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Hawks fail to contain Vucevic, Fournier in MLK Day loss to Orlando

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The Hawks enjoyed a fine opening few minutes but it didn’t get better after that...

NBA: Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks were unable to emerge on top in their MLK Day tilt against the Orlando Magic on Monday afternoon, falling 122-103.

Dewayne Dedmon led six Hawks players reaching double figures, tying a career-best with 24 points.

For the Magic, two 29-point efforts from Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier led Orlando past the Hawks in an impressive road victory, despite missing Aaron Gordon.

MLK Festivities

Yesterday was, of course, MLK Day, a day that is always circled on the Atlanta Hawks calendar when the schedule is announced — the city of Atlanta being the city that Dr. King was born.

The Hawks do a good job celebrating the day, kicking off with the famous choir intros:

Though, this was a little more awkward than normal only for the reason that the Hawks announced Kevin Huerter as a starter when Huerter was a (very) late scratch from the game, Taurean Prince starting in his place.

As the game went on, the Hawks and the Fox Sports Southeast broadcast celebrated MLK Day with halftime/postgame performances from Koryn Hawthorne, a special video for ambassador Andrew Young and even an appearance from the NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, who was in the house for MLK Day.

This was Silver’s first viewing of the newly renovated State Farm Arena, enjoying a tour with Hawks owner Tony Ressler pregame, and Fox Sports’ Andre Aldridge got to interview the commissioner during the second quarter, discussing MLK Day in Atlanta, State Farm Arena and the Hawks.

This was also the first MLK Day that players have been able to enjoy commemorating MLK Day without the NBA’s shoe restrictions (meaning players were free to do, literally, whatever they wanted in terms of expressing themselves on MLK Day with their shoes), and many took the opportunity to honor Dr. King.

There are a number of new faces with the Hawks this year and this game would’ve marked their first experience of playing an MLK Day game in the city of Atlanta. It was a day to remember for those involved.

“I’m honored to be the head coach in the city of Atlanta for a lot of reasons,” said Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce. “This is at the top of the list—to be here, in Atlanta, the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, to honor Dr. King and his legacy. The commitment that the organization shows… we are continually trying to show to the city of Atlanta and to the community, is all a reflection of what Dr. King did.

“It’s a special day. It’s a special opportunity, for myself, for the team, for the community. I’m 42 years old. I’m African-American, and I’m a head coach in the NBA. I don’t take it for granted. This is one of those days where you reflect and look back, and you’re really appreciative of the work that a lot of people did.”

Pierce is obviously very appreciative of Dr. King, his work and what this day means and his rookie Trae Young believes the day was bigger than basketball.

“Today is not about the game, not about our loss or their win, it’s about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” said Young. “That’s the way I look at it — it’s a bigger picture today. I think that’s the way all of the people supporting us and within the organization should look at it. Today is a different day because it’s something bigger than us.”

MLK Day is a special day around the league but particularly in places like Memphis and Atlanta, and they do a good job celebrating the day.

Gradual Magic effort leads Orlando to victory

Moving onto the game itself, it started well for the Hawks.

The Hawks ran out to a 16-7 start with seven assists on their seven made field goals to begin the game but that was as good as it got for the Hawks as the Magic gradually reeled in the Hawks to end the first quarter.

The Magic began to collect a number of stops and a put together a 12-0 run to take the lead in the second quarter, took a three point lead into the third quarter, where the Magic put gradual separation between themselves and the Hawks and took a 13 point lead into the fourth quarter. The Hawks never really looked like they were going to take this one away from the Magic — they did cut the lead to single digits but the game got away from the Hawks late on as the Magic pulled away convincingly in the end.

(That’s a very basic gist of how the game unfolded, you can read a much more detailed account of the game here at Peachtree Hoops).

That 12-0 run in the second quarter was obviously important but not backbreaking for the Hawks. It was an unusual game in that there was real defining run that — it was a gradual effort form the Magic.

The Hawks enjoyed one of their better games in turns of turnovers (just 14 last night on the game) but couldn’t prevent the Magic from scoring 19 points off of those turnovers regardless...

Lloyd Pierce gave an honest account of the Hawks last night in his opening statement postgame.

“All I can say is that we sucked tonight,” said an honest Pierce. “I don’t like to say that, or use it that much, but we weren’t very good and that’s unfortunate. They have a couple of guys that I talked about prior to the game — Vucevic is an All-Star, Fournier plays efficient basketball (and) Terrence Ross is hard to guard. It’s a lot of credit to Orlando, but we weren’t very good tonight.”

“I don’t think we came with the right approach,” Pierce went on to say. “We were up at the end of the first quarter, by three, (and) I thought we should have been up by double-digits. It was just a funky start to the game (with) our effort, our communication, our ball movement. I thought we settled for a lot of shots. We settled for a lot of shots. We emphasized ball reversals prior to the game, coming out of the Boston game.

