The Atlanta Hawks kicked off their five-game road-trip on Sunday evening with a tilt against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center. Unfortunately for the road team, they came up short in overtime as the Blazers pulled away to emerge as 124-113 victors.
Trae Young led the Hawks in scoring with 35 points and 10 assists while Jabari Parker also added a double-double with 27 points and 11 rebounds.
For the Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard led the way with 30 points, while the Blazers also enjoyed 20-point (or more) performances from C.J. McCollum (23 points), Hassan Whiteside (21 points) and Anfernee Simons (20 points)
Let’s break this one down.
The Hawks entered this game as underdogs but would’ve perhaps sensed that a real opportunity awaited for them in Portland on Sunday evening.
The Blazers were searching for their first home win of the season and had lost four in a row prior to this one. Added to that, they’re struggling for bodies — Rodney Hood was ruled out for this game, in addition to the likes of Zach Collins, Jusuf Nurkic and Pau Gasol, but received boosts as Hassan Whiteside and Skal Labissiere were good to go having being ruled as ‘questionable’ in the build-up to this one.
If you missed the game, as always, the postgame recap will help bring you up to speed on the game’s proceedings, because we’re just going to fast-forward to the fourth quarter.
The game was tight throughout, with neither team establishing a double-digit lead in regulation. The Blazers led for a solid portion of this game but the Hawks led a large part of the fourth quarter before the Blazers took the lead again in the last two minutes, courtesy of the two free throws from Hassan Whiteside.
The Hawks had some opportunities to re-take the lead, all of which went through Trae Young.
A good look at a three-pointer as he’s faced by Whiteside:
Coming out of a timeout, Young makes the cut and gets a good look at a layup but misses (perhaps distracted as he turns back and looks for Kent Bazemore):
Young then turned the ball over, and during this time the Blazers weren’t scoring themselves but that changed as C.J. McCollum creates space against Kevin Huerter and drains the shot:
Could you argue that McCollum extended that arm enough to warrant an offensive foul? Perhaps, perhaps not...
Anyways, it puts the Blazers up by three points with under a minute to go and the Hawks come the other way. A missed three from Jabari Parker is fought for between McCollum and Huerter, which Huerter wins, sets himself in the corner and drains the three-pointer to tie the game:
Massive shot from Huerter on a 50-50 play, somehow not stepping out of bounds in the process.
The Blazers take a timeout after that shot and set up with Lillard, with the idea of using as much clock as possible. Lillard is guarded by DeAndre’ Bembry for this important defensive possession for the Hawks, but Lillard appeared to get the jump got on him as Bembry turns his head and Lillard sets off. De’Andre Hunter comes over as the help defender (which I think was always the plan coming out of the timeout, he was on his toes ready to go to meet Lillard, which the Hawks did at several points in the fourth quarter: throw an extra body at Lillard) but Lillard side-steps past the rookie and scores the layup and puts the Blazers up by two with seven seconds remaining:
The Hawks obviously call for time and the play they run out of the timeout ends up turning into a broken play but one that, fortuitously, works out this time as Kevin Huerter — with time running out — drives and scores off of the window to tie the game with 0.7 remaining:
Great denial by Kent Bazemore on Trae Young but a great play with Huerter with time ticking down and the game obviously on the line.
Anfernee Simons can’t hit the three out of the subsequent timeout with 0.7 (though, he did very well to come as close as he did with 0.7 and a vertical challenge in front of him) and the game heads to overtime.
Two great contributions from Kevin Huerter as he returned to his starting role (more on that later) to help send the game to overtime after it seemed as though the Hawks were going to let a late lead slip.
“Any time a guy can make a big shot in a crucial time, great for his confidence, great to see him go win a 50-50 ball in the corner, step out and get a three. (We) get a little scrambled at the end with 7.6 seconds (remaining), he ends up with the basketball and just makes an aggressive move downhill to the rim...” said Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce of Huerter’s late heroics.
The Blazers win the tip but come up empty on their first trip in the period, as do the Hawks as Parker gets a decent look at a three-pointer but can’t convert:
Parker was 1-of-6 from behind the arc for the game and that sure would’ve been a welcome one for the Hawks had he made it.
It seemed as though former Hawk Kent Bazemore would have a say in this game in one way or another, and not only did he do a good job defending Trae Young at times but he got Portland going in overtime.
