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Execution lets Hawks down in home loss to Lakers

The Hawks came close against one of the NBA’s elite.

Los Angeles Lakers v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks continued their mini homestand on Sunday as they entertained the Los Angeles Lakers — and entertained them they did — who prevailed 101-96 in a closely fought contest for Atlanta’s fourth straight defeat.

Trae Young led the Hawks in scoring with 30 points while dishing out seven assists (coughing it up on six occasions) and grabbing six rebounds. Jabari Parker was the next leading Atlanta scorer with 12 points.

For the Lakers, they were led — as you would imagine — by their star duo of LeBron James (32 points, 13 rebounds) and Anthony Davis (27 points, 13 rebounds).

Let’s break this one down.

As always, if you missed this game and how it unfolded chronologically, you can catch up here. However, I’m jumping pretty much to the fourth quarter...

The closing minutes

If there was one expression I’d use to describe the Hawks in this game, it would be this: they hung around. The biggest lead the Lakers ever established in this game was 11 points and that came in the third quarter. The Hawks went on a 7-0 run to cut that lead and basically throughout the entire fourth quarter the margin was basically between 4-7 points.

Before we get to the crunch-time play, the Hawks actually did have a chance to re-take the lead of this game. Kevin Huerter’s layup cut the Lakers’ lead to two points and a missed shot from James gave the Hawks the chance to tie or take the lead.

Huerter drives, finds Reddish in the corner, who has to try bring the ball back over to his left, fumbles the ball and turns it over:

The Lakers would then go on an 8-2 run to put some margin between themselves and the home team but the Hawks came back in crunch time.

Down eight points with four minutes remaining, a big possession ensued for the Hawks and Young delivered, hitting the three-pointer coming off of the casual double-drag screen:

The Lakers ended up settling somewhat from three-point range down the stretch but before that came this turnover the Hawks forced. Anthony Davis has Vince Carter on the block near the sideline but a smart and timely double from De’Andre Hunter forced Davis to step out of bounds and return the ball to the Hawks:

A pair of Young free throws cut the Lakers lead to four points with just over two minutes to go.

More good defense from Hunter helps force a miss on the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope floater but the Lakers, as they did for a lot of last night, came up with the second chance possession:

From the resulting second chance, the Lakers take their time, eventually swing the ball to Anthony Davis, who can’t convert the three as Hunter contests:

Now the Hawks get a crack at whittling this down to a one-possession game.

Young heads down the court, drives by Rajon Rondo but is thwarted at the rim by the help defender in the form of Davis, who gets a finger on this ball to deflect it, produce the block, and the Lakers come back with possession:

Davis and Parker get tangled up in the rebounding battle, resulting in a foul and free throws for Davis (as the Lakers were in the bonus) and Davis splits the pair, putting the Lakers up by four points.

Heading back down, Young comes off of a double-drag screen (of sorts) from Hunter and Alex Len, Len then sets a screen for Hunter, who curls, receives the ball from Young, Hunter fakes Davis off of his feet, takes a step inside, draws the attention of James, Hunter finds the now open Jabari Parker in the corner but his three misses everything:

A beautifully worked play by the Hawks and by Hunter to make multiple things happen to collapse the defense but the air ball in the corner by Parker, with no one near him, hurts in that situation.

However, Parker would make up somewhat by coming up with a strong block as the help defender on Davis, which was initially called a foul on Cam Reddish. Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce challenged this call and was successfully as the call overturned:

With just under a minute to go, the Lakers win the ensuing jump ball. James finds Davis on the wing, Len flies by as Davis dribbles inside but is cut off by Hunter who, again, contests the shot very well and helps force a miss:

The Parker air ball was a tough one but the next possession wasn’t much better. Young collects the rebound from that missed Davis shot, and proceeds to hoist a contested 30-footer which misses.

Young does collect the offensive rebound, though, and he passes to Hunter, who drives inside and draws the foul and free throws, salvaging the offensive possession:

It felt like a hero-ball shot from Young in this situation. I didn’t mind the decision from Pierce not to take a timeout here, but that’s just an awful shot.

