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Hawks drop seventh straight, disappoint in second half against Wolves

Seven and counting.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks looked to break a six-game losing streak on Monday night against a Western Conference opponent in the form of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Though the Hawks played decently well at times — especially in the second quarter — they ultimately fell short 125-113 against the Timberwolves, extending their losing run to seven games.

Trae Young led the Hawks with 37 points and nine assists but neither that nor Jabari Parker’s 22 points could lift the Hawks over the Wolves, who were led by Karl-Anthony Towns’ 28 points and 13 rebounds as well as Andrew Wiggins’ 25 points.

The Hawks had put themselves in a good position heading into the halftime break.

On the right side of a 34-16 second quarter, the Hawks overturned a 10 point deficit and established one themselves heading into halftime, leading 64-54. The Wolves chipped away at the lead over the course of the third quarter, as both teams exchanged baskets at times, but eventually the Wolves took a three point lead into the fourth quarter, 93-90.

Sure, it was unfortunate for the Hawks to have their 10 point lead turned into a three point deficit in 12 minutes but the Hawks were very much in this game still heading into the fourth quarter — three points with 12 minutes to go.

From there, there wasn’t really a mad Wolves run over a short period that put the Hawks to bed — over the first five and a half minutes of the fourth quarter, the Wolves outscored the Hawks 18-10 to take an 11 point lead (nothing wild by any means), and even then the Hawks brought that back to a seven point game with three minutes to go and still very much in the game.

There are times where the Hawks lose these kind of games in a hurry but this wasn’t one of them — the Wolves gradually put this one to bed, officially doing so behind back-to-back threes, first from Keita Bates-Diop after Town collapses the defense, forcing the rotation from Parker:

This was an important basket, re-establishing the Wolves’ double-digit lead with three minutes to go and the Hawks, finally, look like they’re in real trouble now after being on the cusp of it.

Young tried to respond but does so with a poor shot near the rim with plenty of time left on the clock, left wanting a call:

Heading down the other end after that, the Wolves do well to move the ball and the end result is finding Andrew Wiggins behind the arc for the dagger three:

That was it.

This game was strange. The Wolves had established their 11 point lead earlier in the quarter but the game wasn’t over, and obviously the Hawks cut it seven points on a few occasions but when this game ended, it ended quickly and it did so behind these three-pointers.

A quick 6-0 run by two threes on two plays, and that was it — down 13 with just under three minutes to go and that’s it.

It ended up being the icing on the cake of a very poor second half for the Hawks.

The Hawks shot 34.7% from the field in the second half and 3-of-19 from three as the Hawks scored 49 points in the second half. However, the Wolves scored 71 points on 45% shooting from the field, hit seven of their 14 three-point attempts while getting to the free throw line on 23 occasions, making 20 of them.

What also hurt the Hawks in the second half was their inability to keep the Wolves off of the offensive glass, scoring 13 second chance points in the second half as Karl-Anthony Towns began to assert himself on the glass.

Exhibit A:

This was definitely a winnable game for the Hawks and, especially after that strong second quarter, you sensed a real opportunity to snap the streak but the Hawks were left to reflect on a missed opportunity after a poor second half.

“Bad loss,” Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce opened with postgame.

Never a good sign when that’s all Pierce has to open.

The pace, particularly to start the game, was quick as the Hawks and Wolves traded baskets but while Pierce was adamant that the Hawks didn’t run out of gas, he wasn’t pleased with his team’s discipline last night (perhaps reflective in the fact the Wolves’ 36 attempted free throws).

“The pace, the pace I didn’t think was too fast,” said Pierce. “I thought they were hot. They were six for six at the first timeout, and it was 15 to 10. You know a couple tough shots. A couple …the first three, I think it was Graham that hit the first three. Covington drives left, kicks it out, Graham hits a three, and we just need the help. Just an undisciplined play. It kind of summed up the rest of the night.

“We had a lot of undisciplined plays. We’re leaving shooters - strong side shooters. We’re double-teamed in the post when we run that coverage. But the pace wasn’t what got us. It was the undisciplined aspect, a lack of discipline on a lot of our defensive possessions that got us in trouble. A lot of the made three’s down in the fourth quarter. Blitzing KAT in the second half wasn’t the plan, and because there were some cross matches guys just overreacted to the situation and we got caught. You know (Towns) hitting the cutter a couple times. So, just the lack of discipline tonight.”

With the losing streak now at seven games, obviously there’s a lot of focus on it and what the Hawks need to do to get over the hump.

It isn’t a science to Pierce.

“Win, win. We just need to win,” said Pierce of how to stop the losing streak. “There’s no one thing we need to win a game. You know at this stage, every game has a different personality, and it brings on something different. I thought our guys in the second quarter were phenomenal defensively and offensively. We had 16 first-half assists. Offensively we were getting where we wanted. Even some of the shots we missed, I thought were clean looks. And, you know, we had 32 assists last game and 16 in the first half tonight. I just thought that was a good flow and a good rhythm for us. But we just need to win.

“We need to be able to put together a 48-minute game. And once we do that I think everything will settle back in. The fourth quarter was one poor defensive possession and then it just circled down into another and obviously you start seeing missed layups and turnovers in that quarter as well, and it just got became very deflating.”

Though, Pierce did later add a little more flesh as to how the Hawks can get over the hump.