On this play, Young has picked up Bazemore but the Hawks’ pick-and-roll defense lets them down as Jabari Parker is basically a non-factor in this play once Lillard and Whiteside link up. This forces De’Andre Hunter to step up to get in front of Whiteside, forces Kevin Huerter to have to leave McCollum to prevent a dump-off to Mario Hezonja and Young heads to rotate onto McCollum in the corner as Whiteside kicks it back out to the, just now, open Bazemore and by the time DeAndre’ Bembry realizes what’s going on, he can’t rotate and contest and the Blazers hit the three:
Young tried to respond on the other end as he gets near the rim and, perhaps, surprisingly sneaks a layup attempt but can’t get it to fall:
The Blazers, again, take advantage of some poor pick-and-roll defense and, again, Parker can’t stay in front of Lillard, forcing the rotation from Bembry, leaving Bazemore in the corner for another open three-pointer to put the Blazers up by six and Lloyd Pierce calls for a timeout:
Decent effort from Young to get out and attempt to contest but by the time he arrives, his lack of length means that any contest isn’t really going to affect the shot given Bazemore’s superior size and length before he even gets in the air.
Out of the timeout, Huerter gets to the foul line and hits the two free throws to cut the lead to four points and the Hawks have another chance after a turnover from Bazemore.
Huerter hit the big three to tie the game earlier in the fourth quarter but can’t hit this contested three to bring the Hawks within one point as the offense continues to struggle in overtime:
The Blazers restore their advantage as Hassan Whiteside proves too much to handle down-low for Parker and Hunter can’t help divert the rebound as Whiteside tips in:
The Hawks are, at this stage, playing Parker at center and he’s obviously been involved in the pick-and-roll defense as Lillard and Whiteside have come at the Hawks in overtime, and it appeared to prove costly.
Young really struggled with his shot (more on that soon) but he did get some pretty good looks that he just couldn’t hit, such as this three-pointer on the next trip for the Hawks after the Whiteside bucket:
Can’t ask for much of a better look for Young there, it just didn’t fall.
De’Andre Hunter struggled from the floor but had some success from three last night as he shot 4-of-9 but couldn’t get this three to go:
After another missed three from Young...
The Blazers come the other way and Lillard beats Bembry off of the dribble, forcing the rotation Parker, leaving Hezonja open, forcing Huerter to rotate from McCollum, the ball is swung to McCollum who hits the three:
A tough one there for the Hawks. In this scenario, Huerter probably shouldn’t be leaving C.J. McCollum open to go cover Hezonja but in the moment, you see a man open, you rotate on instinct. Just a case of ‘know your personnel’ — you’d rather Hezonja hit an open three than McCollum.
That bucket puts the Blazers up by nine points with 1:43 remaining and the Hawks are now in big trouble.
They get a quick two out of the timeout with a dunk from Damian Jones but a layup for McCollum and a missed layup in traffic by Young is followed by a bucket the other way for Hezonja, who is fouled as he scores and the Hawks now trail by double-digits as the game is up:
A game in which neither team led by more than eight points for the 48 minutes of regulation — including 19 ties and 14 lead changes — ballooned to double-digits in less than five minutes in overtime is unusual but it was the case for the Hawks last night.
They can feel a little hard done by in the sense that this game were there for the taking on the road, they let the lead slip late in the fourth quarter, somehow managed to tie the game late on (twice) and send it overtime — which, to be fair, you could argue that that was fortunate since Huerter won that 50-50 ball and then made something happen out of the broken play to send the game to overtime.
It goes both ways.
Ultimately, the Hawks didn’t have it offensively in overtime and the Blazers exploited Parker at center in the pick-and-roll, forcing rotations and that, in turn, opened opportunities for the others.
Pierce, at the time of speaking postgame, was unsure how the game got away in the quarter, saying that he would need to look at the film. The chance to steal one on the road came and went for the Hawks but Pierce was happy with the effort of his group last night.
“...I thought our guys competed,” said Pierce postgame. “I thought we had a great opportunity to win a game on the road to start this trip tonight and the home team came up big in the fourth quarter, so credit to them. I thought our guys played their tails off tonight ... I’m happy for our guys and the way they competed tonight.”
So often you hear coach’s talking about ‘playing a full 48 minutes’ and the Hawks I think did a good job of doing that but, sadly, they need a good 53 minutes last night and they fell short in that regard. The first half offense was a bit of a struggle but the Blazers were right there too in that regard — shooting 32% from the field in the first half to the Hawks’ 33%.
Just to quickly look at some of the notable games that we won’t be talking about elsewhere...
