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Hawks let down by fourth quarter execution in close-fought loss to Bucks

Close, but no cigar for the Hawks on Wednesday night.

Atlanta Hawks v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks have had a rough time of things lately so, naturally, what better time to play the Eastern Conference leaders, the Milwaukee Bucks.

Despite Vegas favoring the Bucks by a whopping 14 points, the Hawks performed better than most could have asked for given the circumstances but it was not enough to emerge from ‘Cream City’ — I just wanted to illustrate how silly and ridiculous sounding that name is by using it, even though the Bucks didn’t wear their Cream City uniforms last night — with a victory, falling 111-102 on Wednesday night.

Jabari Parker went off for a season-high 33 points against his former club and grabbed 14 rebounds while Trae Young added 29 points on 12-of-24 shooting.

For the Bucks, they were led by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 30 points while the returning Kris Middleton added 16 points off of the bench.

Let’s get into it.

Keeping pace

Let’s be honest, very few — if anyone — expected the Hawks to win this game.

On the road against the best team in the East (now 15-3), on the heels of a seven-game losing streak and, obviously missing the personnel they’re missing. That said, the Hawks were right in this one and had a chance to win this game.

Firstly, it’s worth mentioning what the Hawks overcame to get back into this game.

The Hawks kept pace with the Bucks in the first quarter...and then Trae Young came out of the game. Initially, it was a lineup of Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, DeAndre’ Bembry, Vince Carter and Bruno Fernando. This lineup...struggled offensively, and no matter what change Pierce made before the end of the quarter (and he did, to be fair, try switch a few players around as the team struggled) the Hawks were stuck on 17 points as Milwaukee went on an 18-0 run to end the first quarter and take a 33-17 lead into the second quarter.

At this stage, you probably thought ‘Welp, this is about what I expected and this is going to south from here’ but the Hawks fought in the second quarter and a huge 42-27 point quarter in favor of the Hawks saw Atlanta get themselves firmly back in this game.

Trae Young got going in the second quarter (scoring 14 points in the second period) after Jabari Parker did the heavy lifting offensively in the first quarter, and Young knocked down this three at the buzzer to cut the Milwaukee lead to one point entering the break:

Something else that helped the Hawks cut the margin in the second quarter was a five-point possession: Jabari Parker was fouled by Giannis shooting a three-pointer but — after a lengthy review — this was assessed as a flagrant-foul after Giannis was deemed to be underneath Parker upon landing. Parker hit the three free throws and then Allen Crabbe set up Evan Turner — after the Hawks obviously got possession of the ball again after the free throws — for a five-point possession.

The Hawks took the lead in the third quarter and carried a slender lead into the fourth quarter as well as the Hawks inched closer to a victory...only to see the hopes fade.

Like the Wolves game on Monday, this game didn’t get away in a hurry with a crazy run — which, to be fair, you would’ve expected from a team like the Bucks to try put a team like the Hawks away, to just flip the switch.

I think the key stretch came in the just before the half-way mark in the final quarter, right after Trae Young’s layup put the score to 93-95 in favor of the Bucks with 6:11 left. Wesley Matthews immediately replied to put the Bucks back up by four points — not a large lead, the Hawks still had a great chance to stay with it.

Vince Carter gets the first crack at reducing that lead as he’s found by Young but Carter’s three just bounces out:

On the next trip for the Bucks, Bledsoe gets the step on Bembry, rejecting the screen, and Bledsoe gets to the rim for the bucket:

Next trip for the Hawks, Vince Carter commits the offensive foul after he catches Giannis in the face:

The Hawks catch a break as Giannis is called for a three-second violation and Lloyd Pierce, I think, senses the urgency of the situation and calls for a timeout. Before that Giannis turnover, if the Bucks had scored they go up by eight points and nine with a three-pointer with under five minutes to go — not impossible to overcome but not exactly easy.

