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Hawks continue to slide in loss to Detroit

Things aren’t fantastic right now.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

With both teams entering Friday’s game 4-10, Friday night marked the best chance (at least on paper) in the recent past for the Atlanta Hawks to return to winning ways against the Detroit Pistons, whom the Hawks defeated to notch their first victory of the season in October.

However, the Hawks’ hopes of ending their four-game losing streak (now a five-game losing streak) fell flat on its face as they were steamrolled by the Pistons 128-103 at Little Caesars Arena.

Things had started so well for the Hawks, too.

In the absence of Cam Reddish, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce inserted DeAndre’ Bembry into the starting lineup and it seemed to pay immediate dividend, with Bembry proving active as the Hawks ran to a 17-7 lead.

Pierce had talked about wanting his side to start better and the early return on that was looking good, but the Pistons launched themselves back into the game, and really it was behind the three-pointer, which Detroit hit frequently.

The Hawks struggled to get stops all evening, and threes like this are tough to give up:

This particular three led to a timeout from the Hawks as the Pistons were already making their run to come back. The Pistons eventually established a double-digit lead in the first quarter, despite the Hawks owning one themselves at one point earlier in the quarter — things a 20-0 Pistons run will certainly do. Oh, add to that a six minute scoring drought for the Hawks — the shot selection in which Lloyd Pierce was not too pleased about.

“I thought we, offensively, stopped competing,” said Lloyd Pierce via Sarah Spencer of the AJC. “We went for home runs in the first quarter. The reason we had the lead was we defended. DeAndre’ Bembry gets I think three layups in that first go. Our next six shots were all 3’s. Our next six shots were 3’s with 15, 18, 13, 14 on the shot clock.”

The second quarter is where things began to get away for the Hawks. Scoring the ball wasn’t an issue for the Hawks, they were able to do that often enough in the second quarter (scoring 34 points in the period) but they just could not stop the Pistons to save their life.

That, and the Pistons hit a lot of threes in the first few minutes of the second quarter — hitting five threes in the opening four minutes of the second quarter. Some of these the Hawks contested well but the Pistons are one of the most efficient teams in the entire league shooting the three-pointer, a now NBA second-best 40% from three as a team and that was despite Luke Kennard shooting 1-of-6 from three last night.

Despite conceding 43 points in the second quarter, one of the big positives from this otherwise awful game from the Hawks’ perspective was the play of De’Andre Hunter in the second quarter.

Hunter had it going in the second period, scoring 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field 1-of-1 from three and 3-of-3 from the free throw line.

Nearly all of these field goals came in the paint, including this play where Hunter drives inside, gets the step on his defender, and extends really nicely to finish at the rim plus the foul:

On this play, Hunter uses the Alex Len screen, drives inside, does well to stop and bait Blake Griffin off of his feet and then finishes the play by hitting the turnaround shot:

Off of the ball this time, Hunter zig-zags free from Kennard and finds himself in open space near the rim and despite the challenges of Blake Griffin, Hunter is able to score once the ball zips inside to the rookie wing:

In transition, Hunter dribbles by Andre Drummond and again is able to finish despite facing a contest at the rim:

Again from the wing, Hunter drives inside, beats his man and is able to finish despite the presence of Andre Drummond in the paint:

Hunter finished with 18 points in the end, 16 of them coming in that second quarter. No one will really talk about it because the Hawks were obviously blown out, but can you imagine the kind of deficit the Hawks could’ve entered halftime had Hunter not done what he did? And, to be fair, the shots he made, they could’ve easily missed — a number of those were contested and had four or five of those hadn’t fallen, you wouldn’t have been all that surprised.

But they did fall last night and Hunter’s aggression and ability to drive inside and finish despite contact/contest was one of the few positives for the Hawks last night.

Over the last five games, Hunter is averaging 16.4 points on 43% from the field, 41% from three and 75% from the line on four attempts per game.

Sadly for the Hawks, there were no third quarter heroics to be found, and from the Pistons side of things Andre Drummond got going in the third quarter as he scored 11 points but was just a force on the glass, grabbing four offensive rebounds in the quarter. The lead quickly stretched to 25 and beyond and the fourth quarter was, essentially, garbage time with the exception of Christian Wood, who scored 11 points in the final quarter.

Wood was one of a few players who made solid contributions off of the Pistons’ bench — as well as Markieff Morris and Derrick Rose — and the Pistons comprehensively won the battle of the benches, outscoring the Hawks’ bench 46-27. Alex Len played decently well off of the bench as he scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

Pierce has been so reluctant to start Bembry, and so that production from the bench was missing last night he stepped into the starting lineup. Bembry enjoyed a career-night in Detroit as he scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting, but the key for Bembry was the three-pointer was falling.

Shooting 1-of-11 for 9% from three-point range heading into last night’s game, Bembry cashed in for four three-pointers on five attempts to go along with six assists and four steals, three of which came in the first quarter.

A strong game for Bembry but as soon as Reddish/Kevin Huerter are cleared to return, Bembry will likely slide back to the bench but, sadly, not a career-night to remember.

Obviously, the Hawks are short-handed but it’s not as though the Pistons are at full strength themselves, missing Reggie Jackson in this one (though, perhaps you could argue that this is a good thing). They’re short-handed, but this was a bad loss. A very bad loss. This game, on paper, was one of the more winnable games for the Hawks on their schedule — things don’t get easier from here.

After the game, it took Pierce over an hour before he addressed the media, delayed by a team-talk in the locker room.

“Learning how to compete,” Pierce said about the post-game conversation, via Sarah Spencer of the AJC. “(That’s) kind of it. Learning how to compete, learning how to communicate, and what it takes to win in the NBA, what it takes to be a pro. ... If one of us isn’t there, then none of us are there. It’s all about us. We have to hold each other to a higher standard. One player being great and one player being poor means we’re poor. That’s just the way it is. That’s what ‘team’ is.”

It wasn’t just Pierce, either, with a few players chiming in.

In short though, Pierce was not happy with how the Hawks played last night.

In terms of looking from a response from that team-talk, that’s something that everyone will have to wait until tomorrow to see.

The Hawks are now 4-11 on the season and the various panic buttons have been hit by the fans. Yes, John Collins is suspended. Yes, Kevin Huerter has been injured.

However, those absences don’t paint the entire picture.

With or without Collins and Huerter, the record the Hawks have now was always going to be a decent possibility. We broke down the schedule long before the season started here at Peachtree Hoops and if you looked at the schedule before October arrived, you would’ve identified that this first part of the season was going to be potentially brutal for the Hawks. They’ll get a chance to make up for it (in a potentially big way) in the last two months of the season but right now, a slide of some sort was always likely to happen.

Yes, perhaps with Collins and Huerter, the Hawks don’t lose by 25 to the Pistons on the road, do they win the game though? Do they beat the Bucks? Do they lose by 20 instead of 49 to the Clippers? No one will ever know, it’s impossible to say.

If you want to take any solace from, well, anything right now, always remember that the Hawks play in the Eastern Conference. Anything is possible, but not with how they played last night. That’s not going to work. They were comfortably second-best last night against a team who also had a 4-10 record heading into the game. They weren’t even comparable in the end. And that says a lot.

The Hawks (4-11) are back in action on Saturday against the defending champions, the Toronto Raptors, at State Farm Arena.

The Raptors are short-handed themselves — missing Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka — but are still a very talented team despite the loss of Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors are also well-rested, last in action on Wednesday night.

Until next time...