Hunter knocks down both free throws to cut the lead to two points and now the Hawks have to play the foul game, and LeBron James is the one the Hawks eventually send to the line with 15 seconds remaining. James splits the pair, giving the Hawks a chance to tie the game with a three-pointer, and Pierce uses one of his two remaining timeouts.

Out of the timeout, Vince Carter drives by Danny Green, and James is basically in no-mans-land — doesn’t rotate to protect the rim while also straying away from the open Reddish in the corner. Carter has a wide-open look at two points should he elect to take them. Instead, he passes out of a certain two points to the open Reddish in the corner but Reddish is unable to convert:

There’s a few things to break down here.

The Hawks obviously need a three to tie the game and Carter is aware of that. He passes out of an almost certain two points to find an open shooter in the corner, understandable and in many ways, the right play.

However, when that shooter is Cam Reddish (who is shooting 26% from three and 28% in that corner three — the corner where the NBA league average is 39.9%), it is a bit harder to justify that decision, and I say that because the Hawks had some things in their pocket to utilize.

When Carter decided to find Reddish in the corner, there was about 11 seconds remaining on the clock. The Hawks would’ve had to have sent the Lakers to the free throw line again had Carter made the basket — assuming the Hawks were unable to come up with a steal on the Lakers’ inbound (whether it was on the baseline or coming out of the one timeout they had remaining).

So, say for instance there’s about eight or nine seconds remaining by the time the Hawks foul and send the Lakers (whoever that may be) to the line. From there, the Hawks still had a timeout remaining to advance the ball and plenty of time to work something, should they have needed a two or a three-pointer, depending on the result at the free throw line.

I understand both sides: the Hawks got an open three-pointer (even though the player shooting it has been one of the worst shooters on the team this season) and missed it and you can live with that.

But given how they had time remaining, a timeout remaining and had seen both Davis and James split free throws in the final quarter, perhaps, in hindsight, Carter would’ve been better taking the two and playing the game out a little longer, rather than the game ending when Reddish missed the three (and we’ll hear from Pierce about this possession in a second).

The Lakers seal the game at the free throw line following the miss and the Hawks are left to reflect on a tight loss against one of the NBA’s finest.

Postgame, Pierce said he was happy with the shot the Hawks got and that a shot like that can only help Reddish in the grand scheme of things.

“I just told Cam Reddish that this is the moment that just got him better,” said Pierce in his opening statement. “Having an opportunity to make the tough shot in front of their bench against a tough opponent and it didn’t go his way. I just watched it. He wasn’t quite shot-ready, but he had a great look. It’s one of those things. It’s kind of like a rite of passage. You come into the NBA, you’re looking to make these plays and the burden of not making it is what propels you to get in the gym and look for that moment and do it with that type of intensity and that type of pressure every day. It’s just something you can’t predict, you can’t do it until you’ve gone through it, and I think now he’s gone through it and this is going to help him with his career...”

Speaking of that vital possession, Pierce mentioned that the Hawks were looking for a three over a two and that the Hawks got the look they wanted in terms of an open perimeter shot.

“The primary option is the open guy. Obviously, they’re going to drape all our guys and take us away from threes. They switched the inbounders, the screening action between De’Andre and Vince and pushed Vince out a little bit further. They had length on Trae to take away the three-point look in front of us. Vince did a great job. I told him we wanted the three, but we’ll take a two and we can extend the game. Vince has a layup but he sees LeBron freeze and that’s what allowed the corner three. And that’s ‘paint-to-great’ — that’s what we’re looking for, we’re looking for ‘paint-to-great’. We got it and just came up short.”

So, you can see why Carter obviously made the decision he did. Given who it was taking the shot, I, personally, would’ve taken the two points and extend the game given the circumstances and what the Hawks had but the Hawks will live with what transpired.