So, it goes without saying that what the Hawks try and run out of the timeout is important, otherwise the Hawks are back in the same boat before the timeout.

The ball is in the hands of Young but his floater near the end of the shotclock is missed in traffic:

After a missed three from Middleton, the Hawks have another chance to get on the scoreboard and with five seconds left on the clock coming out of bounds, Jabari Parker works himself into a decent shot but his jumper is long and the Bucks come away with it:

The Hawks could only play with so much fire before getting burned and this time Parker digs a little too far on Giannis (which is fair, since he’s being guarded by De’Andre Hunter) and can’t recover to Middleton once the pass is made back out to the All-Star and he buries the three, putting the Bucks up by nine points with under four minutes to go:

At this stage, things are beginning to look pretty dire for the Hawks on the road but two buckets from Damian Jones (one off of an offensive rebound from a Young miss and one from a Young assist) got the Hawks within five points — 102-97 — with just over three minutes to go.

However, the Bucks instantly pushed that lead back up to seven after Middleton gets in front of Hunter, forcing the rotation from Young, and Middleton drops the pass to Donte DiVincenzo for the bucket at the rim:

Under three minutes to go, down seven points but with possession of the ball...still plenty to play for the Hawks but De’Andre Hunter (who struggled for 2-of-11 last night) can’t convert on the next trip as time begins to run out on the Hawks:

Nothing wrong with the shot there from Hunter, it just didn’t go down.

After Giannis splits a pair of free throws, Jabari Parker has a shot blocked by Lopez as he tries to attack downhill after the hand-off:

Followed by a missed shot from Young:

Vince Carter then commits a foul which sends DiVincenzo to the line for two free throws to put the Bucks up by 10 and though Hunter hit a three to cut the lead to seven points, two turnovers from Young — split by a Middleton free throw — followed by a technical foul on Young (frustrated with an offensive foul called on him) which sent Middleton to the line to put the Bucks up by nine points with under a minute to go and that was all she wrote.

So, what was the point of showing all of those misses from the Hawks? The Hawks had chances to close in on the Bucks but they missed out.

The Hawks shot 9-of-25 in the final quarter, which isn’t too different from the Bucks 10-of-22 but, unlike the Bucks, the Hawks did not get to the free throw line in the final quarter, whereas the Bucks shot 11 free throws in the final quarter, making eight of them.

Often enough, the Hawks talk about putting together a full 48 minutes. It’s difficult to do but Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce was satisfied that his group competed for the full 48 minutes.

“Tough night”, opened Lloyd Pierce via Fox Sports Southeast. “I thought our guys competed for 48 minutes, and I truly mean that. They came out, we had a big lull at the end of the first quarter, last four and a half minutes where we’re stuck at 17, called a timeout down 20-17, next thing you know it’s 33-17 and we just couldn’t find a way to score.

“I thought our guys were competing the entire time and that was the separation early (for the Bucks). But to battle back in this place, in this environment and take the lead in the third quarter, some missed opportunities in the fourth quarter, some paint-to-great looks that — you’re down four, they’re collapsing on Trae and Jabari because of how effectively they can get in the paint. We missed a couple of opportunities to extend the game with some threes, some paint-to-great threes but really proud of our guys tonight.”

Again, I can’t help but reflect on the fourth quarter — not so much going down 33-17 after the first — and how the Hawks had chances, and the fourth quarter was obviously something mentioned above but also again in a later question.

“They obviously got going and got the free throw line a bit,” said Pierce of the fourth quarter. “Again, I thought there was some paint-to-great three-point opportunities that we missed out on, especially in the last three minutes. I knew it was going to be a back-and-forth for most of the fourth quarter but when they separated we had to change our strategy and get in and try and kick-out. I thought our guys, we were very diverse in what we were running and getting the ball moving and making them having to defend us in the half-court which was important. We were able to keep (within) striking distance in the fourth quarter.”

