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Hawks unable to sustain hot start in loss to Nets

Things started well for the Hawks. Very well. And then it all fell apart

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks were unable to return to winning ways as they fell short in Brooklyn to the Nets on Wednesday night, 116-100 in favor of the Nets.

John Collins tied a career-high with 30 points while grabbing 14 rebounds, including nine offensive rebounds, while Trae Young added 17 points.

For the Nets, seven players reached double-digit scoring, D’Angelo Russell leading all of those with 23 points.

Starting hot, fizzing out

Heading into this game on the second night of a back-to-back (having narrowly lost out in Toronto the night before) the Hawks began on a great note as they stormed out to 10-4 start and took advantage of the Nets’ struggles on offense and defense to open out a 15 point lead by the end of the first quarter — leading 38-23 — before edging that lead to 19 points in the early stages of the the second quarter.

The Nets — with help from their zone defense — began to claw it back in the second quarter, entering the break with just a six point hole to climb out of and they saw the completion of that turnaround in the third quarter where a 9-0 run to end the third quarter gave them a six point of their own heading into the final period, where things got away from the Hawks in a hurry as the Nets raced out to a double-digit lead and, not long after that, a 20 point lead — a 39 point turnaround after the Nets had trailed by 19 themselves.

The Nets eventually won by 16, bossing proceedings after their tough first quarter.

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce had one word to describe the Hawks in this game after the first quarter.

“Flat, flat, flat, flat,” Pierce put it plainly via Fox Sports Southeast.

To many, the Hawks looked like a team on the second night of a back-to-back in that fourth quarter as it all quickly unravelled but Pierce believed the Hawks looked like that team before the second half.

“I think we came out with the momentum from last night’s game — a lot of energy, a lot of ball movement, a lot of pace, attacking downhill,” said Pierce. “We just ran out of gas and the second quarter is where it started. It looks like the second half (where the Hawks ran out of gas) but really it started in the second quarter.”

After a Hawks turnover lead to a basket for the Nets to immediately begin the second half, Pierce took a timeout with just 18 seconds elapsed in the third quarter, sensing the dip in energy, sensing the Nets continuing where they left off in the second quarter and Pierce wanted to get on top of it all before it became a serious issue, while the Hawks were still in the game.

“I could feel the momentum of the second quarter, I could feel the energy — first play, normally you come out with a little pop, a little energy and just try and execute something and we throw a turnover that leads to a dunk,” said Pierce of the early timeout. “You want to try and stop the bleeding before you actually start bleeding. You could just feel that type of night, that type of half coming and I was hoping we could rally around that but it went the other way. We just turned the ball over too much, we were flat, we didn’t make shots ... just a rough night all the way around.”

As Pierce mentioned, instead of that being a rallying point of the game it ended up being just the beginning of what was to come with the second half, really, being summed up in this play coming out of a timeout in the fourth quarter:

Appropriate reactions all around on that play...

So, the question you’ll ask is: what happened? What happened in the first quarter/didn’t happen for the remaining three quarters?

We’ll start with the Nets... Going to that zone defense in the second quarter really helped them to get stops — the Hawks were stuck on 46 points for a long time in the second period and the Nets used this period of the game to claw themselves back into this game. The Hawks struggled to penetrate and, on a number of occasions in the second quarter, didn’t even get a shot up in the 24 seconds.

The Hawks were limited to a lot of perimeter shots in the second quarter, 12 of their 25 field goals were from three-point distance.

“I think the zone helped us,” said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson via YES Network. “It got them out of rhythm a little bit.”

The Nets did a good job of executing on defense and they were never going to shoot 30% from the field for the whole game as they shot in the first quarter — that was always going to improve.

The Hawks scored 38 points in the first quarter on 50% shooting from the field, making 11 of their 22 baskets. Watching this game, there were two things that stuck out in particular when watching the Hawks run out to the lead they did that, I had a suspicion, wouldn’t keep up.

Firstly, the Hawks got to the free throw line a ton in the first quarter — 16 free throw attempts and 14 makes. They average 23 attempts per game on the season and for 16 of those to come in the first’s not a common sight for this Hawks team. Once the Nets found themselves in the bonus, they just kept fouling — 10 personal fouls in that first quarter.

You knew that this was not going to be something that would continue throughout the game — the Hawks weren’t going to get 16 free throw attempts each quarter, and their difference to the Nets from the line (attempting eight, making seven in the first quarter) is part of the reason the lead was what it was.

But the main reason why there was suspicion to that first quarter and that things wouldn’t last (and the Hawks’ first lead was what it was) was because the Hawks only committed two turnovers in the first quarter (both coming from Daniel Hamilton).

Anyone who has spent any time watching this team this season know that the Hawks are a very generous team, and by generous I mean they give opposing teams extra possessions because they lead the league in turnovers by a handsome margin —horrific at taking care of the ball.

Form comes and goes but the one thing the Hawks have been consistent at this season is coughing the ball up and you knew they were going to start turning the ball over eventually and they did, committing 20 turnovers in three quarters for a total of 22 turnovers, leading to 26 Brooklyn points.

