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Upset bid falls short as Hawks yield to Bucks despite rebounding prowess

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If you like defense, this isn’t the game for you.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks were unable to follow up their shock victory on Friday night in Philadelphia with another one on Sunday afternoon as they fell short to the Milwaukee Bucks at State Farm Arena, 133-114.

Trae Young led the Hawks with 26 points and a career-high 10 rebounds as all five Hawks starters hit double-digit scoring.

For the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 33 points while Eric Bledsoe added 24 points and 10 assists.

‘He who scores, wins’

Unlike the last contest between these two sides back in Milwaukee, the Hawks started this game off much better than the previous occasion (the game effectively being over after the first quarter last time) and led in the early stages.

The Bucks did take the lead by the end of the first quarter and, from there, they steadily outscored the Hawks. The Hawks were able to keep up for a while but their workload progressively got heavier and the more and more pressure mounted for them to try keep up and outscore their opponents and it eventually became too much in the fourth quarter as the Bucks — already up by double-digits heading into the final frame — continued, as they did all game, to score at will and the Hawks were unable to keep up.

The winning margin ended up being 19 points in the end but there was, of course, a familiar story in this game as turnovers again plagued the Hawks — 24 turnovers leading to 36 points for the Bucks (a season-high for an opponent) and this was something Hawks head coach couldn’t get away from in his postgame comments.

“I thought our guys competed tonight,” said Pierce. “It was a good start and good energy to start the game coming out. I thought Omari (Spellman) had (his) best game. Coming in he made a couple of nice plays with the basketball and he shot the ball well in the first quarter. It’s the same old story, too many turnovers and too many live-ball turnovers where they (Bucks) were able to convert. Twenty-four turnovers for 36 points for them was just too much and that’s really the separation in the game.”

Turnovers have been a consistent theme for the Hawks all season and after 43 games, Pierce wants his side to get on top of it and understand the situations they get themselves into.

“Everything,” said Pierce when asked about contributing factors towards the turnovers. “Handling their pressure, being composed, using our counters against their pressure... moving the basketball, not playing in the crowd, and we had a bunch of offensive fouls. So again, it’s just pressure and being able to handle it is the obvious and biggest concern.

“We have to figure it out, we’ve been in this situation long enough and our guys need to understand that when they’re in a crowd, when they need to get off the basketball, easier ways to get off the basketball and move the defense before we attack. There’s a combination of things, but they’re consistent.”

There’s nothing new to cover here at this stage, just the usual business for the Hawks when it comes to turning the ball over.

Here, John Collins and Jeremy Lin (who did not have good night shooting the ball, 2-of-10 and minus+20 for the game) aren’t quite on the same page — Collins passes for the corner, Lin goes for the cut and the ball ends up out of bounds:

“It’s a recurring problem, but I’d like to think the guys are just trying to make plays,” said Kevin Huerter. “We were being a little careless with the ball on some possessions.”

The Hawks committed a bunch of offensive fouls in this game, Vince Carter barrelling into former Hawk Ersan Ilyasova (the charge master) and is called for an offensive foul:

“We play really fast and that’s a reason why we turn the ball over so much,” said Trae Young. “We have to work on going fast and being under control. That’s something (we) as a team can get better at. And me, for sure as well.”

Turning the ball over obviously gives your opponent extra possession and that’s exactly what Alex Len does here after securing the rebound:

Speaking of Alex Len, one of the more important stretches of this game was when Alex Len picked up his fifth foul with 6:23 remaining in the third quarter after Len had just scored and cut the lead to eight points. Len was subbed off, as you’d imagine, and over the next few minutes the Bucks extended their lead to as many as 12 points in his absence. That’s obviously not a large difference compared to eight points but the Hawks were definitely worse off without Len on the floor, who did a good job guarding Giannis in spots in this game.

“...Alex did a great job guarding him (Giannis) as well,” said Pierce of Len. “We wanted him (Antetokounmpo) to take midrange shots and stay on the perimeter and both guys did a good job of containing him...”

Speaking of Giannis, here’s a crazy little stat, if you can call it that:

That’s a nice stat if you’re the Hawks — means you didn’t allow Giannis to bully you at the rim for dunks/penetration and they did encourage him to try to hit jumpshots (and he made a few, to be fair) but they did foul Giannis a ton and sent him to the line 19 times...

