Coming off arguably the worst loss of the season in New York on Tuesday, the Atlanta Hawks returned to action on Thursday night with an opportunity to break their five-game losing streak, facing the Utah Jazz.
While they came close in an improved effort, the Hawks ultimately fell short 111-106 against the Jazz.
Trae Young led the way with 30 points — and while he did struggle from the field, 9-of-28, he was unlucky to see a number of shots roll away — and eight assists while Jabari Parker enjoyed his best game of late, scoring 23 points off of the bench (more on that soon).
For the Utah Jazz, Donovan Mitchell scored 30 points — 15 of them in the fourth quarter — as he overcame a difficult shooting start while Rudy Gobert added 20 points and 13 points...and shot a lot of free throws, shooting 19 of them and converting on 10.
Let’s get to it.
Down the stretch
This was a very entertaining game, one that saw 22 lead changes and 12 ties which very much reflects the back-and-forth nature of this game and this was the same in the fourth quarter.
Heading into the last five minutes, the game was knotted-up at 99 points apiece, giving the Hawks every chance to win this game, which was definitely there for the taking. Both teams had opportunities to break the tie, and it was an opportunity the Hawks ultimately missed out on.
To begin, Young has an opportunity in transition and elects to go alone and sees his contested layup miss and the follow-up knocked out of bounds:
Kevin Huerter attempts to link up with Alex Len but the attempted pass is telegraphed and deflected, and the turnover is committed:
Young gets a better look at a shot in the paint but, like a number of shots Young had last night, just popped out:
Eventually someone was going to score, and it was the Jazz, who broke 100 points first as Donovan Mitchell is able to get to the rim — freed up from the Joe Ingles screen, taking De’Andre Hunter out of the equation — and deceives Alex Len, who perhaps thought Mitchell was going to probe in the paint, and lays the ball in:
Next came one of the most important swings of the game, as Cam Reddish commits a pretty bad turnover, leading to a Jazz fast break and alley-oop for Royce O’Neale:
This led to a Hawks timeout, out of which they slice the lead in half as Young comes off of the Huerter screen and gets inside for the floater:
Mitchell responds immediately, as he comes off of the screen, drives inside by Huerter on the switch after, again, Hunter was taken out of the equation with a screen and finishes at the rim:
The Jazz deserve credit for the next play, as O’Neale prevents what would’ve been a certain two points after Young finds Jabari Parker baseline, only to be thwarted by O’Neale:
This time, Young comes off of the ball — off of the Parker down-screen — receives the ball, gets into the paint but the length of Gobert deters Young’s floater:
Next came one of the more important possessions as Joe Ingles comes off of the Rudy Gobert screen and scores at the rim, putting the Jazz up by six points with just under two minutes to go:
This obviously put the Hawks on a slippery slope but Kevin Huerter did his best to try keep the Hawks in this game, drawing two free throws on Gobert and hitting the three-pointer to bring the Hawks within three points once again.
After being forced to foul and sending Mitchell to the line, the Hawks take a timeout and out of it — the make or break possession, albeit in an unfavorable overall position for Atlanta — De’Andre Hunter drives inside but is blocked by Gobert, the Jazz secure the possession and...that is the game, essentially:
The Hawks certainly had chances to win this game and were stuck on 99 points for a few possessions with opportunities to pull ahead of the Jazz again. Ultimately, the more experienced team pulled through, came up with the clutch plays both offensively (through Mitchell) and defensively (Gobert).
The Jazz would’ve been favored heading into this game and while many wouldn’t have expected the Hawks to win, the main theme of the night was just ‘competitiveness.’ You could argue that whether the Hawks won/lost the game wasn’t that important but what was more important than the final result was for the Hawks to show more than effort and energy than they did in New York.
And they did.
“I think if we could bottle up that type of energy, then we’re off to the right start,” opened Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce. “I thought that our guys competed. We tried to wind them up a little bit with some denials and keeping and getting the ball out of some of their perimeters’ hands when (Rudy) Gobert caught it, and for some reason it really energized our defense. We can’t do that with every opponent. There’s not a lot of fives that are on the floor that are non-shooters like Gobert is. But I thought our guys took the game plan and played with a lot of energy tonight and competed from start to finish.
“We had a stretch in the fourth quarter, I think from seven to four minutes (remaining), where we just came up empty on a couple of offensive possessions and they had a couple good defensive strips. I think O’Neale had two of them that could have been easy layups at the start of the third quarter. And Trae misses two easy layups. We had a couple of those little opportunities that just didn’t go our way and the next thing you know, it’s a five-point game and (Gobert) misses a ton of free throws and you look back, just figuring out how to get some of those back. But our guys’ competitive spirit was great tonight.”
Young was left to rue on the opportunities he missed — and the missed opportunity to win the game — and didn’t want to get too wrapped up in one game with one positive outing where the Hawks showed up.
“A lot of opportunities I had to make shots,” said Young. “It sucks because we all played hard tonight on both ends. They’re a really good team, one of the best teams in the West. We had a chance to steal a win tonight. It’s tough when you get good looks and they just don’t go down. It sucks.”
“It was good to see that (improved effort), but it’s just one game. We have to continue to do it. If we play that way, with that energy and effort, we’re going to be able to turn things around and win a lot of games. If we play that way, good things are going to happen.”
Jabari Parker, similarly, wasn’t getting too drawn into this one game.
“We did bounce back, but that’s not satisfying,” said Parker. It’s one of those types of games we were up and trying to find a way to win. So that won’t be something where we can say ‘at least we didn’t lose by 20.’ I’ll never accept that (thinking).”