“To end up with 22 turnovers, basically, over three quarters and just being flat — tough,” said Pierce postgame.

And, sure enough, just four free throw attempts for the Hawks in the second quarter and six turnovers leading to 11 Brooklyn points and once the Nets got back into the game, the fear that the Nets would go on to win — with the Hawks being on the second night of a back-to-back and energy lacking — was very real and that’s how it ended up in the end in Brooklyn.

This loss should’ve been expected on the second night of a back-to-back, on the road and against a team who is rolling at the moment (winners in 13 of their last 17 games) and the current holders of the sixth seed in the playoffs.

Here’s a summary of the night: John Collins was the only Hawks who shot higher than 50% from the field. And the less said about DeAndre’ Bembry’s night (scoreless on 0-of-6 shooting from the field in 29 minutes) the better.

Battle of the boards and John Collins

The rebounding battle was fun to watch in this game, the Nets edging the Hawks 54-52 with both teams amassing a remarkable 36 offensive rebounds between them.

The majority of those offensive rebounds were fought and grabbed between Ed Davis (eight offensive rebounds) and John Collins (nine offensive boards) — combining for 17 offensive rebounds between them.

Despite both teams grabbing 18 offensive boards it was the Hawks who dominated the second chance scoring, scoring 25 second chance points to Brooklyn’s eight.

Collins ended up being responsible for nine of those second chance as he owned the Nets in the paint and on the glass with his 30 points-14 rebound performance, including 12 points in the first quarter.

“I thought he was great,” said Pierce of Collins. “To start the game, he goes right to the paint and plays a little bully-ball. It’s good to see because that’s part of his growth. Just being physical, being dominant, trying to find easy opportunities when they switch or have a smaller guy on him. But a great start for him, a great overall numbers game for him, energy, the eight (nine) offensive rebounds, 30 points.”

After scoring 18 points by half time, Collins was slowed down somewhat in the second half, scoring 12 points on three less shots than he attempted in the first half.

“They went through a couple of different match-ups (on Collins),” continued Pierce. “They started putting the big fella, (Jarrett) Allen, on him to keep smalls off of him and made us adjust to a different game-plan.”

Since his return from injury, John Collins has been fantastic, a double-double machine, and he’s been turning heads around the league and receiving a bit of national attention of late. Even Kenny Atkinson couldn’t help but rave about John Collins. Even as he was being asked about Collins, Atkinson began shaking his head and let out a whistle.

“I don’t know how many offensive rebounds he had,” said Atkinson of Collins. “He’s just a hyper-aggressive offensive rebounder, he’s going to be a heck of a player in this league. We kept telling our guys in the timeouts ‘We got to get a body on that guy, gotta get a body on him.’ He could be a special player in this league.”

All of that is to come but even just last night it was fun to watch him compete and hustle on the glass with Ed Davis — fun matchup.

Three-point shooting

The Hawks are a team that love to jack up three-pointers but last night was not one of their finer nights as they shot just 6-of-35 (17%) from three on the night while the Nets shot 10-of-30.

It was obviously a rough night all around from three but you were always just waiting for that spell in the game (similar to how Toronto started 0-of-7 from three before they finally got some threes to go down) where the threes would go down for Atlanta but it never happened in the end.

Trae Young had his worst night shooting the three in a little while as he shot 2-of-9 from the three. Young has been much better reigning in his shots but last night he let a number of poor shots up there and it just looked like a small step backwards compared to what he has been doing of late.

Shots like this are just not good shots:

Not the best night for Young in this one. Yes, he had seven assists but had six turnovers in the process and that is not good — always want that assist/turnover rate as low as possible.

Sadly for the Hawks just a poor night all around in that regard as they had 22 total turnovers and just 17 assists on the night...

Halfway there

With this game marked the official halfway point of the Atlanta Hawks’ season — 41 games down and the Hawks sit with a 12-29 record. You do the maths, you’re looking about 25-ish total wins — about what many expected and similar to last season.

While January is road heavy, the month of February does include a seven game home-stand (with the All-Star break coming near the end of that stand) and the Hawks have more home games than road games from here on out.

A legend recognized

Prior to the game, the Hawks’ longtime radio announcer, Steve Holman, was recognized by the NBA for calling his 2,500th consecutive NBA game — a landmark he reached in the Hawks’ home opener against the New York Knicks in October.

25,000 points reached for Vince Carter (who, speaking of, received a video tribute from the Nets during last night’s game, didn’t even receive any ‘Airball!’ jeers when he air-balled a shot and got whacked in the head three times, what a night) this season, 2,500 consecutive games for Steve Holman — two incredible accomplishments seen this year within the Hawks organization.

Congratulations to the legend, Steve Holman on receiving that from the NBA.

It’s nice to be recognized.

The Hawks (12-29) are back in action on Friday where a special reunion awaits Lloyd Pierce as he returns to Philadelphia for a matchup with his old squad, the Sixers.

Should be fun.

Until next time...