The Atlanta Hawks wrapped up their home-stand on Friday night before they head out for their Western road trip with a loss against another Western Conference opponent in the form of the Sacramento Kings, 121-109.
Trae Young’s 16-point third quarter helped him on his way to 30 points and 12 assists while Jabari Parker continued his fine scoring form in the starting lineup with 25 points.
For the Kings, they enjoyed contributions from up-and-down the roster but it was Buddy Hield who led the Kings in scoring last night with 22 points, with Bogdan Bogdanonvic adding 20 points.
Let’s break this one down.
Three-point shooting swings the difference
When the Hawks played the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, it didn’t matter — at least, in the very early stages of the game — what the Hawks did because the Bulls just kept hitting shots from behind the arc, while the Hawks could not keep up from the outside.
A similar story unfolded at State Farm Arena last night, in the way that the Kings found it difficult to miss from behind the arc, especially in the first half.
I’m not sure if the Hawks just wanted to pack the paint a bit, but they seemed to always be scrambling somewhat to close out the perimeter shooters and make them drive (which, as it turns out, was what coach Lloyd Pierce wanted the Hawks to make the Kings do) but the Kings still ended up hitting 18 of their 31 three-pointers on the night.
Seven of these came in the first half as the Kings took a 63-47 lead into the break, and with 21 points coming from the perimeter and just six coming from the perimeter from the Hawks (hitting just 2-of-14 from three), you could argue that was the biggest difference in the first half.
You could look at how it happened defensively, and there were a few lapses and the Kings hit a few threes in the first half where they got the Hawks off of their feet and worked themselves into a better look from outside.
Here, Trevor Ariza fakes Ty Wallace off of his feet and sets himself up for the three-pointer:
A similar situation led to Bogdan Bogdanovic working himself into a three-pointer as he fakes Kevin Huerter:
There were other threes where the Kings just shot over the Hawks and made threes that way, as Bogdanovic does here over Young:
And Buddy Hield, also hitting over Young:
The Kings hit shots and, really, hitting seven threes in the first half isn’t that big of a deal — the bigger deal is that the Hawks only hit two threes in the first half, shooting 2-of-14 from three.
The Kings contested some of these but the Hawks got plenty of good looks at times but just couldn’t hit them.
Here, Young finds De’Andre Hunter for the open three with a great pass but the rookie can’t hit the shot:
Here, DeAndre’ Bembry gets a good look at a three but can’t convert:
On this possession, Huerter works himself into an open three but can’t knock it down:
Alex Len does a good job getting some separation for his point guard, and Young gets an open look but doesn’t hit:
The Hawks, over eight games so far, rank 29th in three-point percentage, shooting 29.3 percent and this is just who they are right now — they have not been a good three-point shooting team this season. DeAndre’ Bembry, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish (at least for now), Jabari Parker (who missed three threes in the first half alone) — these just aren’t good (or at least proven) three-point shooters and the Hawks’ percentage (and their game last night) is reflected in that. They just don’t have the personnel and I think it’s part of the reason the Hawks are shooting less threes this season so far.
But the Hawks did make some threes in the second half — and the Kings finally began to miss some — as they ate into the Kings’ 16 point lead from the half (a 21 point lead in the second quarter) and it all led up to another Hawks run in the fourth quarter where the Hawks cut the lead to just one point, leading to a Kings timeout with 9:03 left in the game.
Just as the Hawks seemingly had the Kings on the back-foot, Sacramento responded in a big way, reeling off a 22-5 run to essentially put the Hawks away, scoring 27 points over those last nine minutes.
You look at that stretch and think ‘what on earth happened?’ Could the Hawks not score?’ and the answer is no, that wasn’t the issue.
Over the last 9:03, the Hawks actually shot 8-of-11 from the field — their offense was fine in that stretch. Granted, they had some turnovers (but not a ton, just three in the final 9:03 which was the same as what the Kings had) and Alex Len missed two free throws but they scored the ball just fine.