“Trying to look back and see as much positive clips that we had. Defensively, we were aggressive for the majority of the game against Boston, and offensively, we had 19 assists in the first half based on our ball reversals. So, we tried to emphasize that going into today’s game. We just didn’t do it. We didn’t have the spirit, the energy. We didn’t have the togetherness. So, we’ll get back in and work tomorrow before we get on the road. We’ll start putting it all back together. It’ll be a long road trip, and we are going to need to gel quick.”

I thought Pierce hit the nail on the head when he said the Hawks settled for shots because they definitely did at times, particularly in the second quarter.

Here was an example as John Collins settles for a three-point shot early in the clock when half an opportunity opened up:

Sadly for the Hawks, that was one of many missed three-pointers as the Hawks shot 9-of-30 from three.

The Hawks missed Kevin Huerter in that regard, a late scratch with a sore neck and the Hawks missed his shooting and ability to stretch the floor.

In situations like this, where Huerter’s presence on the court can stretch the floor, the Hawks missed Huerter badly:

A lineup like that doesn’t feature a ton of outside shooting (there are guys who can make an outside shot but not to the knockdown rate that Huerter can).

Dewayne Dedmon was the one player who did knock down outside shots for the Hawks yesterday, hitting his first five three-pointers on his way to 24 points.

“Shots were just falling, to be honest,” said Dedmon postgame. “Just showing up, preparing and getting ready. My teammates were finding me and shots were falling.”

The Hawks, sort of, hung around in the fourth but two plays that seemed to really suck the life out of the building was this D.J. Augustin three after the Hawks had trapped Terrence Ross, putting the Magic up by 11 points with just over five minutes to go in the fourth:

Following this, John Collins went to the free throw line and missed both of his free throws and the energy in the building had disappeared off the back of those two moments.

Overall, a disappointing game for the Hawks. A 19-point loss might be a tad harsh in the end but they didn’t deserve to win this game (a game they were actually favored by Vegas to win) and the Magic tightened the clamps after that timeout when the Hawks led 16-7. Kevin Huerter’s absence was big and his replacement in the lineup, Prince, didn’t enjoy the best game.

Other positives? Young scored an efficient 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting and Lin joined him with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

... And that’s about it.

Hawks unable to contain Vucevic, Fournier

While the Magic’s recovery from their early hole was a gradual one, it’s one that would not have happened without the efforts of Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier, who scored 29 point apiece.

Let’s start with Vucevic.

Vucevic scored from literally everywhere — in the mid-range, the three-pointer, in the paint, at the rim...the only thing he didn’t hit was a corner three, everywhere else he scored from:

Being able to hit shots from the inside and outside, face-up and back-from-the-basket, it makes Vucevic an incredibly tough cover, and the Hawks’ bigs struggled to guard him. Not only that, but Vucevic is a big man and he covers ground very well for someone his size.

Here, Vucevic just blows by Alex Len and gets all the way to the rim for the score:

Good luck to the guy who tries to come over and help in this situation. A few players could slide over and try contest this at the rim (the likes of Joel Embiid come to mind) but even then, with that head of steam, that’s going to be hard to stop.

Vucevic is also able to use his physical advantage when it comes to setting screens and he creates good separation for Terrence Ross with this screen, taking Jeremy Lin effectively out of this play, forcing Dedmon to cut off Ross and this leave Vucevic all alone on the find from Ross and Vucevic knocks the jumper:

Vucevic — long before his quality of play on the offensive end improved to what it is now — has always been one of the league’s premiere rebounders and his displayed this instinct on this play, as he gets the better of Omari Spellman, has his shot blocked by Bembry, collects the offensive rebound and scores the put-back:

Vucevic has a soft touch about him and goes to his floater on this drive on Dewayne Dedmon for the basket:

There’s not a ton Dedmon can do in this situation, he gets a decent contest up there on this shot...

To be fair, the Hawks contested a number of Vucevic’s shots pretty well — he just made some tough baskets.

Just inside the three-point line, Vucevic hits this contested jump shot over Dedmon and in:

In the mid-range, Alex Len is in a good spot defensively in his matchup with Vucevic, contests the shot but, again, Vucevic cans it:

This isn’t Omari Spellman or John Collins Vucevic is shooting over — these are, legit, seven footers Vucevic is casually shooting over. It just looked so easy for Vucevic on the night.

Vucevic scored 10 points in the third quarter but really wanted to take it upon himself to lead the Magic to begin the game and he did just that, scoring 11 points and grabbing five rebounds in the first quarter.