Keeping within striking distance is a good way to put it — that’s what the Hawks were in that fourth quarter. They were there, they had chances but they missed some of those chances and then the Bucks, with their superior talent and experience saw it out.

But despite this loss, and now the Hawks’ eighth loss in a row, the Hawks are getting a little closer to knocking on that door, and Pierce saw this as a good game for his side overall.

“Very much,” responded Pierce when asked if this game was a good ‘progress game’. “It’s always going to be about putting that complete game together and understanding from a strategic standpoint, from a game-plan standpoint, from an effort standpoint how to do that. The makes and misses, again, aren’t the issue. It’s the discipline defensively, it’s the effort all across the board, it’s the ball and body movement offensively. I tried to call as many timeouts as I could in that first quarter just to break any runs, just to settle our guys down. I thought that helped but I thought they did a good job of keeping their composure even when we got down 33-17 in the first quarter.”

However, Jabari Parker didn’t take any morale victories in going toe-to-toe with the East’s best team on the road, recognizing the bigger picture on the season and the tough, impending schedule.

“No (it doesn’t give us any solace coming this close), no because we’re so far behind, everybody is,” said Parker via Fox Sports Southeast. “And we just had sneak one from anybody at this point just to get started.”

“We’ve got a pretty good group, it’s solid, but we’ve got to keep on building, got to keep on growing because we don’t want to let this get too out of hand because we can get 4-20 real soon if we don’t sneak a win here soon.”

Parker is keeping it real because the reality is the schedule ahead is tough. Parker mentioned 4-20, which is obviously potentially six more games. In the next six games, the Hawks face: @ Indiana, @ Houston, Golden State (!!), Brooklyn, @ Charlotte, @ Miami.

Obviously, the Warriors game can be circled as a game the Hawks will probably be favored in, but that’s how it looks like for the Hawks in the next six — could they reach 4-20?

Regardless, the Hawks can definitely take this heading into Indiana where, arguably, their best chance of a win on this trip will come from. Time will tell in that regard...

Lack of bench help

Arguably, the biggest difference between the Bucks and Hawks last night was the bench.

Sometimes to have to look a little deeper into the numbers to see the disparity at times but not last night. The Bucks’ bench outscored the Hawks’ bench 39-14 — 39 points isn’t a ton of bench points from the Bucks but 14 from the Hawks is obviously far too few.

I guess it’s worth mentioning off of the bat that the Hawks ran with a shortened rotation than they’re used to — this time by choice. The Hawks ran just 10 players last night as Chandler Parsons, Tyrone Wallace and, most notably, Alex Len were all DNP-CD’s.

Bembry and Turner both scored four points off of the bench, Carter added three and Allen Crabbe was scoreless.

Right, time for the shooting numbers and they aren’t pretty...

Combined, the Hawks bench — all of whom played meaningful minutes, 14 at the very least — shot 5-of-25 from the field, including Allen Crabbe’s 0-of-6 from the field, 1-of-4 from Carter, Bruno Fernando and De’Andre Bembry, while Evan Turner shot 2-of-7.

That’s...not going to work, and the Hawks need more of a scoring boost from their bench.

To be fair, Young and Parker needed more help from their starting lineup. Yes, Jones and Hunter scratched 10 points but Hunter’s 2-of-11 shooting hurt, and Cam Reddish scored six points on five shots. But to counterpoint that point, what are you expecting from Jones and Reddish offensively, realistically? It’s more so Hunter’s tough night shooting the ball that hurts the Hawks, and the best thing Jones could do right now is try to avoid these foul issues he’s had of late.

In terms of plus/minus, Parker and Young were positive, Giannis was zero but, again, it was the bench that let the Hawks down, if the plus/minus is to be believed in that regard — the Hawks’ bench totalled -41 on the night (though, I’m sure a good chunk of that had to do with the Bucks’ 18-0 burst to end the first quarter). Weirdly, it was Allen Crabbe who posted the only positive plus/minus (+4) despite his 0-of-6 night.