De’Andre Hunter’s three-point shooting was a positive last night after some struggles from behind the arc so far this season, while Hunter was also a +5 on the game in plus/minus in 39 minutes — the only starter with a positive plus/minus last night.
Jabari Parker scored 27 points on 56% shooting from field and he continues to excel in the paint/at the rim as he scored 20 of the Hawks’ 54 paint points. No other Hawks had double-digit paint points.
For the season, Parker is shooting just under 57% from the field and a whopping 86.5% in the restricted area this season through nine games. In fact, when it comes to shots less than 5 feet at the rim (with at least four attempts in that range per game) there is no one in the NBA shooting a higher percentage than Jabari Parker.
But when he was asked if he was reaching his expectations for the season, Parker couldn’t agree with that.
“No, I can’t say I’m reaching my expectations if we aren’t winning,” said Parker via Fox Sports Southeast.
Parker’s three-point shooting (27% on the season) leaves a little something to be desired but what he’s doing inside the paint and the rim has been brilliant for the Hawks. Parker also blocked a career-high four blocks last night, all coming in the first half.
Meanwhile, Young had a mixed game.
He may have scored 35 points but shot just 9-of-30 from the field — a career-high in attempts in regulation, shooting 33 in the 4OT contest against the Bulls last season — and 3-of-13 from three.
However, Young was able to get to the free throw line on 17 occasions, converting 14 of those 17 free throws, including drawing multiple fouls on three-point shots and it was this type of aggression that pleased Pierce.
“They were doing a good job in sending him in a direction and keep him from playing with the comfort that he normally plays with,” said Pierce of Young postgame. “He’s always going to face that. He did a great job of just being aggressive and getting to the foul line. Shots weren’t falling as easily tonight but he did a good job of attacking and getting to the foul line. Just his ability to manage the game with the basketball and find guys when he needed them as well.”
10 assists on the game for Young as Pierce eluded to but seven turnovers marred that somewhat.
But again, as is the case with Young, he’s able to impact the game even when he’s not shooting well.
Not only was he able to contribute with his passing but his rotations are defense were at least a positive to see (even if they weren’t always effective) and this time he was able to get to the line to boost his scoring output, but he came up short in overtime shooting the ball, shooting 0-of-4 in OT.
He may have been gassed (playing 43 minutes of this one but that probably isn’t as valid in this game since Young played less than half of the final quarter — the Hawks being able to go on a run in Young’s absence allowed Pierce to rest Young a little more than perhaps would be normal) but it was unfortunate that Young couldn’t find a way to score when the Hawks really needed it in overtime. Young didn’t play poorly by any means but, I’m sure by his own standards, he could’ve been better in his efficiency shooting the ball.
Perhaps a classic example of ‘the Hawks will only go as far as Young can take them’ and his struggles in OT would appear to reflect that as the Hawks just ran out before the finish line as he struggled in OT.
But despite the offense crashing in overtime, a good game regardless for the Hawks in which they can take to Denver.
“We can learn from this most importantly, especially for myself” said Parker postgame. “Teams get momentum, shoot a couple of threes, find ways to get a point. Those are things we need to go through right now and it’s good that we’re on the road.”
Starting lineup change and rotation tidbits
After injury sidelined Kevin Huerter for training camp and the preseason, his integration back into the Hawks fold has been slow and steady, but after a season-best showing against the Kings on Friday, Huerter was re-inserted into the starting lineup in place of Cam Reddish, which was always the plan before the injury set Huerter back.
"Some of the numbers offensively for Cam, still trying to find ways to help him out and take some burden, if there's any, or pressure off of him. Kevin's ready. He's got a little more experience."— Sarah K. Spencer (@sarah_k_spence) November 11, 2019
Lloyd Pierce says Huerter starting was original plan before injury set him back.
Huerter may not have enjoyed as strong of a game last night as he did on Friday but still contributed for 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting and 3-of-8 from three.
Of course, as we’ve looked at, Huerter tied the game on two occasions late in the fourth quarter to help send the game to overtime but he also got off to a quick start in the fourth quarter and ended up totaling for 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“...I’m happy for Kevin,” said Pierce postgame of Huerter.
So, with Huerter obviously coming back into the lineup, it meant Reddish joined the second unit.
Reddish struggled, shooting 0-of-4 from the field in just under 16 minutes of action, and some of Reddish’s shots (and this isn’t anything new) were rough.
There may some who will be bothered that Reddish has been replaced in the starting lineup but there’s good reason as to why.
