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Hawks fall in lottery showdown with Bulls despite career day from Taurean Prince

The largest scoring output from a Hawk in 10 years wasn’t enough...

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks suffered their third consecutive loss as they fell to the Chicago Bulls 129-122 at Philips Arena on Sunday afternoon, in what was the last meeting between the two sides this season (the Bulls winning the season-series 3-0).

Taurean Prince led the Hawks with a career-high 38 points — the highest scoring effort from any Hawk this season, eclipsing the 34-point effort from Dennis Schröder on January 12th against the Brooklyn Nets — while Mike Muscala also added a career-high with 19 points.

More on both Prince and Muscala soon...

For the Bulls, they were led by Bobby Portis’ double-double: 21 points and 10 rebounds. Zach LaVine also added 21 points in a balanced scoring effort for the Bulls with seven players in double-digit scoring.

But first...

In memoriam: the Hawks’ playoff streak

With the Philadelphia 76ers’ victory over the Brooklyn Nets yesterday, the Atlanta Hawks are officially eliminated from playoff contention, marking the first time in 10 years that the Hawks will not be featuring in the NBA Playoffs, ending the second longest playoff streak in the NBA behind the San Antonio Spurs.

This was something that was on the cards for a long time now but, alas, it’s now official... Rest easy, playoff streak... Maybe soon it can begin anew...

Prince’s career-high not enough in three-point shooting affair

Where to even begin with this one... The game itself was wild (as always, the game-recap is a good place to start if you want to know how the game unfolded before getting into the nitty-gritty here).

The Hawks got off to a great start but were then pegged back by the Bulls’ bench in the second quarter and essentially got themselves involved in a three-point shootout in the second half, lost that (13 second half three-pointers for the Bulls, 11 for the Hawks) and lost the game as a result — that’s the simple way of looking at the game.

The Bulls looked like they were home and dry in the fourth quarter but Taurean Prince made things interesting (scoring 12 points in the final three minutes) and hit some ridiculous shots to extend the game and give the Hawks life when there ought to be no life in this game. But it ultimately came to nothing as the Bulls managed to hold on for the win.

“It was a tale of two quarters in the first half,” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer postgame. “The first quarter, a lot of really great things for us, positive. They just flipped the script in the second quarter. I thought our offense contributed to us being poor defensively in the second quarter. We didn’t move the ball the way we needed to against their pressure and their traps. We just gave up a (16-point) lead...”

The big talking point was from the game was, of course, Taurean Prince, who poured out a career-high 38 points and did so on efficient shoting: 11-of-18 from the field, 7-of-13 from three and 9-of-10 from the free throw line:

Prince’s 38 points not only marks the highest scoring output for a Hawk this season but the highest of any Hawk in 10 years, since Joe Johnson’s 39 points against the Miami Heat on March 8th 2008, per Hawks PR.

But it wasn’t just the efficient shooting and volume-scoring: Prince also added six rebounds, seven assists and a steal to go along with those 38 points — his imprint painted all over this game.

But let’s talk about those 38 points first.

Prince got going early in this game with 10 first quarter points, including two three-pointers. By this point, John Collins already knew that this was going to be a strong game from Prince.

“...He came out hot, kept feeling it,” said Collins of Prince. “I knew he was going to have a big game when he had 10 and five in the first six minutes. We kept feeding him and he kept doing his thing. Hopefully we have a lot more games like that from him.”

After a subdued second quarter (scoring just two points), Prince looked to be the aggressor in the third quarter, scoring another 10 points.

“...I thought I took a step back in the second quarter,” said Prince postgame. “I wanted to come out a lot stronger in the third and fourth.”

He certainly did come out a lot stronger in the second half, and a 16 point fourth quarter — including four three-pointers — bolstered his tally to 38.

As you’d imagine is the case when you make seven three-pointers, Prince just had it going from the perimeter, the hot-hand:

It’s safe to say that Prince has the green light to let it fly from behind the arc.

“He’s definitely starting to come into his own,” said Budenholzer of Prince. “(We’re encouraging him) on letting it fly from the three-point line. If he has any space, we want him shooting. When he shoots it now and he’s aggressive at the (three-point) line, there will be more opportunities for him to attack. There’s been a (conscious) effort for him to be aggressive in all situations.”

There were also shots that probably had no right going in but, such was the night for Prince, they did, including this heavily contested three-pointer by the much longer Lauri Markkanen:

And this tough baseline jumper:

Count the bucket and the foul — and-1.