Not a ton else to say in this spot, the Hawks’ bench/supporting cast will have to be better on Friday — and I’m sure there will be.

Jabari Parker’s season-high

Jabari Parker has proved a timely addition to the Hawks this season — especially given the suspension for John Collins — and on Wednesday night Parker tallied a season-high 33 points (three off of his career-high of 36 points) on 13-of-23 shooting from the field, 3-of-5 from three and 4-of-7 from the line.

As per usual, Parker did solid work at the rim but was able to hit the three-pointer last night to go along with that inside game, which is a welcome boost when it comes.

Parker scored the team’s first eight points and 25 in the first half, and obviously more of this performance is made because it comes against a former team, the team that drafted him second overall in the 2014 draft and though this isn’t the first time Parker has played for another team in Milwaukee, he admitted postgame he’s always excited to play in Milwaukee.

“I just love being here, I love the fans,” said Parker of playing in Milwaukee. “It’s like a home game for me because I love the energy. It’s like my second home in a lot of ways, I get excited playing here.”

Pierce also believed Parker played with a little extra bounce but didn’t put up numbers for the sake of playing against his former team.

“Any competitor wants to play well in their hometown, on their former team, against their former employees and teammates and things of that nature,” said Pierce of Parker. “He probably had an extra bounce in his step and when he scores the first seven points it helps (chuckles). But he’s played like that all year. We don’t evaluate our guys on just makes or misses. I liked the flow, I thought he attacked, his first two baskets were at the rim and then he hits a three in rhythm. He wasn’t really trying to put up points because he was here, I thought he did all within reason and in the flow of what we were doing.”

Pierce was also pleased with how Parker was consistent in his intensity from start to finish.

“You can tell by the bounce he had, just moving around, he has that quick twitch, he’s attacking. His first two baskets were at the rim and that helps, that really settles you, and then his first three goes down. So, seven points, attacking the rim, getting a rhythm three, I think everything feels like it’s his night at that point. And he continued on. I didn’t realise he had 25 at the half but you could feel he was involved and engaged from start to finish.”

One minor blip from Parker was that he shot 1-of-5 from the field in the fourth quarter. If you listen to Parker speak, you’ll know he holds himself to a very high standard and when he falls short of that standard, he’s not afraid to hold himself accountable for that.

When asked if he was feeling good early in the game, Parker responded with a slight wince in his face, “Yeah, but then again, you know, it’s just (the) fourth quarter, got to get that same type of productivity from myself, that’s what I expect. Not from other guys, I just know what I’m capable of doing and I got to be able to get it when it matters.”

When prompted about his 25 points in the first half, again Parker deflected to the fourth quarter.

“No (it’s not easy to score 25 in a half) but then again, fourth quarter, that’s where we lost and I’d rather get that momentum during that time, at the right time.”

When asked what changed in the fourth quarter, Parker — by his own standards — broke character.

“You know what, it’s against me to say this so I’m not...but some calls didn’t go our way and that kind of stops us from getting the momentum which we deserve. Playing so hard but then just little stuff just goes against us.”

I think Parker is being a bit harsh on himself. Sure, he shot 1-of-5 in the final quarter — and he’s upset at himself for that — but without those 25 first half points, this is probably a double-digit deficit at the half. So, when Parker says he’s rather score ‘at the right time’ that time last night was in the second quarter where the Hawks overturn that deficit and it’s, basically, a fresh game at halftime instead of another game the Hawks are chasing.

He still shot over 56% from the field and 60% from three last night, added to that the 14 rebounds (five of which were offensive rebounds) and five assists (though, he had five turnovers), two steals and a block — he played a great game and his minor failing in the fourth quarter shouldn’t detract too much from Parker’s overall efforts last night.

The Hawks (4-14) continue their road-trip as they head to Indianapolis for a Friday night tilt with the Indiana Pacers.

Until next time...and Happy Thanksgiving!