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Hawks unable to execute late in close-fought loss to Raptors

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A close (and fun) game but one the Hawks eventually fell short...

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks were unable to add a second consecutive win on Tuesday night as they fell short in Toronto 104-101.

John Collins led the Hawks in scoring with another double-double — 21 points and 14 rebounds — while Jeremy Lin added 20 points and nine assists.

Kawhi Leonard led the way for the Raptors with 31 points while Kyle Lowry added 16 points.

Close but no cigar

Everything pointed towards this game being a write-off for the Atlanta Hawks.

Not only were the Hawks travelling to the building of one of the best teams in the league, the Hawks were also shorthanded, missing Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince and Kevin Huerter (who was a late scratch).

But this is the NBA, and just when everything points to one thing, bam! Another thing ends up happening instead, and this wasn’t to be one for the for-book for the Hawks in Toronto. Those who watched this game got to enjoy a close contest throughout — no team ever led by double-digits — and the Hawks took this one right down to the wire.

What it all led to was the Hawks had possession of the ball — trailing 102-101 — with 17 seconds left and a chance to win the game after the Raptors took the lead with this play:

So, 17 seconds remaining, chance to win in the building of the best team in the Eastern Conference...what happens coming out of the timeout?

Well, Trae Young drives at Kawhi Leonard, who is able to contest the shot and come up with the stop at the rim, using his superior size and length, and the Raptors come out with the ball and dunk at the other end to end the game:

One of the things I look at when a team heads down the floor or coming out of a timeout is: ‘what are they looking to run, what are they looking to accomplish?’...this is not what the Hawks wanted to accomplish heading out of that timeout — to have Trae Young drive toward the rim while guarded by one of, if not, the best perimeter defenders in the league.

I understand the idea was probably to involve Young and the Hawks probably assumed he would be guarded by Fred VanVleet or Kyle Lowry and I think they were definitely thrown off by the fact the Raptors put Kawhi Leonard onto Young heading out of the timeout. I also hear the argument that the Hawks — once it was clear Leonard was going to guard Young — should’ve done more to get Leonard off of Young (by ways of a screen in order to get a switch) but you just can’t take that shot if you’re Young. You have to know better than to drive toward the rim on Kawhi Leonard.

Alas, Young didn’t, and the Hawks end up losing by three points in a game where they were right there amongst the NBA’s elite.

Postgame, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce referred to the Young’s play against Kawhi Leonard as a moment of ‘education’.

“You have a rookie going up against probably the best perimeter defensive player in the league,” said Pierce postgame via Fox Sports Southeast. “He just kind of fell for the bait. I’d get nervous if Kawhi was guarding me too. I get it. It’s an education for a young guy. He’ll never forget this game. I think he understands that and he understands that we want to walk out of here with a win. We don’t want to give them with a shot opportunity. But this is part of growth to understand that you’re in a — this is situational basketball. When you’re in this situation and you’re on the road, make or miss, get a shot and leave them no time and, if it goes down, we’ll all look like heroes and if it doesn’t, we still keep out heads high because this was a great effort against a great team.”

Judging by those comments, not only did Pierce not enjoy the actual shot itself but wanted the Hawks to take the last shot of the game (Young left about six/seven seconds left on the clock).

Despite that late mishap though, Pierce was proud of how his side fought despite the opponent and lack of bodies.

“I don’t know how many times I can say I’m proud of our guys,” said Pierce in his opening statement postgame. “But to come into this building against this team as shorthanded — and we never use lack of bodies as an excuse but we’re missing three key guys so it’s a great opportunity for a bunch of NBA players, young players to step up and I thought everyone did. We squeezed as much out of every person that stepped out on the court today. To be down one with an opportunity, and the ball, to walk out of here with a victory, that’s all you can ask for. And the result of how you play and what ends up, you can’t control that. I think we put ourselves in a position to get a win on the road against an elite team. Really proud of our guys.”

(Translation for part of that quote: ‘We don’t want to use excuses but I’m going to: we were missing three of our best wings’ and that’s a fair excuse to make, you can say that if you want to. Missing Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince and Kevin Huerter from your wing rotation is hurtful to your chances of winning a basketball game, though, Tyler Dorsey and Daniel Hamilton did come in and play reasonably well to be fair.)

The Hawks did give the Raptors some genuine concern in this one with how close it got late on. They were trying, and it required a big fourth quarter from Kawhi Leonard to drag them to victory.

“We pulled one out,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse via TSN. “We were trying to get away from them and never really could. And we were down late there and had to make a couple of stops, and a couple scores, and we did both of those things. So, pretty good. Pretty good. Happy we got the win, wasn’t easy out there tonight.”

