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Hawks fall short in closing stages, despite season-best from Alex Len

A season-high from the big man in scoring wasn’t enough for the Hawks in D.C.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks dropped their first contest of 2019 as they fell short in Washington D.C., 114-98, against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

Alex Len scored a season-high 24 points while grabbing 11 rebounds while fellow big-man John Collins added 21 points.

For the Wizards, Bradley Beal scored 24 points (11 of those coming in the final period) while Jeff Green added 22 points.

Fighting back, falling short

The Hawks avoided their usual first quarter landmine and found themselves still contending in this game come the third quarter. And then the Wizards found their footing, putting a 14-point margin between themselves and the Hawks. The Hawks, in the same quarter, brought it back to just four points by the end of the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the Hawks did actually manage to tie this game up at 94 apiece with 6:44 remaining in the game.

And that’s where it all fell apart for the Hawks.

The Wizards reeled off an 8-0 run to break the tie and then went on another 9-0 after a Dewayne Dedmon basket — in total, a 17-2 run that just broke the Hawks as they ran out of gas.

The game ended up being a near blowout in the end, but didn’t really reflect the game itself — the Hawks were right there for a good chunk of this game but that late run from the Wizards would suggest otherwise.

The first 8-0 run from the Wizards I think is more pivotal than the the 9-0 run that killed the game off — the Hawks had tied the game, coming from 14 down, and the 8-0 run to break the tie get away again I think was key. So let’s briefly look at that run.

Offensively for the Wizards, it was all about their two leading scorers: Beal and Green.

Beal had been slightly passive in the first half and ran into some foul trouble in the third quarter — and wasn’t shooting the ball well either in this one — so his production was limited in this one through three quarters but made a conscious effort to get going in the fourth quarter.

To break the tie, he drives past DeAndre’ Bembry to get inside and, credit to him, does a great job to score with Alex Len planted in front of him at the rim:

Turnovers (gasp) played a factor in this game last night but more so points off of turnovers — 14 Hawks turnovers turning into 27 Washington points and here were three of them, after the Hawks turn it over and the Wizards push the other way and Tomas Satoransky finds the trailing Beal for a three-pointer:

Without John Wall, if there’s any Wizard you need to keep an eye on, it’s Bradley Beal — can’t lose track of him like this in transition and allow him shots like this.

Again in semi-transition, the Hawks don’t set themselves up well defensively and Jeff Green is left all alone behind the arc and, despite the late closeout from Len, hits the three:

The Hawks called for a timeout after this play but the damage had been done. Having expounded all that effort and energy to come back from 14 points down to tie it in the fourth quarter, they let it slip with a few mistakes defensively — just a back-breaker of a run from the Wizards to push it back to eight again.

“We didn’t do a good job executing down the stretch and that’s what killed us,” said John Collins.

It wasn’t the ending the Hawks deserved but the NBA can be a cruel mistress — sometimes teams give you chances but you will be punished for your lapses and the Wizards took advantage of the Hawks in transition for two three-pointers in this stretch and it ended up being the start of the end.

“Tough stretch down in the fourth quarter, just unable to score,” said Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce postgame. “Trying to fight our way and somehow regain the lead but just unable to score, execute offensively. (We) tried to go big and counter their speed and their size and their shooting. Just didn’t finish around the basket, couldn’t get downhill as much as we wanted...”

The turnover that led to the Beal three in transition was a key play in that run and Pierce knows that mistakes like that are likely to be punished.

“Anytime you turn the ball over late in the game you can expect to be punished on the other side,” said Pierce. “We’ve been trying to pay a lot of attention to valuing every possession and valuing the basketball, specifically in the fourth quarter. And that was key, the (Beal) 5-0 run right when we got back into it, just needing to call a timeout to try regroup but at that point it had got up to eight (points). Big players make big plays at the right time and Bradley did that.”

Again, the Hawks probably didn’t deserve to lose by 16 points in the end but the fight they showed is encouraging and played well in stretches. But when it came down to it, you can’t allow a team to end the game on 17-4 run. That just won’t get it done.

Alex Len’s season-high

Alex Len enjoyed, arguably, his best game of the season as he scored a season-high 24 points while grabbing 11 rebounds, also posting three blocks.

When Dewayne Dedmon checked out with two fouls in the first quarter, Len came in and was able to make a huge difference, scoring 10 points in the opening frame.