In terms of the team performance, Pierce was satisfied with how the Hawks played, commenting on the good shot opportunities (that we would have looked at already) the Hawks got down the stretch.

“...I’m really excited about the way we played,” continued Pierce in his opening statement. “Really excited about the way we competed to hold that team to 42% shooting, force 22 turnovers against that team and have an opportunity - really three or four opportunities - late in the fourth quarter with some really good looks. I thought Jabari had a really good look and couldn’t get that to go down. And Cam gets the good look. De’Andre Hunter makes a great attacking move to the basket. I’m just really proud of our group. Finding opportunities to try and get a win and we just came up short.”

The general feeling from some of the players seemed to be that the Hawks played a good game, had opportunities at the end to take this game away but can be encouraged overall from their performance.

“We were playing solid in the first half,” said Young postgame. “We were smart. We just had the game close the whole way. We had some plays down the stretch that if we had made, we would’ve been right in there to take the win. It was a great game, hard-fought. They’re a great team. The way we played tonight was really good for us.”

“I think we played pretty hard,” said Hunter. “They made some tough shots. We stuck to the game plan. They had 101 points. We did what we were supposed to do defensively. Just end of the game, missed a couple of shots.”

“We were playing from behind,” added Huerter. “They were trying to close us out. We were just trying to keep battling. They’re arguably the best team in the league, so I thought we played really well, just to be there with them. We took every punch. We kept coming back. We just didn’t make shots at the end. Cam got a really good look. He’s going to make that moving forward. We’ll move on.”

And they’re all right. They did battle hard, they did play well defensively, they did have plays that escaped them down the stretch, and perhaps that shouldn’t have come as a surprise against this Lakers side.

It was interesting to hear Pierce talk about how the Hawks played with ‘appropriate fear’ postgame when asked how his young squad fared against a team that many believe will be right in contention for the NBA title.

“I just thought they were locked in,” said Pierce. “We use the term ‘appropriate fear’ often. The term I got from (Coach) Pop with Team USA and I just think when you see who’s on their team and on their roster, you have that appropriate fear so it locks you in a little bit more. You’re afraid to make a mistake so you do your best to compete. I think they brought out our competitive level tonight. I was really proud of all of our guys, just the way they were competing and battling. Again, all of their shots were tough. We made them take tough shots and that’s really credit to our defense. I’m just happy that our guys competed that way tonight.”

In terms of individual performances, I didn’t get a chance to slip it in earlier when talking of the plays down the stretch but I thought Hunter was really impressive down the stretch, offensively and defensively.

Offensively, we looked at how Hunter helped create a great look for Parker in the corner and his attack on the closeout to draw two very important free throws, which he converted. Defensively, opponents shot 4-of-18 when guarded by Hunter and 1-of-7 from three, and we obviously looked at a number of solid contests down the stretch from Hunter.

Just another of those games where you just forget he’s a rookie, though, shooting 2-of-10 from the field is tough. In reality though, very few shot the ball well for the Hawks last night as only Len and Damian Jones shot 50% or higher from the field.

The Hawks played a very solid game and there are several aspects of this game I think they handled very well. Let’s look at a few of those.

Keeping pace with the long-ball

I think, internally, the Hawks would’ve acknowledged that in terms of points in the paint and potential offensive rebounds/second chance points, the Lakers were likely going to have a significant advantage. That came to pass as the Lakers outscored the Hawks 54-34 in paint points while grabbing 13 offensive rebounds.

But the Hawks seemed to come into this game with a strategy to try and combat this seemingly inevitable outcome: shoot as many threes as possible.

The Hawks attempted 42 threes on the game (attempting 25 in the first half alone), making 12 of them, as the long-ball helped keep the Hawks in range, pretty much all game long. The Lakers on the other hand, shot just 5-of-31 from three as Anthony Davis and Danny Green suffered 0-of-6 and 0-of-5 shooting outings from three.

Pierce referenced the Lakers’ length and their ability to defend inside, leading to ‘paint-to-great’ opportunities for the Hawks offensively, an end of the floor that Pierce was similarly satisfied with last night.