For the season, Reddish is shooting 24% from the field on nearly eight attempts per game, with advanced stats of 29% in effective field goal and 33% in true shooting. In addition to that, the Hawks have an offensive rating of just 92 in the 215 minutes Reddish has been on the court and the net rating with Reddish on the court is -11.8. Conversely, with Reddish off the floor, the Hawks possess a team-best 110 offensive rating with, again, a team-best net rating of 5.4.
This isn’t to attack Reddish, who is a talented rookie, but just to highlight why the Hawks have gone in this direction (in addition to it always being the plan to start Huerter, who is just miles better at this stage offensively).
Speaking of rookies, there was a three minute showing for Bruno Fernando last night, 15 minutes for Alex Len (who, incidentally, actually possesses a worse offensive rating than Reddish with 89) and 24 minutes for Damian Jones, who featured down the stretch for the Hawks and then again in overtime, although, the game was already threatening to escape the Hawks when he returned.
Generally speaking, the minutes load weighted towards the starters (minus Len) and Bembry: 43 minutes for Young, 40 for Bembry off of the bench, 39 for Hunter, just under 37 for Parker while Kevin Huerter still appears to be capped somewhat as he played just under 31 minutes.
“...I had to play a bunch of guys a lot of minutes just because it was the group that got us there and kept us there...” said Pierce postgame.
Throw in 16 minutes for Ty Wallace as well (Pierce referenced defense and ‘keeping guys in front’ when asked about Wallace)— nothing really to say about Wallace but just worth noting.
The Hawks also ran with, basically, a nine-man rotation as Vince Carter missed this game due to personal reasons and Fernando obviously playing just those three minutes.
Allen Crabbe was upgraded to questionable ahead of this game but did not play (I’m sure, in an emergency, he could have played — but it now seems as though Crabbe will play at some stage during this road-trip.
“It’s good,” said Crabbe of his knee via Sarah Spencer of the AJC. “Made a lot of progress. I’ve been doing some 5-on-5 in practice and stuff. So it feels good. It feels like it’s headed in the right direction. But you know, just want to make sure I’m 100% ready to go. Just don’t want any setbacks.”
Good use of coach’s challenge
The introduction of coach’s challenges has been a contentious topic amongst fans and even coaches alike.
Lloyd Pierce trialled it in the preseason and wasn’t as a fan.
“I really don’t like it. I really don’t” said Pierce with a chuckle after the Hawks’ preseason opener against the Pelicans. “It’s great that they turned the call over but I’m just not a fan of it yet. I’ve got to get more comfortable with how to use it, when to use it. I thought it was great we were able to get the ball back, get to a jump-ball... I don’t know, it’s just weird. You only get one as well, there were a couple of others after that I wanted to use it. You just feel like ‘Now I’ve blown it, used it too early’ You want to use it at the right time. I’m having a hard time with it.”
I’ve, personally, always thought these should be saved for the fourth quarter, unless it’s a situation where you think you can bail an important player out of a foul that would take that player out of the game with foul trouble.
Pierce saved his challenge for the fourth quarter and used it to challenge a foul call that would’ve sent Damian Lillard to the line for three free throws. Though the challenge was technically unsuccessful (since the call was not overturned), it did result in Lillard shooting just two free throws instead of three (I believe the foul was deemed as a non-shooting foul, but the Hawks were in the penalty anyways) and you could argue it made a difference since the game eventually went to overtime.
At the other end, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts saved his challenge for the end of the game , as he successfully challenged a foul called on Hassan Whiteside for his challenge on Young with 1:09 to go — resulting in a turnover for Young and possession of the ball for the Blazers.
Important swing both ways — good use of challenges.
We, kind of, talked about it after the Kings game, but the Hawks aren’t shooting as many threes this season and they certainly aren’t shooting the three-pointer well.
The Hawks got up a season-high 41 threes last night but again struggled, only converting 11 of those for 26%. Trae Young, we obviously mentioned him in terms of his shooting — 3-of-13 from three — as well as Jabari Parker who shot 1-of-6.
The Hawks are now shooting 29% from three on the season — only the Orlando Magic (28.2%) are shooting worse than the Hawks in the NBA. From the Magic, that was perhaps expected but from the Hawks? Definitely not so.
The Hawks (3-6) now journey to Denver where they’ll take on the Nuggets on Tuesday night.
A tough matchup where the Nuggets will be favored and the Hawks, on paper, certainly seem to be up against it.
Until next time...