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Defensive struggles continue for Hawks in home loss to Nets

Offense wasn’t the problem on Wednesday.

Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks were looking to build upon Monday’s win over the Golden State Warriors as they entered play against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday evening. It would make for an interesting match-up, as both teams have very similar offensive formulas. They both struggle to make perimeter shots — at least as currently constructed — but tend to dominate on the interior. Atlanta entered play fourth in the league in points in the paint (per game) with Brooklyn not far back, landing fifth in the category.

Additionally, both teams rely on offensive rebounds and second chance points to generate some efficiency. However, the Hawks struggle mightily on the defensive glass (the Nets are simply below average, but not awful) and that would be the area of play that would sink their hopes of getting a victory in the eventual 130-118 loss.

For Brooklyn, the game was essentially a demonstration of how to give up a million points at the rim and still get a win. Atlanta generated 70 points in the paint (nearly 17 above their per game average) converting a staggering 30 of 55 shots from short range. Obviously, that type of defensive performance is not going to be sustainable for the Nets, a team with real ambition for the 2019-2020 season. But while Brooklyn shot just above 50% from the same range (33 of 63), they tied a season high with 18 offensive rebounds to generate ten more field goal attempts than the Hawks. That led to a 28 to 20 advantage in second chance points that actually felt more stark than that.

For the Hawks, the defensive issues were bigger than just the difficulty they had securing rebounds. They gave up 34 points or more in each of the final three quarters. That’s rarely going to be good enough for a win in the NBA. Brooklyn was able to generate enough stress at the point of attack against the Atlanta defense to lead to favorable shots on the weak side. Too often those looks were uncontested shots from the three point line.

Despite entering the evening in the bottom third of the league in three-point percentage, the Nets were able to convert 14 of 31 attempts from long range (45.2%) in the game. That’s not a ridiculous volume for the Hawks to allow, but 19 of those attempts arrived from the three best perimeter shooters in the visiting team’s starting lineup.

Taurean Prince (39% from three on the season) — in his first return to Atlanta since the off-season trade that landed him with Brooklyn — connected on 5 of 7 attempts from beyond the the arc en route to 23 points. Garrett Temple (34.5%) converted 6 of his 9 attempts on his way to a team-best 27 points. Joe Harris (44%) drew a lot of attention from the Hawks defense, understandably, and had just three attempts from distance, making only one of them.

Spencer Dinwiddie has been powering the Brooklyn offense of late amid the absence of superstar point guard Kyrie Irving. It’s usually bad news when an opposing team holds Dinwiddie to six points on 2 of 10shooting from the field in the first half, yet still heads to the locker room down nine points, which the Hawks did. He would put up 18 points (on 14 shooting possessions) and four assists in the final two frames to put his team in position for the win.

“It’s a tough team to defend,” Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce said after the game. “With Spencer Dinwiddie and the pick-and-rolls and his ability to get downhill, we had no answer for that.”

“We have to be into the ball a little bit more with pressure. We have to pressure their passers,” Pierce further commented regarding the specifics of what needed to be better. “They came off and hit a bunch of threes after timeouts. And that’s on the ball — the defender guarding the basketball, just having pressure on the passer.”

“The containment was an issue, but that’s everybody,” Pierce continued. “It’s whoever is on the court has to do a little bit better with regards to their responsibility.”

Trae Young had another impressively efficient and productive night scoring the basketball in this game. He had 39 points and 10 assists shooting 13 of 23 from the field and five on nine from beyond the three point line. After struggling with his perimeter shot at times during the start of his rookie season, he is now north of 39% from distance on the 2019-2020 NBA season and shooting the ball with supreme confidence.

“I hate it for him that we lost,” said Pierce commenting similarly as he has of recent regarding a good performance by his young point guard that still results in a team losses. “It was a great game, but it sucks that it had to come in a loss. Happy for him that he got into a rhythm. Good to see it.”

In perhaps the best news from the defeat, Cam Reddish had a tremendous breakout performance. The 20-year-old rookie has been one of the least efficient offensive performers in the league thus far this season. Due to injury, he did not play in three of Atlanta’s final six road games that ended in Houston on Saturday evening. It would appear that he was able to put a bit of that downtime to use as to get the game to slow down for him. In this game, the No. 10 pick attacked the paint with dribble penetration in an under-control manner unlike anything he has demonstrated prior to this game.

It is especially noteworthy that Reddish was effective when attacking to his left against the Nets. He’s had some previous success with his right hand but had mightily struggled with his non-dominant hand. He had a career-best 25 points, connecting on 10 of his 17 field goal attempts. He also confidently converted four of his seven attempts from beyond the three point line. He also had six rebounds and three steals.

“That was the best part — that it was from start to finish,” noted Pierce about the play of Reddish. “It was really no drop off in terms of his aggression in his shot making.”

