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Hawks unable to best Bucks despite season high from rookies

A small win for the Hawks, even if the game itself was not won.

Milwaukee Bucks v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks made their long-awaited return to State Farm Arena on Wednesday night after a long and grueling trip on the West Coast. However, it was not a happy return home for the Hawks. They were unfortunate in the sense that their opponent were the Milwaukee Bucks and they eventually (and I mean eventually) fell 135-127.

De’Andre Hunter led the Hawks in scoring with 27 points, while Trae Young scored 25 points on a difficult night shooting the ball.

For the Bucks — playing without Kris Middleton — reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo poured in 33 points while Eric Bledsoe ignited for 17 points in the fourth quarter en-route to 28 points.

Let’s dive in.

Stutter to end third quarter, slow to start to fourth dooms Hawks

The Hawks played a very solid game last night, rallying from an early 10 point deficit and really got it going in the second quarter to take a lead into halftime. The Bucks then responded in the third quarter and it was all behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 17 points alone in the third quarter.

A lot of these came, as you would expect, near the rim but Giannis was able to hit a few away from the rim as well. The Hawks just weren’t able to stop Giannis in the third quarter and despite a slow start to the game for the reigning MVP, he exploded into life and when he did, the Bucks began to control the game.

On their way to a 38 point third quarter, the Bucks re-established a 10 point lead with a minute to go after Brook Lopez splashed a three-pointer. Vince Carter (making his return after a five-game absence) responded with a three to cut the lead to seven and then came a key part of the game.

On an offensive rebound, Lopez pushed the lead back to nine and then came this no-call after Trae Young appeared to be hit as he shot a three-pointer. Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce, and Young himself, were obviously quite upset in what was quite clearly a foul and technical fouls were assessed to both Young and Pierce:

George Hill knocks down the subsequent free throws and the Bucks have possession again, off of which Pat Connaughton scored, and the Bucks take a 13 point lead into the final quarter.

The Hawks and Bucks exchanged buckets to begin the fourth quarter but back-to-back threes from the Bucks pushed the lead to 18 points and, really, that was it. The Hawks, to their credit, fought and cut the lead down to seven and continued to show great effort and fight but with the clock against them, you just never really thought they could overhaul the Bucks.

Had things gone a little differently to end the third quarter, would things have been different? More than likely not, but it played its part in helping the Bucks push the lead beyond double digits and then just a mini-run in the fourth quarter pushed the game beyond the Hawks’ reach.

Despite the Hawks’ fourth straight loss, they played well in this game, showed good effort and fight and it was this that Pierce was pleased with but noted that the Hawks have dug themselves holes to start games, which concerned him.

“Our guys competed,” Pierce said to open his post-game statements. “We started every quarter in a deficit, which is troubling and (has) kind of been a point of concern for us the last couple of games but our guys competed. It’s the education to a young team with how to come out and start the game with a sense of urgency. The margin of error that we talked about… We have zero and we can’t put ourselves in a deficit but I thought our guys really did a great job of fighting and the fans got into the game and gave us some support. Just to make a run and get back into the game where it really was kind of getting away from us. And even then we had a bunch of opportunities to get some steals and cut it from seven to five and just couldn’t get the 50-50 balls. But no lack of effort for our guys. I’m proud of them for that.”

The Hawks conceded 77 points in the second quarter and a key behind that was the contrast between the Bucks’ best two players halves (well, depends how you feel about Lopez vs. Bledsoe).

In the first half, Giannis and Bledsoe combined for 21 points. In the second half, they combined for 40 points.

“That third quarter, I just thought we had no answer for Giannis,” said Pierce postgame. “He just started putting his head down. We didn’t have the gaps closed defensively. He was getting in the paint and getting to the foul line. We just didn’t have an answer for him. He played with a little sense of urgency and was putting his head down getting to the rim. So that was the troubling part...”

The offense wasn’t the problem for the Hawks in this game — they were able to score, and that’s despite Young shooting 8-of-22 from the field. Pierce labeled the first half from an offensive point of view as “...probably our best half of the year. A lot of execution...”

The Hawks got a good boost from their bench to help make up for Young’s struggles (as well as the rookies, but we’ll get to that) and Evan Turner enjoyed a strong game as well as Vince Carter.

But again, the offense wasn’t the issue...

The Hawks just couldn’t get a stop, and I didn’t they were especially awful defensively — they just couldn’t get a stop against a high-quality opponent.

Pierce identified the starts as something that the Hawks need to improve on going forward, falling on the wrong side of a 14-4 start last night.