And even if you want to narrow it down from the 9:03 mark to the 4:19 mark where the Kings went on that 22-5 run, the Hawks still shot 3-of-5 from the field and while they had two turnovers, it was more about what the Kings did on the floor offensively than what the Hawks did.
The Kings had missed a few threes after their strong first half but found their touch again in a hurry as they hit six three-pointers in that stretch and it was this that put the distance between the Kings and the Hawks.
For this first three, the two rookies — Reddish and Hunter — are involved in some pick-and-roll defense. Hunter is screened by Richaun Holmes, taking him out of the play and Reddish probably needs to step up to Bogdanovic and contest the shot, he doesn’t, and Bogdanovic gets a good look at the three, which he knocks down:
Next trip for the Kings, they get a switch with Cory Joseph on Alex Len, the ball goes to Bogdanovic, Young closes to the three-point line, Bogdanovic puts it on the floor, gets by Young, Len slides over to try get in front and Bogdanovic swing the ball to Joseph who hits the three:
Trevor Ariza was next to hit a three, Bogdanovic then followed suit, Harrison Barnes got in on the action, the lead quickly ballooned to 11 points, a few points from Bogdanovic at the line and Barnes before Ariza hit another three and the lead was suddenly 18 points with four minutes and just like that, the game was up for the Hawks.
The Hawks fought well in the second half and their fight from 21 points down was encouraging to see, but Lloyd Pierce wasn't happy with the effort displayed in the first half and the hole the Hawks put themselves in.
“We didn’t have it in the first half for some reason, but it was good to see the fight in the third quarter and most of the fourth quarter" opened Lloyd Pierce postgame. "It takes a lot to come back when you’re down 18. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of effort. You need some big shots to go down, and we did. They made another run and it was really the separation. Our guys finished with a nice little run as well. Last game we talked about what are the teaching points and the lessons. That’s it.”
"It takes so much just to get back in the game. You can’t put yourselves in a hole. Tonight, we put ourselves in a hole in the first half. We were playing decent basketball, but we didn’t have that sense of urgency to get to their shooters. We didn’t have that sense of urgency on our closeouts against some of their guys. That was the discouraging part early on.”
Young did his best to try and lift the Hawks over the hump (22 points in the second half) but it wasn’t to be. Young wasn’t too pleased postgame about the Hawks’ first half and tried to make up for it in the third quarter.
“I was pissed off,” said Young of his third quarter play. “I was mad at the way I played, the way we played as a whole in the first half. I wanted to come out and make a difference. Like I said, it took so much energy out of us to come back and (try to) take the lead. We got it all the way back down to one in that third quarter, I think. Us just doing that just showed what we’re capable of. If we do that from the beginning, we can play with anybody.”
Between the difference in the first half for the Hawks in three-point shooting and the Kings’ explosion again in the fourth quarter, you could say three-point shooting was the difference in this game — the Kings finished 18-of-31 (58%) while the Hawks shot 9-of-28 on the night from three for 32.1%, which is above their season average but that isn’t saying a ton for a team who rank 29th in three-point percentage.
There are many concerns facing the Hawks as they head West but the encouraging thing is that the Hawks did show some fight and they didn’t play awfully as they did on Wednesday against the Bulls. But they sure could’ve done with this win before heading out and the fact they came so close to the Kings despite being down 21 points will hurt.
Kevin Huerter is beginning to look like Kevin Huerter again
It hasn't been the start Kevin Huerter would have wanted (coming off of an injury that saw him miss the entirety of training camp and preseason, in addition to being put on a minutes limit to begin the season) but the second year swingman enjoyed his best game of the season as he scored points 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from three.
Huerter has been coming off of the bench this season (starting one game that Trae Young missed due to injury) and that has had an impact on the starting unit’s offense, since Huerter is one of the team’s better players.
The Hawks had struggled offensively to start this game but as soon as Huerter checked into the game, he made his presence felt as he hit a three-pointer.
Huerter continued to make good plays in the first half, not only with his offense but his playmaking too, setting up a number of good looks for his teammates — some of which were converted, some of which were not.
