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Hawks trampled in Chicago for second straight defeat

Not pretty.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Chicago Bulls Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of an emotional loss against the Miami Heat on Tuesday night in Miami, the Atlanta Hawks found themselves on the road again on Wednesday night in Chicago. It was always going to be tough to follow-on from that game on Tuesday and that proved to be the case as the Hawks were blown out 136-102 by the Bulls.

Alex Len led the Hawks in scoring with 17 points while Zach LaVine poured in 35 points — including 7-for-7 from behind the arc — in just 25 minutes.

There are very few positives to really talk about and a game that was, really, awful — but we’re going to talk about this game a little bit.

Two stretches come to mind when it came to this game and where things began to turn — the end of the first quarter and the end of the second quarter.

The Hawks actually started this game out well and they led for most of the the first quarter but a 14-0 Chicago run towards the end of the first quarter took the Bulls ahead of the Hawks, and then another 10-0 run to end the second quarter helped the Bulls take a 14 point advantage into the second half.

The end of the second quarter in particular was very poor, highlighted by Kris Dunn stealing the ball from Young and Shaq Harrison scored at the buzzer as the Hawks’ sloppiness was punished:

Postgame, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce pinpointed the end of the second quarter as the turning point and Pierce, while unhappy with the officiating (which wasn’t great at times), conceded that the Bulls were just more physical than the Hawks.

“I think the game got away from us at the end of the second quarter, last two minutes they scored 10-to-2,” said Pierce via Fox Sports Southeast. “A lot of it was trying to force the issue, dealing with the refs, they were physical, they were the physical team and really disrupting what we were trying to do and made a run at the end of the second quarter...”

The Bulls outscored the Hawks 29-19 in that second quarter and that run was where the separation came from, effectively. And then obviously the second half didn’t show any signs of life as the Bulls pushed the lead to 20, 25, 30 and even 35.

There were several key aspects of the game where the Bulls significantly topped the Hawks and those came in the form of points in the paint, fastbreak points and turnover points — and those are connected in many ways (for example, turnover, fastbreak, bucket at the rim).

The Bulls outscored the Hawks 78-42 in the paint, 33-18 in fastbreak scoring, 36-13 in turnover points (though, 15 of those for the Bulls came in the final quarter where the not only was the game over Hawks almost looked like they just gave up and committed some poor turnovers).

We’ll look at a few of these...

In his own half, Evan Turner’s attempt to find Allen Crabbe in the corner is picked off by Thaddeus Young, who wanders up the court and eventually rises to take the three-pointer (with Jabari Parker basically daring him to shoot):

Vince Carter’s pass in the lane is fumbled and eventually picked off and the Bulls come the other way, with Kris Dunn scoring at the rim on Young on this possession:

As Trae Young heads down the court at speed, Thaddeus Young pokes the ball away from behind and the Bulls charge down the other end with Lauri Markkanen, who is fouled by Cam Reddish which leads to free throws:

Off of a Hawks miss, the Bulls grab the rebound and go, on this occasion it’s Zach LaVine who races down the floor, gets by Reddish at dunks at the rim:

In the third quarter, De’Andre Hunter is blocked in a crowd and the Bulls fly down the court, again through LaVine, and score at the rim:

These are just a few examples, but you can see how the Bulls’ paint points, fastbreak points and turnover points racked as high as they did.

The Hawks weren’t poor offensively (not amazing but not awful) — the fact they assisted on nine of their first 12 field goals was encouraging to start — but defensively, the Hawks were poor, very poor. The Hawks posted a defensive rating of 125.9 and allowed the Bulls to shoot 57% from the field, and that’s just not going to get it done.

You can look at the schedule and apportion some blame to this loss there — second night of a back-to-back, third game in four nights (all on the road). A loss in this spot is understandable, probably expected. But to lose by 34 points against a Chicago team that was 8-17 heading into last night’s game is unacceptable.

