There are going to be ugly nights with a young team. The Atlanta Hawks had one of those ugly nights against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, when the visitors came away from State Farm Arena with a comprehensive victory. Chicago had the upper hand throughout the contest, putting together an early 15-2 run en route to a 33-19 first quarter. The night didn’t get much better for the Hawks from there; when the clock mercifully hit all zeroes in the fourth quarter, the Bulls had run out as 113-93 victors.
The new-look Bulls present a particular challenge for the Hawks in that they have a ton of size on the perimeter, which they used to full effect on both ends of the floor. Whether it was 6’7 point guard Tomas Satoransky shooting 10-for-13 and harassing Trae Young into his worst performance of the season or 7’0 power forward Lauri Markkanen shooting over the top of smaller defenders for 4-for-7 from the three-point line, the Bulls’ length and size bothered Atlanta throughout the night.
The Hawks played their own part in their downfall, committing nearly as many turnovers (24) and they had made baskets (30) on the evening. 11 of those 24 turnovers were of the live-ball variety, as Atlanta threw the ball all over the gym. All in all, it was the offense that absolutely failed the Hawks, which is a rare sight when Young has been in the lineup for Atlanta. He shot just 3-for-12 from the field on Wednesday, with only three trips to the free throw line and more turnovers than assists.
Chicago threw trap after trap at Young on the perimeter, a defensive strategy that has had its positives and negatives over the last year-plus of Young’s career. In this particular contest, the Bulls had the length and footspeed to keep up with Young on the perimeter, which put the rest of the Hawks in positions to make plays in advantage situations.
Usually, this plays into what Atlanta wants to do offensively; they’ve surrounded Young with other perimeter playmakers in Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, DeAndre’ Bembry, and Cam Reddish, but nobody had anything going for the Hawks in the playmaking department. The 18 assists on the night isn’t the worst playmaking performance of the Lloyd Pierce era in Atlanta (their season-low was 17 in 2018-19), but there were very, very few positives to take away from the offense on Wednesday night for the Hawks.
Jabari Parker was perhaps the only offensive positive for Atlanta, as he continues to play very, very well on that end of the floor. I highlighted earlier this week how he was changing his shot selection as a member of the Hawks compared to previous seasons; since then, he’s stepped into the starting lineup for the suspended John Collins and continued his efficient ways. A 6-for-12 night from the field was highlighted by his strong finishing at the rim, where he converted four of his six shots. One assist was overshadowed by his four turnovers, however, as he too struggled with playmaking for a team desperate for someone to bring some positive value in that department.
Atlanta’s finishing at the rim was very good in this game. They took 26 shots at the rim and converted 21 of them; when they were able to break the Chicago trap and get a quality look at the rim, they had a lot of success, but there weren’t enough of those on the night to outweigh the turnovers and the atrocious outside shooting. 6-for-30 shooting from beyond the three-point line isn’t going to get it done in basically any situation.
When things started to get out of hand, the back-to-back toll really started to show, particularly in the young players. Assistant coach Melvin Hunt had a semi-viral moment in which he laid into the team, but the effort continued to be poor throughout the game.
Pierce was not one to mince words after the game was finished.
”We just didn’t have it,” Pierce said. “The best thing about tonight is we didn’t waste a good game. No one had a great game, so we didn’t waste anybody’s good game tonight. We stunk together and we just move on.”
“How many guys showed that they cared tonight?” Pierce said when prompted about teachable moments. “That’s easy. You can watch and see there was bad body language. Guys weren’t ready.”
It was a good reminder for the young Hawks to see what happens when a team collectively doesn’t show up with the necessary energy and intensity. Even a struggling Bulls team who blew a massive lead on Tuesday night and then had to fly to Atlanta to play the next night has to be taken very seriously; the Hawks cannot walk into any game and expect that a C-minus effort will be good enough to win. There are going to be games in the future where that is the case, when the talent can simply take over and lift the team to a victory, but it’s not that way right now.