“His points came in bunches and they came at different periods of the game, and for him to play consistently and score consistently all night was most impressive,” continued Pierce. “It’s just good to see.”

“I was just in it tonight,” Reddish said of his performance. “I was feeling it from the jump when I hit my first two. I was just feeling confident throughout the entire game. My teammates were finding me for open shots and I was able to knock them down.”

“I’m pretty much comfortable from anywhere, as long as I am in my rhythm and my flow,” he added. “I can get it from pretty much anywhere on the floor.”

Related to the previously mentioned Nets’ difficulty defending the rim, Atlanta’s centers were collectively 17 of 21 on field goal attempts in the contest, all but two of those attempts coming from the paint.

For visual evidence, here is a shot chart of the combined shot attempts for Alex Len and Damian Jones.

Jones was a perfect eight for eight on his way to (another new) career-best 20 points. Len was nine of 13 from the field en route to 18 points. Apart from Len’s production, Atlanta struggled to generate offense on their second unit. They had just four points total among the other reserves in the game.

Second-year guard Kevin Huerter saw his first action since leaving with an injury in Denver on November 12. He was scoreless in approximately 15 minutes of play — Huerter entered with a 15-minute limit, per Lloyd Pierce — but, if the goal for him in this game was to allow him to try to find some rhythm, his presence did not appear to hurt his team. He had a couple of nice assists in the half court offense but did look a bit hesitant to shoot the ball.

In the end, like so many other games on the season for the Hawks, despite some impressive offensive performances, it came down to an inability to get defensive stops when they needed. They put up 73 points after the half but could not generate consecutive stops, for example, as get the contest down to a two or three possession game.

Let’s take a look at some of the action.

Young gets an easy runner early in the game. This possession offers a look at how much room Brooklyn was giving the Hawks’ point guard as he operated toward the paint in pick and roll action.

The Nets struggled a bit to attack the Atlanta defense in the half court early in the contest. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson used designed plays after time outs (ATOs) to help his team generate the looks they wanted.

This possession offers a look at how closely Jones was staying to Jarrett Allen in an attempt to keep him off of the boards. Dinwiddie takes advantage and gets to the rim for the uncontested lay-up.

This play in the middle of the first quarter offers an example as to how and why the Hawks struggled to rebound the basketball on defense. Allen gets an easy put back as Jones completely loses track of him as Joe Harris attacks the rim but misses.

This transition opportunity later in the first quarter is an example of how Atlanta’s second unit veterans can, at times, use experience and awareness to generate easy production.

Here, Evan Turner and Len recognize that the Nets are not getting matched up effectively. DeAndre Jordan ends up matching up with Huerter, the Hawks’ player furthest from the paint. The result is an easy bucket.

Young connects on another floater here in the second quarter. The Brooklyn defensive coverage is slightly adjusted. Jordan keeps his body in the path of Young as he penetrates the lane. But if an opposing big, as Jordan does on this play, is not even going to get his hands up, the Hawks’ point guard is going to be able to put up a comfortable shot.

Turner can sometimes struggle to make an impact for this Atlanta team. he’s not a perfect fit on the roster, especially with the lack of shooting at the guard and forward positions.

But, as can be seen again on this play, he is a smart, veteran player. This is an example of how Young’s teammates can help him, at times, even when he is carrying a lot of the workload.

Turner pushes the ball in transition which allows Young to find a soft spot in the Brooklyn transition defense. He knocks down a comfortable catch and shoot three-point attempt.

This possession is an example of a play relevant to Pierce’s remarks about how not strong enough defense at the point of attack can lead to an easy shot away from the initial action.

Joe Harris is attacking in the pick and roll and is able to make a very comfortable pass to Temple on the weak side, who knocks down the perimeter shot.

This play offers a look at how Young attacked in the pick and roll, increasingly, as a passer as the game progressed. Jordan is even more attentive, here, to his penetration which allows Len to slip behind the defense, as Pierce described.

This is one of numerous encouraging plays from Reddish who gets the and one opportunity on the transition possession. Prior to this game, his attack was too often choppy in nature and his read predetermined.

The simple fact that Reddish did not try to force a pass to Bembry here is reflective of progress. He slows himself down, measures the play confidently and finishes.

This is another. It looks as if Reddish realizes, now, that when attacking in these situations, even at the NBA level, that he will almost always have the length advantage.

To be honest, he did not flash much of this last season at Duke and, if he can repeat this type of play going forward, it could be an encouraging sign.

Trailing late, the Hawks have to resort to trapping in an attempt to create turnovers. The Nets easily use ball movement to get Allen a shot at the rim with only Young there to provide any would be resistance.

Fourth quarter stops continue to be too often elusive.

Up Next

The Hawks will head back out on the road after the brief home-stand. After three consecutive off days, Atlanta will resume their schedule with a game in Charlotte on Sunday against the Hornets before heading to Miami to take on the Heat on Tuesday.