Such was the positive impact of Huerter (only -2 in plus/minus in 14 minutes, despite trailing by 16 points at halftime) the Hawks made a change to begin the second half as Huerter started over Reddish and, again, with Huerter on the floor and playing as he did, it was a reason as to how the Hawks continued to chip away at the King's lead (obviously Trae Young's quick offensive start to the second half played a big role).
His play didn’t result in a win this time in terms of the game, but a win in general as the standout rookie from last year looked like his old self again.
Postgame, Pierce praised Huerter’s performance and his ability to get inside and take the contact, playing physically.
“He looked great tonight," said Pierce of Huerter. “Even last game, he had two drives – he made an ‘and-one’ and he had a layup where he initiated contact and he scored. He only shot 57 free throws last year. That mentality of his to do that twice last game and then have a couple tonight is what’s different with him right now.
"He’s getting his legs back and he’s also playing with a different level of physicality. The three, we know he can do but for him to get in the paint, absorb and initiate contact and be able to go up and finish is what we’re starting to see as he’s getting his conditioning and his legs back."
Huerter looked like the Huerter from last season and you can the progress Huerter had made this season as he continues to work his way to 100%.
"Game by game, I feel a little bit better, a little more confident, finding my shots a little bit more," said Huerter postgame. "Tonight was just another game to have under my belt at this point, just trying to play better every game."
Huerter is one of the Hawks' best players, arguably second best in the absence of John Collins (though, Jabari Parker may have something to say about that right now) and the Hawks need his production, they need his spacing and shooting, they need his defense, they need his playmaking, which is an aspect of his game that to can see has grown.
"I’m getting there," said Huerter on becoming a secondary playmaker. "It’s just game by game, just figuring out my spots. With the attention Trae draws, a lot of times it’s just where everyone else can fill in. You just pick and choose your spots. When he’s out of the game or tired, having a guy that can still run the offense and get guys into their spots…that’s a conversation (Coach Pierce) and I had coming into the year.”
With Young seeing more and more attention defensively and looking to wear him down as the game goes on (this was especially prevalent in the Sixers game), it would help massively to have Huerter be able to handle and make plays to give Young a break (whether Young is kni the court or on the bench) and Huerter definitely stepped up that regard last night.
Regardless of what Huerter can do for him, Young was happy to see Huerter turn in the performance he did.
“It was really good to see Kev do what he did today," said Young of Huerter. "He’s capable of doing that every night. It’s good to see he got into a rhythm a little bit and knocked some three’s down. Hopefully he can keep it going.”
The Hawks are about to embark on a five game Western Conference road trip and Kevin Huerter should be starting...now that he seems to be at a place where he's healthy enough for minutes limits to basically be no longer of a thing and now that he seems to have shaken off see of the rust, Huerter should absolutely be starting now.
Whether he will during the course of this road trip, that's something that will have to be monitored but it feels like it's time, and I think Huerter starting the second half is reflective of the change that is coming.
The Return of Dewayne Dedmon
After enjoying two successful seasons in Atlanta, former Hawk Dewayne Dedmon made his return to State Farm Arena.
Dedmon received a video tribute for his time in Atlanta and enjoyed his reunion with his former teammates but has had a tough beginning to life in Sacramento (now out of the starting lineup) and didn’t enjoy a very good game last night, playing just four minutes.
The Hawks sure miss him and what he can do on the court and you wonder, if his struggles continue, how much he may miss Atlanta.
But alas, life goes on for the Hawks, and Dedmon’s replacement in the starting lineup, Alex Len, had one of his better games of the season last night as he played 22 minutes while blocking three shots.
The Hawks (3-5) now set off West as they begin their road gauntlet, beginning in Portland as they prepare for a match-up against the Trail Blazers, and an old friend in the form of Kent Bazemore.
This is a big stretch for the Hawks, and their failure to win some of these home games may be costly. Wins may be hard to come by on this road trip... but time will tell.
Until next time...