Prince also had success driving the ball inside, taking advantage of the, at times, poor Chicago defense:

Poor resistance from Markkanen there, but a nice use of the glass to avoid the shot blocker by Prince.

That said, there were some instances of solid Bulls defense but Prince proves too much on this occasion as he whips out a reverse layup to elude the defense for the score:

As briefly touched upon, Prince recorded seven assists.

With Dennis Schröder sidelined due to an elbow injury, Prince saw an increase in his usage (31% in this game compared to his season average of 20%) and this increased role — in the absence of Dennis Schröder and with Kent Bazemore going down (more on that soon) — not only resulted in a larger role in the offense as a scorer but also as a ball-handler, and he responded pretty well with those seven assists.

Most of these assists came in pick-and-roll scenarios.

Here, Prince works the two-man game with Dewayne Dedmon and finds Dedmon for the slam:

Again, poor defense from Markkanen (he really should slide over to protect the rim, something John Collins has actually done pretty well of late) but an aggressive finish from Dedmon.

This time, Prince works the pick-and-roll with Mike Muscala. Prince collapses the defense and this opens up an opportunity for Josh Magette in the corner. Prince finds the open man and Magette hits the three:

That’s better defense from the Bulls. Instead of allowing Prince to openly roam to the rim (as Markkanen did for Dedmon in that last clip), the defender shades over to prevent the open lane drive. Prince makes the right play to find the open man in the corner, and that’s OK. The Bulls would rather Magette take/make shots than Prince. Magette made this shot and you have to be OK with that and move on.

Overall, this was arguably Prince’s best game as a professional, and coach Budenholzer talked about Prince’s ‘special night’ in his opening statement.

“...The way Taurean played was…it was a special night for him,” said Budenholzer of Prince’s night. “The way he was shooting the ball. The aggressiveness on the three-point line. But also the way he was getting in the paint, finding guys and moving the ball, with (seven) assists and (six) rebounds. Just to see Taurean grow in a game like this and grow in an opportunity where he has the ball in his hands more without Dennis, without Bazemore. A lot of positives from watching Taurean play today.”

A great bounce-back game from Prince after his three point performance against the Pacers on Friday night, a game Prince was also benched for the entirety of the second half. Consistency has been Prince’s problem this season, so it’s going to be interesting how Prince follows up this performance on Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Injury bug strikes again

When it rains, it pours.

The Hawks were again without point guard Malcolm Delaney for this game (missing his second consecutive game with an ankle injury) while starting point guard Dennis Schröder was sidelined with an elbow injury. DeAndre’ Bembry and Antonius Cleveland also sat this one out (but that hasn’t been anything new by any means).

During the game, the Hawks suffered two more injuries: one to Jaylen Morris and another to Kent Bazemore.

Morris suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter as he landed after contesting a rebound:

Morris was helped to the locker-room and it was quickly reported that he suffered a left ankle sprain and he did not return to the game. He was seen wearing a protective boot on that left ankle leaving the arena.

Shortly after that, Kent Bazemore landed awkwardly and his knee appeared to buckle upon landing:

The official diagnosis was a right knee sprain and, like Morris, Bazemore would not return to this game.

Postgame, coach Budenholzer didn’t provide an update on the injuries, only that the Hawks would know more today (Monday).

“We’ll know more tomorrow on both of those guys,” said Budenholzer when asked for an update on Morris and Bazemore.

Both of these injuries are unfortunate but especially so for Jaylen Morris, who had just signed a second 10-day contract and was playing relatively well.

Any extended absences for either Bazemore or Morris would not help the Hawks on the court, who were reduced to just nine healthy players after the injuries occurred — something that does not bode well for an upcoming six game road trip.

Time will tell...

Miscellaneous stats swing in Bulls’ favor

For the rest of this game itself between the Hawks and Bulls...

The Hawks lost the three-point shootout in the second half but actually hit a season-high 19 three-pointers to the Bulls’ 17 threes. That was about the only stat they won, with the miscellaneous (and other) stats swinging in the Bulls’ favor.

The one that really stands out is the second chance scoring: 21-0 in favor of the Bulls.

The Bulls grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, five of those coming from Bobby Portis, and he made sure the Hawks paid for not containing him on multiple occasions:

This was part of the reason the Bulls attempted 16 more field goals (98-82) than the Hawks and was also one of the reasons the Bulls scored 48 points in the paint, the inside game complimenting the outside game the Bulls had going on in this game.

For the Hawks, they did not have that same success in the paint (34 points in the paint) and it was mostly a perimeter affair.