“We just start slow,” said Pierce. “Our defensive urgency is a key point for us moving forward. We have to have that type of urgency moving forward... We’re not going to press for 48 minutes — we’re down 20 points and we’re pressing and we created some turnovers, you can’t sustain that. We’ve got to be solid, we’ve got to be disciplined with our defense and we have to the urgency to start games. That’s the biggest thing. If we can do that our offense is fine. We scored 127 points, a lot of it was at the free throw line and with the turnovers but we’ll be able to score if we can settle. If we’re taking the ball out of the basket all of the time it’s definitely tough if we’ve got to go against a set defense all of the time.”

All in all, the Hawks played fairly well, especially against a team that’s obviously going to be up there as a contender for the Eastern Conference. Defensively, it’s been a struggle for the Hawks of late but obviously they’ve played some top-tier teams of late (also reflective in their record).

Rookies reveling

Young scored 25 points on the night despite struggling shooting the ball from the field, so how did the Hawks squeeze 102 more points, especially in the absence of John Collins and Kevin Huerter?

Well, the Hawks enjoyed season-highs from both of their first-round rookies, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish.

Hunter finished with a team-high 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field, 3-of-3 from behind the arc and 8-of-9 from the free throw line to go along with 11 rebounds, while Reddish scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field including 3-of-3 from behind the arc.

We’ll start with Hunter, who obviously pops off of the bat with those 27 points. His shot chart tells a very spread story offensively:

Some of these baskets were interesting, as Hunter handled the ball a little bit last night and stepped into some shots.

Here, he patiently steps into a jump shot coming off of the Damian Jones screen:

In transition, Hunter handles the ball and comes off of a screen, rising into one of his three three-pointers:

Another play intrigued me, as Young and Hunter engage in the pick-and-roll, Hunter rolls and Young finds him at the rim:

27 points obviously represents a new season-high, a new career-high for Hunter, who scored seven points in the first quarter as he started the game well.

“I was just in rhythm,” said Hunter of his night. “I hit my first couple of shots and that definitely helps a lot. I was confident.”

Always nice to see Hunter pull down double-digit rebounds (leading the team in that regard) from the forward position to go along with that efficient scoring.

“I’m a big guy. I can get rebounds so it’s not that big of a deal to me,” said Hunter.

Pierce assessed Hunter’s performance on the road-trip and believes that Hunter played well on the road, and that the shots he missed a lot of on the road-trip were very similar to the ones he took (and made) last night.

“I thought on the road-trip he played well and he missed a lot of shots that were similar to tonight: in rhythm, on-balance, that didn’t go his way,” Pierce said. “The basketball gods always balance you out a little bit and I think tonight was a result of that.”

Cam Reddish also enjoyed a season-best outing scoring the basketball last night, pouring in 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 3-of-3 from downtown.

Reddish just had it going, it was one of those nights where the shots were just going down, which is encouraging to see from Reddish whose offensive struggles are of course well documented.

The Hawks even ran a play for Reddish out of a timeout, which he rewarded the Hawks for by making the three-pointer:

What made this performance from Reddish interesting is that it marked the third game in a row where Reddish has set a season-high: 12 points against the Clippers, 13 against the Lakers and 17 against the Bucks last night.

“You never know when those moments will come,” said Pierce. “Obviously, we were on the road against a couple of good teams and you see some big moments and you see some key performances from some other guys and Cam was a guy I talked about. He was in the gym last night for two hours with Coach (Melvin) Hunt, he was in the gym this morning spending some extra time with a lot different coaches. He learned. There’s some special players in our league and he got to experience playing against them. Part of their growth is just seeing it and then realizing he’s got a lot of work to do. I applaud him for getting in the gym last night and putting in the work and you see Cam come out and have his best performance of the year...”

Whether you can say Reddish has turned a corner, I think that’s a little premature but you can put more stock in this performance against the Bucks than the two L.A. games, given the nature of those games.

A good game from both Reddish and Hunter, getting those shots up in this game and Trae Young believes that repetition is the key for the rookies.

“That’s all it is, getting up more shots, getting up more reps, especially when you’re not in a good comfort zone,” said Young of the rookies. “It’s just going and getting shots up. They’ve both been doing that. They’ve both been working on their games and it showed tonight.”

Peachtree Night

Last night not only marked the Hawks’ return from their five game road-trip but also the debut of their new city edition jersey and an alternate court as the Hawks hosted their first Peachtree Night. an interesting color on its own, so these jerseys and the alternate court have divided some opinion. I personally like the jerseys but the court is going to have to grow on me (just like a peach) — it’ll take time.

That said, I thought the Hawks smashed it with their graphics for the night, especially with their end-of-quarter graphic, with the progress peaches and the city map in the background:

And on the outside of State Farm Arena...

Love it. I think the Hawks did a great job and there’s more to come this season. Exciting times.

The Hawks (4-10) are back in action on Friday night where they square off against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on the first night of a back-to-back. The location and opponent obviously represents the first victory of the season for the Hawks, and it arguably represents their best chance in a while to win a basketball game and break this slide.

Until next time...