one live-ball turnover (that led directly to a basket) they committed in the first quarter was a costly one — the Celtics had just scored through Aron Baynes, John Collins looks to outlet to Trae Young, Irving intercepts that pass and pulls up into a three-pointer, forcing Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce into a timeout:

As the game progressed, the Hawks didn’t show any signs of learning from their mistakes and continued to rack up the turnovers, leading to baskets like this:

And easy leak-outs like this:

Once the first quarter was over and the Celtics’ leads well established at 42-19, the Hawks managed to keep ahold of the ball as they went on their 19-0 run to cut the lead within four points.

Heading into the third quarter, the Hawks trailed by just 11 points which was, frankly, a huge achievement considering that they trailed by as many as 24 points in the first half. Their 19-0 run gave them a shot of hanging around in this game but this disappeared extremely quickly as, again, another slow start to a half — and a quick 8-0 Boston run in a minute and a half — meant that the Celtics were suddenly up by 19 points and the game was effectively over after that, with extended garbage time minutes being handed out to the likes of Daniel Hamilton, Justin Anderson and Jaylen Adams.

Postgame, Lloyd Pierce was left to reflect, again, on his side’s slow starts

“If I can find a way for our guys to play like they do in the second quarter...” Pierce began his postgame comments.

Pierce has liked how his side have responded when they get down, praising his side’s resilience, but wished his team wouldn’t wait until they trail by a significant margin before they rally back.

“For some reason, when we get hit, we come out and respond,” continued Pierce. “We did it in the fourth quarter in Dallas, did it in the second quarter here. Our first quarters, and I told the guys, have been poor all year. In the first six minutes, we put ourselves in holes and we try crawl our way out. If we can duplicate what we’re doing when we get hit, that’s the lesson. Our guys have been resilient but I’d rather them be resilient right from the start and come out with a different approach. Something to work on. Something new to work on.”

Pierce refused to attribute the Hawks’ turnover issues to their sense of urgency when teams streak out to large leads, before discussing why he believes the Hawks are committing so many turnovers.

“I don’t think so,” said Pierce. “I’m not going to use it as an excuse, I think we’ve had turnover issues all year. A lot of it is spacing, a lot of it is making late reads. A lot of it is their defense, and their defense is really good. There’s a reason why they’ve been number one (defensively) for the last couple of years — they really crowd the paint, they have versatile defenders, they have athletic defenders and they do a good job of staying their five guys on a string. I give credit to their defense, especially tonight. But we have our own turnover issues. Tonight is a compliment of their defense and we have to figure out how not to turn the basketball over...”

The Hawks’ turnovers and their NBA season-high mark for turnover points of 42 points will be well documented, but what has flown under the radar is the Celtics committed just three less turnovers than the Hawks did last night — 21.

This was something that pleased Pierce.

“On the flip side (of turnovers) I thought we did a good job,” continued Pierce. “We turned them over a lot, which we’ve done (previously). But again, the hole we put ourselves in a is a big issue.”

For as bad as the Atlanta Hawks are in terms of leaking points, they are active defensively and that was reflective in some of their steals/Celtics’ turnovers.

Here, the Celtics to try connect on a lob but Dewayne Dedmon is alert to the danger, leaps like a salmon and intercepts the pass, coming up with the steal:

On this possession, Kent Bazemore is a step ahead of the Celtics as he covers the passing lane, intercepts the pass he knew was coming before streaking out and dunking it on the other end:

You can understand Pierce taking a positive out of this one, despite the Hawks doing the same thing (coughing the ball over a lot). ‘Yes, we turned it over a lot but we forced them to do the same as well.’ They’ve been active defensively.

Pierce saw his side turning over Boston as a positive and he also saw the play Kevin Huerter as a positive too.

In truth, Huerter was the only positive from last night. Trae Young struggled badly (nine points on 2-of-11 from the field, 0-of-6 from three), Alex Len was poor, John Collins was held somewhat (despite stringing together his sixth straight double-double)... Vince Carter had a decent game to be fair (12 points on 5-of-8 shooting) but it’s all about Kevin Huerter, who tied his career-high with 19 points and just continues to look fantastic value at 19th overall.

“Impressed,” said Pierce of Huerter’s game. “I still think he turns down too many shots. That’s something we talked about at shootaround this morning: not passing up shots. He came out aggressive right from the start. I’ve got to find ways to get him the basketball, because he’s a good facilitator as well ... we got to find ways to get him the basketball, not only to facilitate but to get him shots, and he’s got to take some uncomfortable shots, he’s that good of a shooter. He’s got to feel confident enough to take shots even when he’s in a crowd or in a tough spot. That will help his growth, just that confidence knowing that what’s we want him to do and that’s what he’s capable of doing.”

Huerter has been feeling increasingly comfortable and that has been reflective in the shots he has taken.

And Pierce was right when he talked about Huerter’s ‘aggressive start’.

Atlanta’s first score of the game came from a step-back Huerter three:

Again, Huerter is showing increased confidence — slightly hesitant at first but not afraid — to hit the face-up jumper in the face of Marcus Smart, knocking down the three:

From a slightly deeper range than he normally operates from, Huerter shows confidence in his shot to take this deep three, burying it:

Huerter gives the Hawks a great option in transition, because he fills the wing and his hitting a high-percentage of his threes this season, especially corner threes where he is shooting 63% from three in the left corner and 50% in the right corner.

Huerter hit two threes in transition last night, both from the right corner. Here was one of them:

Huerter is also continuing to show that he’s more than just a shooter, enjoying some good defensive moments last night.

Huerter was credited with three steals. Here was one of them, keeping his arms up/extended, he knocks the ball loose and then is rewarded in transition as he is found for the corner three:

Here, Huerter anticipates the pass coming across toward the three-point line, leaps, intercepts it and comes up with the steal:

Huerter also showed some good 1-on-1 defense, this play against Marcus Morris stands out in particular:

Huerter is arguably giving Hawks fans more reason to be excited than Trae Young right now.

Pierce knows both of his rookies — Young and Huerter — will have ups and downs throughout the season. Young is clearly struggling more so than Huerter, and Lloyd Pierce compared the situation to Celtics guard Kyrie Irving and the start of his career.

“Kyrie went through this in Cleveland his first couple of years.” said Pierce. “Just trying to find ways to gain experience, stay balanced, stay poised, play through tough games. This is part of his growth, part of his experience. On the flip side, you see a guy like Kevin (Huerter), who’s starting to come out of his shell. And they’ll keep doing that: they’ll both go up-and-down, they’ll have tough nights. There was an issue in talking to Trae in the third quarter about ‘When you don’t have it, be a good teammate.’ And they got to stay poised and stay together because there’s going to be a ton of ups-and-downs with all of our guys. Trae struggled tonight. No secret on that. We’ll be fine, we got to keep helping him, helping him grow and play through the growing pains.”

Interesting quotes from Pierce (as always) but interesting he mentioned his discussion with Young, because there was a moment last night where Pierce pulled Young to the side during a timeout — now we know what was discussed.

Young is now shooting 23.7% from three while Huerter is now shooting a team-best 42.4% from three. As Pierce said, there will be ups-and-downs for both — ebb-and-flow, peaks and valleys. Young will find some sort of groove (you would imagine) and Huerter will likely endure a stretch where he struggles.

It’s all part of being an NBA rookie. And it’s always worth remembering that, for the most part, NBA rookies are not good NBA players.

(Let’s try not overreact in the comments, shall we?)

The Hawks (6-22) are back in action on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET where they wrap up this road stint with a game against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center.

Should be fun.

Until next time...