Elsewhere, the Bulls only committed five turnovers, which limited the ‘points off of turnovers’ category for the Hawks in this one, scoring just 10 points (which is actually pretty good all things considered). However, the Hawks committed 16 turnovers, off of which the Bulls scored 24 points.

One of the bi-products of this is fast break scoring/transition points: the Bulls scored 21 fast break points to the Hawks’ nine.

And, lastly, the bench — a huge turning point in this game in the second quarter. The Hawks’ bench scored 46 points, which is a really solid night for a depleted bench but the Bulls’ bench managed to score a monstrous 62 points and combine for a plus/minus of plus-94.

Plus/minus can be a controversial and misleading stat at times, but I think it’s fairly accurate in this instance, illustrating the impact the Bulls’ bench had on this game. Without their efforts, the Bulls probably lose by 20 points — things were really that bad without them.

Mike Muscala’s career showing

Taurean Prince wasn’t the only one to enjoy a career-night. Mike Muscala also got in on the fun as he poured out a career-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and a career-best five three-pointers (5-of-6)

It was a case of the hot-hand for Muscala as everything he touched seem to turn into gold from behind the arc.

Postgame, coach Budenholzer wasn’t quite sure how to react when asked about Muscala’s career-high night, before taking a glance at the boxscore and seeing career-best 19 points and 5-of-6 effort from three.

“19? Alright!” Budenholzer exclaimed, much to the amusement of the assembled media. “Five-for-six from the three-point line, that’s great!”

“I feel like he’s been playing better,” continued Budenholzer. “Little bit of a tough start to the season battling the ankle (injury). I feel like he’s come back into his own and he understands everything we do offensively. When he shoots the ball like it creates a lot of space for us, a lot of opportunities. Really pleased with the way he’s been playing, not just today but over the last several games.”

Over the last six games, Muscala is averaging 10.2 points per game on 52% shooting from the field and 48% from three-point range on nearly four attempts per game. When the Hawks have been below par (and even when they haven’t) over this latest stretch, Muscala has been a consistent contributor for this team. And as Budenholzer said, he understands what the Hawks like to do on offense, and will always look to execute the Hawks’ offense when he’s on the floor.

Speaking of...

Improved ball movement

This was the best game when it came to sharing/moving the ball the Hawks have played in a long time.

The Hawks tallied 32 assists on the night, the most they’ve recorded in a game since January 17th, when they tallied the same number of assists against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Isaiah Taylor — who started his first NBA game yesterday against the Bulls — dished out eight assists, Josh Magette also produced eight assists while Taurean Prince (as we’ve discussed) dished out seven assists.

“I thought the ball moved well,” said Budenholzer of the ball movement. “It’s a credit to Isaiah (Taylor), Josh (Magette) and, like I mentioned earlier, Taurean I thought was a good playmaker at times. We want to be aggressive at the three-point line, so to get 40 threes up and make 19 of them... We just have to be better defensively, but I thought the ball movement, seeing the open guy— it’s what we wanted to do and (in) that second quarter we didn’t do it and it just stands out. When you do do it well you feel you have a lot of good things.”

The one thing about Magette is that he will go out there and run the offense from the point guard position, which is not something we really see often due to the way Dennis Schröder’s game is made up of and how the Hawks rely on his scoring.

This game marked the fifth missed game for Schröder this season, and when Schröder has not played this season, the Hawks have averaged 24.2 assists per game in those five games. Their season average for assists is 23.6 per game.

It’s obviously a very small sample size but it’s interesting nevertheless...

Why, Miles, why?

And just to wrap this up on a light note (as light as the mood Mike Budenholzer seemed to be in postgame despite the loss), Miles Plumlee attempted to go behind his back (yes, with actual possession of the ball) and it ended as you would probably expect:

Denzel Valentine did come from behind to steal it, to be fair, but the fact Plumlee attempted to go behind his back is just hilarious on its own. Maybe next time, Miles. Or not. Please...

But, to immediately make up, Valentine attempts the most ill-advised behind-the-back pass himself and gives possession of the ball right back to the Hawks:

Just beautiful...

The Hawks (20-47) are back in action on Tuesday night as they continue their three-game homestand against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and their only arrival to Philips Arena this season.

Should be fun, stay tuned.

Also, look forward to another edition of The Ping-Pong Chronicles here at Peachtree Hoops, which will touch upon the lottery implications from this game (and others relating to the Hawks) that I didn’t discuss.