The Atlanta Hawks made their way up to the Barclays Center on Saturday night for a bout with the Brooklyn Nets for the second time this month. Last time the Hawks played the Nets (in early December), the home team was able to mount little resistance but, on Saturday, things were (slightly) different for Atlanta.
The Hawks continued their starting lineup change which includes Bruno Fernando at the five instead of Damian Jones, who had been garnering most of the starts this season. Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish rounded out the starting group.
For the Nets, Spencer Dinwiddie has been forced into the starting lineup with Kyrie Irving still nursing an injured shoulder. Starting with Dinwiddie was old friend Taurean Prince (who absolutely demolished the Hawks last time these teams played) along with Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris and Garrett Temple.
The Hawks needed to make a statement early, and come out swinging they did. Atlanta started off with a strong 14-5 run early on in the first quarter based on turnover-less basketball and some seriously good shot making.
We comin' out the nest flying tonight pic.twitter.com/HlZoORShnq— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) December 21, 2019
Then, once Young exited the game for the first time, Brooklyn went on a counter run which consisted of 15 straight unanswered points from the Nets. The Hawks went almost four minutes without scoring, which is becoming the most common theme this season when Young is not in the ballgame.
Young re-entered the game rather quickly and immediately led the Hawks to a 10-0 run right at the end of the quarter to help Atlanta salvage a tie. Allowing 34 points in a quarter is never a good thing, but for the talent level of this team on that side of the ball, it is good enough to sustain competitive basketball. That was indeed the case after the first quarter with the score deadlocked at 34.
The momentum continued into the second quarter for Atlanta as the team’s intensity on the defensive side of the ball really ramped up off the strong close to the first period. Alex Len was becoming a major mismatch problem for DeAndre Jordan who does not enjoy straying far from the paint. As a result, Len found himself with a couple of great looks from three which he converted twice.
Once Len stretched the floor, and got Jordan closing out harder, Young was able to disassemble the Nets’ attack on defense as he hooked up with Len twice for dunks and found himself with multiple three point looks that went down.
The Hawks are at their best when they are playing quickly and getting their big men to help stretch the floor and Brooklyn didn’t have many answers for that in the second quarter. Atlanta found themselves up ten points after a scoring barrage by Young and Len which manifested in an 11-2 run midway through the quarter.
The defensive effort in the second quarter was tangible and it resulted in the Hawks only allowing 21 points to the Nets through the first ten minutes of the period. The lead made it back to 10 after Young scored five straight points around the two minute mark of the second.
Young put down a crushing three pointer with just over 30 seconds left in the half and then Len absolutely broke it open with another three of his own right at the end. There was a bit of a sorry foul by Hunter at the buzzer which resulted in three free throws for Harris. In a lucky turn of events Harris uncharacteristically missed two of three and Atlanta found themselves up 13 at the break with a 73-60 lead.
73 points is the Hawks highest scoring first half of the season and it was in large part thanks to Young and Len, who combined to score 40 of Atlanta’s 73 points. Young was truly masterful with 24 points and 6 assists while putting on a shot making display that only he can. The Hawks also hit 12-of-13 free throws which was a major lift and Young was the main culprit as usual with 7 attempts by himself.
Of note in the first half was Vince Carter playing actual minutes after a DNP-CD on Thursday. The Hawks only committed four first half turnovers which was a breath of fresh air as Atlanta ranks as the second worst team in the NBA this season at taking care of the basketball.
Jabari Parker was also largely ineffective in his couple of stints. In fairness, though, he isn’t very well suited to play the five like the Hawks have asked him to do quite a bit this season. Cam Reddish picked up his third foul of the game with just under two minutes left in the first half which was a spot of bad luck in a really good start for the Hawks.
The Hawks opened the third quarter by reaching their largest lead of the night at 15 after a Cam Reddish jumper. After that though, the Nets retaliated with a very quick 7-0 run which prompted Coach Lloyd Pierce to take a quick timeout with the lead at just eight.
Len re-entered the game with haste and immediately made a difference by blocking a shot under the rim which lead to a swing of five straight points scored by the Hawks to get the lead back up to 13. As the first half theme continued, Young got back in on the action by making his way to 31 points on the night with over 21 minutes left in the game. Young’s burst also got the Hawks to a game-high 18 point lead as Atlanta threatened to break things open.
Things really started to drag on both sides as the third quarter drew on. Atlanta went nearly six minutes with just one point scored. Once Young sat down things got especially bad. Brooklyn went on a very quick 5-0 run which resulted in Coach Pierce stopping the game immediately.
Out of the timeout, and with the Hawks up 88-79, Hunter really stepped up with a massive jumper to put the tourniquet on and stop the bleeding. It was only temporary though as Temple went on a mini-explosion of his own to narrow the lead to just five points. Then, yet again, Len stepped up with a three pointer to get the lead back to eight with under a minute to go in the third.
The final minute was fairly uneventful, but Young did find his way back onto the floor and contributed three free throws after being fouled beyond the arc. That stretched Atlanta’s advantage back up to 11 in a big momentum shift that the Hawks needed going into the fourth quarter.
Trae Young has 35 points through three quarters pic.twitter.com/bonmKrJkNU— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) December 22, 2019
Brooklyn brought a strong punch and the Hawks withstood like they haven’t been able to this season. Atlanta was fairly lucky to be completely lackadaisical on offense for such a long stretch and not have everything fall apart, but Young and Len were absolutely spectacular this evening and managed to give the Hawks a great chance to win the final period and game.
Atlanta slacked at the beginning of the fourth quarter to allow Brooklyn back within six, and Pierce took another timeout at a good moment, but only left the Hawks with three for the final ten minutes.
Out of the timeout, things continued to slide for the Hawks as the Nets mounded up the opening 12 points of the fourth quarter prompting yet another timeout by Atlanta. After that timeout the madness continued to a 14-0 run before Young finally put an end to it with a floater in the lane.
In total, Atlanta went nearly 5:30 without scoring to open the final period. The meltdown has become a problem this season for the Hawks as they are quite frequently going long stretches without scoring. This time it cost the Hawks their lead (momentarily) and really forced the team into scramble mode as they felt yet another shoo-in win possibly slipping away.
Brooklyn passed the Hawks once again with just under 6:30 remaining in the fourth and then things really started to crater. The Nets built their lead all the way up to six with 3:45 to go in the game which brought on another timeout as Lloyd Pierce was desperately trying to win this game.
With only one timeout remaining for the final portion of the game Atlanta went back to work, but the momentum was already on Brooklyn’s side and the Hawks rushed bad shot after bad shot trying to get everything back at one time.
However, this game should be judged by the fact that the Nets were ever even in this game (let alone winning it) because the Hawks had them down by 18(!) points with only Dinwiddie and Temple being effective for Brooklyn. Young team or not, there really isn’t a defense for multiple six minute scoring lapses in the second half.
The only way to describe this game was a collapse. Young had 47 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, but can garner some of the blame for this loss as well for being a part of that six minute scoring drought at the beginning of the fourth. This type of game will make a head coach sick, but especially Lloyd Pierce after he fought so hard to stop the Nets momentum with multiple timeouts in the fourth period.
Alex Len added 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Hawks and continues to be the best center employed by the team. Hunter added 14 more.
Atlanta’s losing streak has now reached seven games as they try to get past this gut-wrenching loss and look forward to the Cavaliers on Monday night in Cleveland. John Collins will be in uniform and, well, that should help.