“Saying it a long time ago, learning how to win close games,” the head coach said. “You look at championship teams (and) they just don’t have close games. When you have a lead, you just separate. You don’t keep it a close game. We had a lead, we don’t know how to separate and that’s the challenge ... you see some plays at the end of the third quarter, at the beginning of the fourth quarter where we’re trying to hit the home-run instead of just doing what you’re doing and trying to get that separation — take a five point lead to an eight point lead, try get it to double digits, maybe they have to sub sooner — we try and get it in the moment, we try make the home-run plays.

“Some of those are quick shots, some of those are trying to gamble for a steal when we can just keep the ball in front and contain and make them take a tough contested shot. But I think that’s the biggest difference: it’s building on your leads throughout the course of the game as opposed to trying to win it right there.”

Pierce then went on to talk about the, now past iteration, of the Golden State Warriors and how they were the best third quarter team, how they’d turn a tight game at halftime to a near blowout entering the fourth, how they didn’t panic and how the Hawks haven’t been in that situation.

“...We don’t know that yet, we haven’t experienced that,” said Pierce. “We haven’t been down 20 on a team and come back and won. Teams like that have done that before and you’ve seen them do it before and even when you see them down 20 in the second quarter you say ‘this game’s not over.’

“I think once we get a win, just to get a win a lot of things will be solved, the confidence will be even higher, the understanding of what it took to win that game will carry over to the next.”

Interesting comments from Pierce in general about the losing streak and the idea of building on the lead and not going for the home-run play, the play that doesn’t need to be made just because the Hawks are up.

The same can also be said when the Hawks are chasing the game.

For the most part, Young played very well but things got sloppy in the fourth quarter at times as he took some bad shots — coming more so after the back-to-back threes we looked at above — and also ended up with seven turnovers on the game, but he was trying to do too much to try get the Hawks back and he ended up shooting 11-of-28 from the field. An efficient game from the field went down the drain quickly (though, Young still enjoyed a very efficient 45% from three on 5-of-11 shooting) — you could also argue Young wasn’t 100%, seemingly carrying a knock on his foot/ankle (which saw some attention in the second half), so it’ll be interesting to monitor the injury report and see if Young features on it.

Pierce was asked postgame if he felt like, as his team searches for a win, if they were playing ‘tight’, and while Pierce didn’t believe his squad was playing tight he does believe that the Hawks over-complicate things at times and that his team believes they can win the game before the game is actually over.

“I think we’re trying to do too much, and maybe that is tight,” Pierce said when asked if his young team was tight. “I think we’re trying to do too much and that’s where the lack of discipline in the second half, especially in that fourth quarter, came into play. We’re trying to make things up defensively and we turn the ball over, I don’t know if that was tight or just not ready to make plays. I don’t sense that we’re tight, I think sometimes we think we can win the game before the game is over. Early in the fourth quarter, late in the third quarter where you have 16 assists in the first half, there’s something that’s flowing and going well and we have to find that rhythm, that balance but I don’t think the guys are tight.”

For the players, this is something that is new — many of them are used to winning in college/high school, so navigating a seven-game losing streak is part of the growing pains.

For Young, who would’ve seen his fair share of losing streaks last season, he’s unsure how the Hawks get over the hump.

“I don’t know. It’s frustrating,” said Young. “It’s something that I can’t necessarily tell you. We just have to turn it around. We have to figure it out and just do it.”

“I have full confidence in myself and my teammates,” Young went on to say. “I’ve talked to people, past players, greats that have played this game, that have started off like this. That’s the type of stuff that keeps me motivated and keeps me confident.”

Overall, the Hawks should probably be disappointed to let this get away.

The supporting cast struggled.

Sure, Parker got 22 points but the only other Hawk — bar Young and Parker — to score in double-digits was Bruno Fernando, who scored a career-high 13 points after a congested weekend — playing the Pistons on Friday, Raptors Saturday, assigned for G League duty on Sunday and back with the Hawks for last night’s game.

Pierce was particularly pleased with Fernando’s first half and the advantage of having College Park so close so that the Hawks can get Fernando some additional reps.

“I thought he was good in the first half,” said Pierce of Fernando. “We’ve been focused on trying to get our bigs to be more aggressive going after offensive rebounds and I thought he had a couple. He competed against KAT in the post a couple of times. The four days of playing ... it’s game experience, and the more we can get him game experience the better off he’ll be.

“There’s no rush, there’s no fast way of doing it. We just have to keep him active. We also have to be mindful, he’ll probably need a day off tomorrow, completely. But this is the beauty of having College Park here, to be able to do that. I thought he had a decent game yesterday and I thought this was — especially in the first half — one of his best performances.”

Outside of Fernando (plus Young and Parker), there weren’t a ton of positive performances down the roster.

De’Andre Hunter’s eight game streak of double digit scoring came to an end last night as he scored seven points on 3-of-10 shooting. Cam Reddish returned to action last night, was re-inserted into the starting lineup and he looked as though he hadn’t missed a beat offensively as he shot 2-of-10 from the field en-route to seven points.

Alex Len, interestingly, played just under four minutes and did not feature in the second half — despite the foul trouble for Damian Jones and when Fernando flirted with foul trouble.

Just not the greatest game for the Hawks and the road doesn’t get any easier.

The Hawks (4-13) now embark on a three-game road trip which begins in Milwaukee on Wednesday night.

Until next time...