The fans and the Hawks themselves can be proud of the performance their side put in given the team, building and circumstance.

As for Young, it’s just another learning curve — these tend to be steep in the NBA for a rookie point guard who has to do so much for his side as it is, let alone be trusted with the ball in a late-game situation with a chance to win in the building of an elite NBA team.

Starting lineup change: Lin and Young start together

As mentioned, the Hawks were without Kevin Huerter in this one and this forced Lloyd Pierce into another lineup changed and instead of Daniel Hamilton being reinserted to the lineup, Pierce elected to start both Trae Young and Jeremy Lin together.

A lot of people were curious how this was going to end but, in reality, both ended up playing well.

Jeremy Lin played especially well, scoring 20 points on a very efficient 8-of-10 shooting from the field and nine assists.

The majority of Lin’s work was done in the paint, shooting 7-of-8 in the paint and 5-of-6 at the rim:

(Just wanted an excuse to use NBA.com/stat’s heat map, really...)

As he normally does, Lin did a good job in the pick-and-roll and using that to get downhill into the paint and to the rim:

Another impressive play from Lin was how he exploits the gaps shown to him and manages to get all the way to the rim for bucket:

Lin started the game 4-for-4 for 10 points in the first quarter as the Hawks started off the game well — as they have been now for a few weeks.

Postgame, Pierce revealed that the Raptors’ own starting lineup of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet allowed Pierce to do something different and start Lin with Young.

“It was good,” said Pierce of Lin’s first quarter and his start. “I get a lot of stuff on social media about ‘Play Jeremy and Trae together!’. And you got to look at it in a lot of different ways, it’s not just the offensive side and having two players but just finding the right match-up. When they went with Kyle and Fred VanVleet, it was a great opportunity for us to start Jeremy and Trae together. And they responded extremely well. We had three play-makers with Dre (DeAndre’ Bembry) on the floor and the ability to get downhill and not play through one guy but be hard to guard with three guys. That’s unique, we haven’t had an opportunity to do that and I thought they responded and played well.”

What I takeaway from this quote the most is that Pierce actually looks at his social media and what people are saying to him — not that he goes to himself ‘The fans want it, I’ll give it to them’ but it’s interesting he sees it and takes notice of it.

Young, on the other hand, scored 19 points but took 20 shots to get there and had four assists on the game:

You look at the box score and you’re surprised Young took 20 shots, certainly didn’t feel like that when the game was unfolding live...

Like Lin, the majority of Young’ scoring came at the rim, and it seemed after every layup Young would end up on the ground — he took some punishment last night and didn’t get the benefit of the whistle very often. Young did well, to be fair, despite the consistent contact he finished well and defensively was OK at times.

Not much else to say about these two in this spot, Young and Lin — they both played well in this game, especially Jeremy Lin, who was fantastic.

Turnovers

We’ve spent so much time talking about turnovers, I promise I’ll make this brief and the only reason I bring it up is because the Hawks set a new season-high for themselves in turnovers committed with 27 turnovers, leading to 34 Toronto points.

Though DeAndre’ Bembry had a good game in which he came up with five steals, he was responsible for seven of those turnovers, Jeremy Lin and John Collins added another four apiece and Trae Young and Vince Carter both had three turnovers apiece.

That’s just not going to get it done in any capacity.

VC’s reception in Toronto

Speaking of Vince Carter, this match-up represented the last trip to Canada for the Hawks this season to meet the Raptors and it also might turn out to be Vince Carter’s last trip to Canada as a professional NBA player.

Of course, everyone knows the story with Vince and the Raptors by now and there was giant media frenzy both before and after the game.

During the game, however, there was a great ovation for Carter as he checked — the crowd knowing it could be his last time in Canada.

“Over so many years I’ve seen so many things, gone through the ups and downs,” said Carter postgame via TSN. “The joy of coming to this arena, each and every year is something I look forward to.”

Vince’s plans beyond this season aren’t known at this stage (unlike the Hawks’ last opponent Dwyane Wade, who is enjoying his farewell tour) so whether it actually ends up being his last appearance in Toronto remains to be seen...

There’s still love for VC in the ACC (note: the Raptors’ arena not called the ACC [Air Canada Centre] anymore but the Scotiabank Arena. Thanks for ruining that line...).

Time really does heal old wounds...


The Hawks (11-28) are back in action tonight in Brooklyn where they’ll take on the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center.

Should be a fun match-up.

Until next time...