You like to see the Hawks (more so the players), while acknowledging that they did have a better game last night, refuse to settle or get satisfied with one game where they turned up and played well, and that it’s about consistent performances. If the Hawks were to have another no-show in Brooklyn, this game would mean nothing.
But the Hawks do deserve credit. Not that the Jazz were particularly great on Thursday night — playing without Mike Conley in this one — but the Hawks put together a good night on their end. They shot the three-ball well (37%), attempted seven more shots than the Jazz, had a good night when it came to turnovers (16, which is a good night for the Hawks), the Hawks’ bench gave them a good lift...they played well.
But, ultimately, the streak goes on and the Hawks are now losers of six straight games, but if they turn up with this effort and energy it won’t be long until the Hawks are back in the win column, especially with John Collins returning next week.
Heading into this game, Pierce changed his starting lineup and did so quite drastically. The most notable change was that Bruno Fernando was thrust into the starting lineup, along with Cam Reddish, as the Hawks moved Parker and Damian Jones to the bench.
With all three of the Hawks’ 2019 draft selections starting, in addition to sophomores Huerter and Young, the Hawks trotted out one of the youngest starting lineups in NBA history.
Per Hawks PR, the Hawks starting lineup tonight was the 4th-youngest in NBA history (since tracking began in 1970-71).— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) December 20, 2019
Average age of 21 years, 92 days old.
Youngest in franchise history.
When asked pre-game about the change, Pierce simply replied “6-22” — about all the reason you need, I suppose, but the decision to put Fernando in ahead of Alex Len was an interesting one.
It was difficult to assess Fernando at times because he struggled with foul trouble but all-in-all, it was a mixed game from Fernando — finishing with four points and six rebounds in 17 minutes.
He had some good moments, such as this dunk early on in the pick-and-roll with Kevin Huerter:
This was a good, energy play — something to get the Hawks into it early in the game.
Fernando had some decent contests in this game, such as this contest close to the rim against Ed Davis:
However, there were also possessions like this one, where Fernando just has to do more defensively in the pick-and-roll defense, rooted to the spot:
Added to the spotty performance the fact that Fernando has three turnovers and a truly awful air-ball three in the fourth quarter:
Fernando, if nothing else, gave the Hawks something different. He’s been an interesting figure this season: he played a bit to begin the season but has been largely out of the rotation, barring garbage time, but Lloyd Pierce was satisfied with the energy Fernando brought last night from the starting center spot.
“I thought Bruno gave us great energy,” said Pierce of Fernando. “Obviously, he gets the dunk to start, which helps any young player start off with a little bit of spirit and energy...”
Reddish played a good game last night, scoring 14 points and knocking down two three-pointers but was also tasked with the defensive assignment of Donovan Mitchell, certainly to begin the game.
Elsewhere in the rotation, the Hawks were really trying different looks last night.
Jabari Parker came off of the bench, we (collectively) saw Evan Turner for the first time in over a week as he played two stretches in this game, DeAndre’ Bembry looks like he’s now back in the rotation, Allen Crabbe played 23 minutes but perhaps more notably, both Vince Carter and Damian Jones did not played last night, which is surprising given how both have been, largely, rotation main-stays — particularly Jones who has the majority of games this season.
“I keep saying it’s hard to play more than 10,” said Pierce on the decision not to play Carter and Jones. “We played 10 guys tonight, and when you bring Bruno up, that knocks out one of your bigs, and that was Damian. I wanted to give E.T. (Evan Turner) a chance because of the small ball and being able to keep four traditional smalls on the floor. I thought E.T. would have given us more of a chance to defend their guys than Vince, so that was the numbers game. Just playing 10 and obviously it was going pretty well in the first half. I wasn’t going to change it at that point.”
Pretty self explanatory from Pierce and the small-ball aspect was one we saw often in this game with Jabari Parker at the five at various stages and probably a little more than the Hawks, perhaps, would’ve wanted as both Fernando and Len (among others) struggled with fouls: a theme on the night.
Parker’s performance was a strong positive on the night as he returned to a bench role — the role he was signed for in the summer. Parker scored 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field in addition to grabbing nine rebounds and dishing five assists.
With Collins’ return looming, it makes sense why Pierce has moved Parker back to the bench, perhaps in preparation of that — and Pierce has already stated that Collins is going to be immediately starting, so you can probably expect Parker to remain on the bench from here on out.
“...Jabari off the bench was excellent,” Pierce said. “It was good to see him play that way tonight. We’ll see what we have and start the same way next game because the opportunity presents itself and then we’ll get John (Collins) back and figure out where to go from there.”
“As I’ve learned from my past, any opportunity you get, you have to take advantage of it,” said Parker of his performance. “Basketball is something I’ve been blessed with and (coming off the bench) is better than not playing. So I want to count my blessings at the end of the day.”
In addition, it looked as though the Hawks made a concerted effort to have other players handle the ball and not just every possession in the hands of Trae Young — we (collectively) saw Evan Turner handle the ball, DeAndre’ Bembry handle the ball, Kevin Huerter handle the ball and one time, even Alex Len brought the ball up the floor. Now, Young still finished with a high usage rate but it was interesting to see the Hawks really go out of the way to have Young off of the ball a little more, and it’ll be interesting to see if it repeats to the same degree on Saturday in Brooklyn.
Speaking of, the Hawks (6-23) are back in action on Saturday as the head out on the road to face the Brooklyn Nets.
Should be fun, and weird. Probably weird. Maybe not as weird as Kevin Huerter’s blown layup/dunk in transition, but we’ll see.
Until next time...