And speaking of Giannis, he got to exchange jerseys with Vince Carter postgame:

These are common enough these days as both Vince Carter and, much more publicly, Dwyane Wade wind down their careers.

For this game itself for the Hawks, not much else to say in terms of how the Hawks played other than they didn’t score enough to keep up with the Bucks and the defense never looked like it was coming and without that, the Hawks didn’t stand a chance to win this game and the turnovers helped create that 19-point margin in the end...

Rebounding margin

One of the main ways the Hawks stuck around in this game for as long as they did was because they were crushing the Bucks on the glass and scoring the second chance opportunities.

By the half, the Hawks had out-rebounded the Bucks 31-15 and had scored 15 second chance points. With the Hawks only trailing by nine points at the half, without their dominance on the glass the Hawks would’ve been a long way behind and this game would’ve been over a long time before the fourth quarter. In the end, the Hawks out-rebounded the Bucks 54-39 and scored 23 second chance points.

“I think it was about as bad as we have had all year for the first half, but it felt like it improved a little bit in the second half,” said Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer. “They stayed in the game with 11 offensive rebounds and a bunch of points off of that, so that is definitely an area that we can improve in and we will be taking a look at that. I think that our guards have to get in there and help rebound and I think there were some reads that we were a little slow to make.”

Here’s the odd thing when it came to the rebounding: the Bucks, heading into this one, had the best defensive rebound percentage in the league and allow the fewest second chance points (shouts to Brad Rowland who shared that stat on Locked on Hawks this morning. Hey, go listen to that), so for the Hawks to grab 18 offensive rebounds and score 23 second chance points is very impressive.

But, again, committing 24 turnovers for 36 points, weighing against 19 assists isn’t going to get it done, meaning this great rebounding/second chance scoring effort was for naught.

Taurean Prince’s return from injury

As the weekend progressed, so did Taurean Prince’s chances of playing in this game as he was upgraded from ‘out’ to ‘doubtful’ and from ‘doubtful’ to ‘probable’.

Sunday came and Prince made his first appearance since December 3rd albeit on a minutes restriction of 12 minutes (playing 11) and scored six points.

“We weren’t expecting a whole lot, to be honest with you,” said Pierce of Prince postgame. “It was to get him out there and just to get a feel and to get him the 12 minutes that he needs, try and space him and try get him some open looks. That’s really it. It’s hard when you’re playing a guy on a minutes restriction because you can’t really let him loose and we’re not going to throw too much at him right from the start. I thought his minutes were productive ... it’s good to have him back.”

Prince had some rough moments and he had some decent moments, as you would expect for a guy coming off of a month-plus long injury and on a minutes restriction.

Not much to say here in this spot — it’ll be interesting to see how Prince fares against OKC on Tuesday.

Rookie watch and Omari Spellman’s postgame comments

Let’s talk rookies because there’s lots to talk about.

Let’s start with Trae Young, who we’ve mentioned in passing already — 26 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes.

Yes, that is correct: 10 rebounds — not your usual Trae Young double-double.

“They’re a very tall and long team,” said Young. “I knew I had to get in there and get a little more physical and get some rebounds as a guard. I just tried to make more plays.”

Young was active amongst the trees — three of his 10 rebounds being offensive rebounds. It was refreshing to see but you probably shouldn’t expect this from Young too often.

Young’s efficiency fell away near the end but still shot over 40% from the field and, most encouragingly in this game, shot 11-of-13 from the free throw line — good to see Young get to the line in this one.

Kevin Huerter had a bit of a quieter game — 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting from the field and 2-of-5 from three.

Two notable moments in this game from Huerter: this deep three-pointer:

And this beautiful pass to Prince in the corner for a three:

That is absolutely gorgeous — great pass.

In place of the injured Dewayne Dedmon, Omari Spellman, surprisingly, got the nod as starting center in his place and arguably played the best game of his young career — 13 points and four three-pointers.

‘Opportunity’ has been a theme for Pierce in some of his starting lineup choices of late, such as Daniel Hamilton and DeAndre’ Bembry, and it was the same story when it came to starting Spellman last night.

“Naturally it’s an opportunity to try and grow him (Omari Spellman). Dewayne (Dedmon) being out is an opportunity where he’s going to have to play anyway, and I thought from a matchup perspective that playing him with Giannis (Antetokounmpo) early as opposed to Alex (Len) ... I just thought to charge Omari and give him a little bit of an early opportunity to get out there on the floor…I thought he did a really nice job.”