“When I get a couple buckets inside, it really gets me going and leads to me being really aggressive for the rest of the game,” said Vucevic postgame. “I really wanted to get the team going early on, take the lead offensively, and carry the team a little bit. I feel like that worked and that other guys were able to feed off of me in that first quarter, then we were able to play really well after that.”

Postgame, it was hard for players not to focus on the 29 points, 14 rebounds performance from a player who many consider to be an All-Star this year — Pierce referred to this off of the top in his opening statement and others followed suit.

“I think he’s an All-Star,” said Trae Young of Vucevic. “He’s been playing like he did today all season. That’s the reason why I would consider him an All-Star. He’s a really good player. He’s improved a lot. I’ve known about his game for a long time because I watch NBA basketball so much.”

Dewayne Dedmon, who not only played with Vucevic as a member of the Magic but also in college, knows too well what Vucevic brings.

“He’s a great player,” Dedmon complimented. “I played (with) him at USC. I played with him in Orlando. He’s a great player, a competitor. It’s a tough matchup for anybody.”

Let’s move on to Evan Fournier, who also scored 29 points in this game.

Fournier enjoyed a 19-point second half, including 11 points in the third quarter but also dished out seven assists for the night.

Fournier had a bit more fortune shooting the three than Vucevic, hitting 3-of-6 from three. Sadly for Jeremy Lin, he found himself in the midst of a few of these.

Here, Fournier takes a dribble to his left and simply rises over Lin — who gets a hand up, to no avail — to hit the three:

On this possession, the Hawks’ defensive was a little frantic. I believe Lin was supposed to be guarding Isaiah Briscoe, Prince ‘guarding’ Fournier and Bembry guarding Wes Iwundu (hard to tell but I believe that was what was supposed to be the case). Lin strays from Briscoe on the opposite side of the rim, Vucevic finds him from the ball-side, Lin tracks to recover but Bembry has to plug the gap left by Lin, who was on the wrong side of the Briscoe, Prince tracks to Iwundu. Lin attempts to closeout Fournier — who now receives the ball — and Fournier escapes the recovery with a side-step to his left and he hits the three:

It wasn’t the only case when the Hawks straying from an opponent led to a three, as Bembry strays away from Fournier in the corner and Young is successfully screened by Jarell Martin as Fournier rises for the three:

As you would imagine, Fournier and Vucevic linked up in the pick-and-roll on a few occasions.

Here, Fournier comes off of the Vucevic screen and rises into a mid-range jumper but not before faking Bembry off of his feet:

In the second half, Fournier gets downhill off of the Vucevic screen, powers inside by multiple Hawks defenders and gets his shot up and in, plus the foul:

Fournier got to the free throw line on nine occasions and that last play wasn’t the only ‘and-1’ trip for the Frenchman.

From the wing, Fournier receives the ball, easily gets by the reaching Prince and it’s all about exploiting the mismatch inside, Trae Young isn’t going to be able to stop Fournier in this this situation:

With the Magic missing Aaron Gordon in this one, the play of both Vucevic and Fournier were huge keys in the Magic winning this game.

“It was so important tonight because we didn’t have Aaron [Gordon], who is another guy that we can play through and puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses,” said Magic head coach Steve Clifford. “So that was a huge performance from Evan (Fournier) tonight when we really needed it.”

While the Magic enjoyed those two strong performances, Lloyd Pierce was left to lament his side’s defensive execution on the game.

“Defensively, we didn’t pressure the basketball enough,” said Pierce postgame. “They run a lot of pin-downs, a lot of catch-and-shoot options. Our emphasis all game was to pressure the passer. They didn’t feel us — and that’s a term we use consistently — they need to feel us defensively. Our guards up top, on the basketball, they didn’t feel them ... Fournier was very good coming off (screens) and in the pick-and-rolls. (I) Can’t say enough about Vucevic, he hits a three, his pick-and-pop to mid-range, he’s scoring around the basket. They punish you if you don’t pressure the passer and they get into their spots and they were good in their spots tonight.”


The Hawks (14-32) now embark on their seven-game, ‘Super Bowl road-trip’, beginning in Chicago on Wednesday.

When asked what he’s looking for from his young players on this season-long road-trip, Pierce wants to see energy from his side on both sides of the ball.

“We can’t be flat and we were flat today,” said Pierce of the upcoming road-trip. “We’re going to be on the road for seven games, we’ve got to create our own energy. They’ve got to feel us defensively, we can’t be flat offensively, we’ve got to come out with a spirit to run, to attack before the defense is set and when the defense is set to move bodies and move the basketball. We’ve talked about being downhill, attacking downhill. That creates our threes, that creates opportunities at the rim ... we’ve got to find a way to create our own energy offensively and they’ve got to feel us defensively.”

No Carmelo Anthony for the Bulls when the Hawks arrive but it should be an interesting game nevertheless.

Until next time...