“Really good,” said Pierce of the Hawks’ shot quality on the offensive end. “You’re playing against a lot of length in the paint and so it’s hard to get in there and finish and get plays at the rim. I think we had 25 three-attempts at halftime... When you have a team that covers the paint the way they do, you have to get a lot of ‘paint-to-great’ opportunities and, really, the last three, four possessions sum that up. Jabari gets a three: paint-to-great. Cam gets a three: paint-to-great. De’Andre gets a kick-out after the offensive rebound and he attacks the closeout. The shot quality I thought was great tonight...”

Even though the Hawks shot 28% from three, I don’t think it’s too unfair to say that their strategy did work, to an extent — they were certainly helped by the Lakers’ worst three-point shooting performance of the season.

Hawks unable to capitalize on turnovers, but limit second chance scoring

The Hawks also did their bit to force the Lakers into quite a number of turnovers last night as the Lakers committed a season-high 22 turnovers. Unfortunately for the Hawks, they didn’t fully capitalize on these turnovers, and it was the Lakers who won the points off of turnovers battle, 22-15. The Hawks coughed up the ball on 20 occasions themselves, but they’ll be disappointed to score just 15 points off of 22 L.A. turnovers.

Conversely, however, the Hawks can be very happy with how things panned out in terms of second chance scoring. The Lakers grabbed 13 offensive rebounds but only scored three second chance points, and that is a huge win for the Hawks.

Pierce admitted that if the Hawks could hold the Lakers to a single possession, that would be a huge positive and stated his continued proudness of the Hawks’ competitiveness, even if they fouled a little too often for his liking.

“Anytime we can hold those guys to one shot, that’s a win,” said Pierce of the Hawks’ rebounding effort. “They’re a big team with Dwight out there crashing. He’s basically just roaming around while they’re running offense. You need the help on Anthony Davis, you need the help on LeBron’s penetration, you need the help on their movement. So you’re taking your big defender and you’re trying to have Damian (Jones) and Alex (Len) protect the paint and so that’s where their bigs come crashing in for offensive rebounds. I don’t know what the numbers were, but anytime we have an opportunity to rebound and run, it’s a win for us. Forty-two percent (the Lakers’ field goal percentage on the game) and limited second chance points is big. We fouled a little bit too much, which is tough to do against these guys anyway, but just proud. I don’t mind the fouls and I don’t mind the physicality. Just proud that the guys are competing.”

It was a battle, and a combination of the Lakers failing to capitalize on their second chance and the Hawks defending well on those second chance opportunities.

Kevin Huerter’s shoulder injury

The Hawks’ positive performance was slightly overshadowed by Kevin Huerter re-aggravating his left shoulder injury — suffered in Denver last month, forcing Huerter to miss 11 games — as he fought with Dwight Howard for position underneath the basket with about eight minutes to go:

Postgame, Pierce was optimistic that the injury wasn’t too serious.

“...I think he’s OK,” said Pierce of Huerter. “Bummed the shoulder out a little bit but I think he’s OK...hopefully he’s good to go...”

Huerter himself is unsure of the extend of the damage, as tests had not taken place at that point.

“We’re hoping it’s not as serious as it was in Denver,” said Huerter of his shoulder. “It’s the same shoulder. We’ll do more tomorrow. We haven’t run any tests yet.”

The Hawks will be sweating somewhat on the fitness of Huerter, as I’m sure the severity will be discovered later on Monday — it would obviously be a blow if the Hawks were to lose Huerter again.

We shall see...

Elsewhere, just to finish, DeAndre’ Bembry was a DNP-CD on the game, marking the first game Bembry has not featured in since March 4, 2018 against the Miami Heat. However, should Huerter miss any time, one wouldn’t be surprised to see Bembry back in the fold in prominent fashion.

The Hawks (6-21) are back in action on Tuesday, in a very winnable spot, as they head to New York to take on the flailing New York Knicks at MSG.

Should be fun.

Until next time...