Let’s look at a few.

Here, one of many great passes from Trae Young last night as he sets up Len for the dunk in the pick-and-roll:

In transition, Len gets a head of steam and no one puts a body on him as he charges through the lane, and Jeremy Lin (who was did not play well last night, worth saying that now since he won’t be mentioned much today) finds him for the dunk:

To end the first quarter, Len showed his extended range but not from the corner, where the majority of his threes come from, as the first quarter ticks down:

Len’s production in the first quarter really helped the Hawks in that stretch when Dedmon picked up that second foul and Len stepped up to the plate again when John Collins picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter.

Len scored another eight points in the third quarter, again, his production in the absence of Collins was big as the Hawks tried to recover from a 14-point deficit.

No outside shooting in the third quarter, Len’s work came around the rim, including this dunk at the rim after the nice set-up from Lin, drawing the defense to him before finding Len:

That sweet Lin-Len connection...

Len was active on the glass, giving multiple efforts on plays such as this one:

Len also had three blocks on the game, here was one of them as he hustled on this defensive play, again, showing multiple efforts to stick with the play:

How about another one, as he sends this attempt from Sam Dekker to the ground:

‘And he threw it on the ground!’

Though his season-best came in a defeat, coach Pierce didn’t have a ton to say about Len himself but more so about his three main bigs (sorry, Omari Spellman is not one of them).

“We’ve had opportunities for a couple of guys to increase their role,” said Pierce of Len. “Dewayne’s been out the last two games and so Alex has been able to gain his rhythm back a little bit and you’re seeing it out there tonight as well. And the same thing has happened all year when John was out, when Alex was out as well. Using those three bigs to continue to attack — we won the rebound battle again tonight and that’s been a point of emphasis for us. But we’re going to keep that rotation, we’re going to trying to empower our big guys and keep punishing anytime they want to go small in the pick-and-rolls.”

Good game for Alex Len, good spells from him when the Hawks need his production when Dedmon and Collins were both struggling with foul trouble.

Rookie/John Collins watch

Just a quick note on the rookies since they haven’t really come up in conversation much so far...

It wasn’t the best night shooting the ball for Trae Young (2-of-8 from the field) but he did have nine assists on the game and, again, just threw some really beautiful dimes to his teammates.

Exhibit A, as he dimes with his left hand to the corner for a John Collins three:

And how about this pass to Alex Len?

What was slightly bizarre, however, is why Lloyd Pierce elected to run with Jeremy Lin to close the game instead of Young. Lin had not been playing well anyways and the Hawks were struggling to do anything offensively — seems like a perfect spot for Young to continue to grow and learn but also just straight-out help his team in the midst of a struggle.

It was an odd one...

Kevin Huerter had an interesting game — 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting from the field and 1-of-7 from three. The misses don’t concern Pierce but he’s happy that Huerter is getting those shots up there in volume.

“He’s staying aggressive,” said Pierce of Huerter. “I think he got up seven or eight threes, which is a key point of emphasis for us: to get him shots. Obviously they didn’t go down the same way they did last game (six threes against Indiana) but the most important part is he’s getting the shots, he’s taking the shots, he’s looking for those shots ... we’re encouraged that he’s getting the shots...”

Huerter played a Hawks-high for the season in minutes with 44 minute in this one — no one even surpassed 40 minutes in the overtime game against the Timberwolves. Huerter was visibly gassed in the latter stages as the sheer amount of minute caught up to him. He’s having to do more and play more in the absence of Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince but he also had his work cut out chasing Trevor Ariza around, and I think Ariza did a lot to take a lot out of Huerter in this game, using that experience to his advantage.

Plays like this, for example:

Tough cover for Huerter, I think he did well in this game all things considered. He did, however, have some exquisite passes in this game...

Such as this beauty to John Collins:

Speaking of Collins, he was, again, productive as he scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds:

What stood out about Collins’ game was that he hit four three-pointers in this game, all coming in the first half. The four threes represented a new career-best for Collins, who is now shooting 31% from three on the season but is shooting 40% over his last four games as he continues to expand his game.

The Hawks (11-26) are back in action on Friday when they’ll take on the Milwaukee Bucks at the brand new Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.

And the Hawks will reunite with an old Bud(dy), as it were.

Should be fun. Until then...