“We’ve had our struggles on the second night of back-to-backs,” said Pierce postgame. “I thought our guys were competing, we had a great start to the game. I though it was one of our better starts to the game in terms of rallying after that first timeout and taking the lead. Tough stretch at the end of the first quarter, tough stretch at the end of the second quarter. They didn’t feel us for the most part and that’s been a point of emphasis: getting into their bodies, trying to blow up some dribble hand-offs in pick-and-rolls. It really started when (Denzel) Valentine hit the three floaters back-to-back, we just didn’t have enough physicality at that point and we were trying to make that adjustment and showing it at halftime. Our guys have been competing, we’re just still learning how to compete and what that means. Getting into bodies is different for a lot of guys, that’s just part of the education right now.”

In terms of player performances, it was a tough day at the office for many.

De’Andre Hunter struggled for 2-of-9, scoring six points while also picking up a right shoulder strain but continued to play. Kevin Huerter struggled in what was, probably, his toughest outing since his return from injury as he shot 1-of-6 from three and scored nine points.

It was a difficult shooting night for Trae Young, scoring 15 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field and 1-of-6 from three.

These came in various forms... Some of these shots were decent looks for Young that he just missed.

Here, Young gets a decent look at a three-pointer that’s definitely in his wheelhouse:

Coming down the lane, Young gets a good look at a floater but it falls short:

Some of Young’s missed shots were well defended by the Bulls, such as this contest from Tomas Satoransky:

On the drive, defended by Kris Dunn:

And there were some shots that just weren’t good:

“Trae just couldn’t get anything going against their blitz,” said Pierce. “We were able to find some open shots and some open looks outside of it but they just did a number on Trae with the blitz and turned him over a few times. That was a tough stretch for him at the end of the second quarter.”

Despite his struggles from the field, Young finished with 13 assists and was still very much the engine of the Hawks’ offense. Seven turnovers is a few too many and Young is now averaging five turns per contest — only James Harden commits more turnovers than Young in addition to having just four more total turnovers than Young.

All things considered, not an awful game from Young but obviously not the best either.

Elsewhere, there was another positive game to be had by Alex Len, who led the Hawks in scoring with 17 points (15 of those coming in the first half).

Len showed decent aggression especially in that first half, highlighted by this play at the rim:

Len has found his form of late.

Over his last three games, he’s averaging 13 points per game on 61.5% shooting from the field and 75% from three on 1.3 attempts per game (the attempts stand out because Len hasn’t taken a ton of threes this season, so the fact he’s been taking over one a game is important).

While Len is performing well of late, his run of form extends much further than just three games. Over his last 10 games, Len is averaging 11 points per game on 67.6% from the field and 60% from three (though, on 0.5 attempts per game).

Len hit another three-pointer last night for a third consecutive game and he appears to be turning a corner in his season.

“He’s finding his rhythm around the basket,” said Pierce of Len’s game. “All of his baskets early on came at the rim: dunks, off of rolls, drop-offs from penetration, and he’s able to get his threes going — he had another three tonight. I think he established himself by rolling to the rim and being around the basket and getting something easy.”

Len’s start to the season was horrific on the offensive end and he has, for the most part, been a positive off of the bench since he was shifted to that role. However, it might be time for the coaching staff to re-evaluate that role and consider returning Len to the starting lineup — he’s now playing like he should be (the team’s best center) and he has shown consistency over these last 10 games as we looked at above (which is a decent sample size). I think it might be time.

Regardless, Len was one of a few positives from last night. Maybe the only positive.

Another item to note was DeAndre’ Bembry effectively being a DNP-CD. Now, he did actually play but only checked in the fourth quarter alongside Chandler Parsons in the extended garbage time in the fourth quarter, but if this has been a close game it stands to reason that Bembry would not have featured.

The reasons for Bembry’s slide down in the rotation of late are unclear but he’s one of the team’s better wings and it’s hard to justify seeing him behind Allen Crabbe in the rotation (though, Pierce has been on record saying he’d like to get some guys minutes and Crabbe was one of those mentioned, plus, Crabbe at least shot 2-of-4 from three last night).

Something to monitor going forward.

The Hawks (6-19) are back in action on Friday where they return to the comforts of State Farm Arena, where they’ll take on the Indiana Pacers.

Not the easiest game but certainly one that could be a winnable one for the Hawks.

Time will tell.

Until next time...