Postgame, Spellman revealed Pierce’s pre-game message: compete.

“I just wanted to come out and do the things that coach was asking me to do,” said Spellman. “He wanted me to defend, rebound and compete. So, that’s what I was trying to do. I was trying to play as hard as I can. Compete, defend. The shots come. Sometimes shots go in. Sometimes they don’t. But what you can control is your effort. Coach told me, getting the start, all he wanted me to do was compete. So that’s all I was focused on. I wasn’t focused on shooting the ball, I wasn’t focused on anything like that. Just competing.”

“I’ve been putting in work and just working as hard as I can to come back,” Spellman went on to say. “They told me I was starting, and I was like, ‘I’m ready,’ and that’s what I think led to me playing as hard as I could and just leaving it all out there. I wasn’t worried about anything else.”

Part of the surprise when it came to Spellman starting was that he had barely seen the court since his recall from Erie following a hip injury. Spellman had a lot more to say via Chris Vivlamore of the AJC as to why he hadn’t been playing up until this point.

“Pretty much, I was fat,” Spellman told the AJC. “I had to lose weight. That’s what allowed me to get back. That’s why I have been working as hard as I have and that’s why I haven’t been playing. Just to get me back right. Coming down and losing the weight that I have lost and being able to compete at the level I have been able off the court, helped me go out and compete tonight.”

“It’s a very hard adjustment, just being a consummate professional,” Spellman continued. “I wasn’t perfect starting out. I wasn’t always the best professional. It’s something that I’m working on. It’s something that the coaching staff and my teammates are helping me with every day. Hardest transition is just being a consummate professional at all times. That’s something I’m working toward and trying to get better at.

“That’s what I mean by being a professional. That’s unprofessional. I’ve just got to be better.”

There’s a few things to break down here. Firstly, fair-play. To be able to be frank with yourself and admit the problem is hugely commendable, especially given how sensitive the subject is — Spellman deserves credit for his honesty. He didn’t have to say that and he did so anyways.

In that same AJC article, Spellman said he has dropped from 293 pounds to 271 pounds and though his you can see the fruits of his labor, there’s more to be done but has all of the support he needs around him to help him, including his teammates and coaching staff.

“I think we can all play a role and show him what it means to be a pro,” said John Collins of Spellman. “I think it’s a learning process for him and figuring out what he needs to do to stay in this league and stay on the senior squad. He can obviously come into games and contribute. I know it’s not the on-court stuff with him. The coaches have made that apparent to him and I think he’s doing a good job of tighten up. Hopefully, he sticks to it. That’s my guy and I want to see him do good.”

His teammates and coaches want to see him succeed and that requires a degree of honesty, even if it’s hard to accept what that takes. But, again, credit to Spellman for tackling it.

There were a number of people who didn’t/haven’t enjoyed the Spellman selection at 30th overall but last night he showed what the Hawks see in him.

He hit four three-pointers, he was comfortable with the ball, he had some nice passes and he had this amazing block on Giannis, forcing a jump-ball:

That’s a great play, one of four blocks for Spellman.

A big game for Spellman on Sunday, how will he fare in his follow-up game against OKC on Tuesday?

Bud’s return

Former Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer made his return to State Farm Arena on Sunday afternoon and was the recipient of a video tribute, of sorts... He was honoured along with the other Coach of the Year recipients in Atlanta Hawks history:

“It’s good to come back and see some familiar faces somewhere where you worked for five years,” said Budenholzer postgame. “So to check that box and for the team to play well and execute tonight was great and now we will move on from here.”

Nice to see a positive reaction toward Budenholzer from the fans on his return but it just seemed strange that he didn’t get a full-on tribute video for himself — instead, sharing his tribute with the other COY winners in Atlanta Hawks history.

Perhaps he reached our beforehand and said ‘Hey, please don’t make a big deal for me coming back’ (that would be very Bud-like), perhaps not... Just seemed odd that he’s going to receive a lot less of a tribute than, say, Dennis Schröder will on Tuesday night. Heck, the official Hawks twitter didn’t even tweet the tribute they ran for their COY winners.

Just seemed a bit off/odd...


The Hawks (13-30) are back in action on Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder at State Farm Arena, there return of point guard Dennis Schröder to Atlanta.

Should be interesting.

Until next time...