Sunday night's contest against the Orlando Magic marked the third game during the Atlanta Hawks' seven-game homestand and it would also mark the Hawks' third straight loss of that homestand, as they fell short to a surging Orlando Magic side 124-108.
Alex Len led all Hawks scorers with 16 off of the bench while the Magic were led Terrence Ross’ 18 points while D.J. Augustin scored 14 points and dished out 10 assists with zero turnovers.
The start of this game was an entertaining one as both sides clocked 40 points in a hurry to begin the first quarter. Then, everything began to slow right down to end the first quarter and then carrying through into the second quarter.
Though the Magic asserted themselves as the better team in the first half, the Hawks only trailed by six points with two minute remaining in the second quarter and then the Magic went on, what would end up being, a defining run in this game that would extend to the third quarter.
Before we look at that, let’s take a look at the 11-2 run to end the half.
Unlike the Hawks, the Magic were able to score a few baskets, the 11-2 run starting with this Nikola Vucevic offensive rebound and put-back:
Postgame, Lloyd Pierce talked about his side’s lack of effort and how it was reflective in the rebounding battle (which the Hawks lost 49-33) and this was a good example of that: you have to get a body on Vucevic in the paint — this is too easy.
“Well, rebounds- what it does is that it shows you their commitment and effort to compete, to go after 50/50 balls, and just… they were just… they wanted it more,” said Pierce postgame. “We had a stretch where anytime that we had 50 rebounds, that’s when we were winning. We were outrebounding our opponents, we were getting 50 rebounds in a game. It’s not just one guy. I know John’s (Collins) numbers were low, Dewayne’s (Dedmon) numbers were low, TP (Taurean Prince) only had one. But we were being out-rebounded by 16. So, we’re not competing, we’re not having the effort, and that’s the difference.”
The Magic shot four free throws in the final 1:12 of the half and in the middle of the free throw sandwich was this three-pointer in the corner from Jarrel Martin, whose three helped create more separation:
And to top it all off, to end the quarter, D.J. Augustin is allowed to charge the length of the court and lay it in just before the second half buzzer sounded:
Again, that’s just a play you cannot allow to happen.
For the Hawks on offense during that run, they committed two turnovers and only got one other shot attempt up besides the one Trae Young got up and drew free throws with — the only two points the Hawks would notch on that 11-2 run.
So, heading into the break the Hawks were in a perilous position, down 15 points and in range of a third quarter blowout if the Magic put together one run and that’s exactly what they did to start the third quarter behind a 12-2 run to begin the third quarter — a 23-4 run extending from the end of the first half — putting the Magic up by 25 points and the game well and truly out of sight.
The Hawks gave up a lot of points at the rim during this 12-2 run, which I suspect irked Pierce — who took one timeout after the Hawks fell by 20 and another very shortly afterwards as the Magic went up by 25 points — quite a bit.
Aaron Gordon got things started with a tough basket at the rim after the drive amidst traffic:
D.J. Augustin — who was terrific in this game — runs a pick-and-roll with Vucevic and does a great job to draw Dewayne Dedmon and finds Vucevic for the dunk:
And to wrap it up the 23-4 extended run, Evan Fournier intercepts a Taurean Prince pass and lobs it up to Jonathan Isaac for the dunk:
After the timeout, Pierce yanked all of the starters and inserted the second unit in, clearly unhappy with the effort and energy of his starting unit.
“I think everyone saw it,” said Pierce when asked about the decision to pull the starters. “You’re watching the game as a fan, as a spectator, it’s unfair for our fans to see us go down 25 at home and not really fight. It wasn’t one guy, that unit that was out there... we struggled in the second quarter and we struggled coming out of halftime and it wasn’t right for the guys that were on the bench to sit there and let them get minutes and play. Just wanted to put a new group out there, see if they could collectively put some energy together.
“Even though the margin didn’t really change I thought the energy did with that second unit. It’s an opportunity to let a Justin Anderson play, let Alex Len play and see Omari (Spellman) go out there and fight and compete and I was pleased with those guys to come in and do that. Our starting unit was flat today, very flat today. From an organisational stand-point we want to put out a product that’s competing every single night and I don’t care who it is.”
Justin Anderson wasn’t actually part of the group that replaced the starters but did check in closer to the end of the third quarter and got some much needed minutes in the blowout.
Once the Magic established their 25-point lead that really was it for this game — they were never really threatened and though the Hawks only lost by 16 points in the end, really, it should’ve been 30 and the scoreline doesn’t do the game justice.
Another day, another game where the Hawks allowed an opponent to hang another 120+ points on them.
“We kind of felt like that’s been the case the last couple of games, not being able to put together full games on the defensive end,” said guard Kevin Huerter. “Tonight our offense wasn’t there too much. But I think our biggest problem right now is on the defensive end.”
The first excuse many will run to after this loss was that ‘Oh, this was a second night of a back-to-back’, of course, playing the Charlotte Hornets the day before.
But that excuse is utterly invalid as the Magic were also on the second night of a back-to-back themselves, having played (and won) in Milwaukee the night before and then got into Atlanta at about 3 a.m. — and still blew the Hawks out of their own building.
Pierce wasn’t going to use the Hawks’ schedule as an excuse for the loss but wanted to use it as a learning experience.
“It’s a no excuse mentality,” said Pierce on what his team could learn from back-to-backs. “The beauty of back-to-backs is that everyone has to go through it. Orlando played in Milwaukee last night and they were an hour behind. I don’t know what time they got here but I’m sure we were probably in bed by the time they were landing. It’s a ‘no excuse’ mentality of a back-to-back because everyone has to play them and they got to suit up their guys just as we do.
“This is what the NBA is about. There’s ways of learning how to navigate through a season — physically, mentally, spiritually. All of those things tie in. Somedays you’re going to play 35, 40 minutes, somedays you’re going to play 15 but when you’re on the court you’ve got to find ways to impact ... we’ve got to find that spirit and keep going. But that’s the lesson, there’s no excuses on that.”
It was the Hawks’ mentality and approach to the game that Pierce was also unhappy with, in addition to the effort.
“It’s just our fight defensively,” said Pierce postgame. “So it has nothing to do with numbers, play calls, schemes, coverage- it’s just our approach. It’s our mentality.
“This is the scary part. We talked about it, about a month ago- after the trade deadline, and into the All-Star break trying to get ahead of the story by understanding that this is what happens. Everyone hits a lull. You try to find (a way) to avoid it, but you have to have to talk about it, you have to be real about … We just finished a back-to-back, and we’re trying to regroup and find our spirit for Tuesday night.”
Whether the Hawks have semi-checked out with the All-Star Break approaching very soon (just two more games for the Hawks before they split for the break), some will argue that but what can’t be denied is that the Hawks have played three absolute duds at home after such a positive road-trip — a Toronto team with just nine available players, the Charlotte Hornets and the tired Orlando Magic.
From the Magic perspective, they played a great game, a ‘professional game’ as head coach Steve Clifford called it. Having beaten the best team in the Eastern Conference the night before against the Bucks, this game against the Hawks definitely fell in the ‘trap game’ category — the classic letdown game after a really great result the night before but the Magic didn’t fall for it and they picked up a well deserved win as they continue their unexpected charge for a playoff spot in the East, 1.5 games adrift of the eighth seeded Detrot Pistons
“I just told the guys that I’m proud of them and I thought it was a professional, purposeful, mature 48 minutes,” said Clifford postgame. “I felt like guys started the game right and we had a good attitude. You know, they are hard to play against and it was just a good night for us…We didn’t give a lot of possessions away and again our coverages were solid tonight. They are very difficult to guard the way they get to the paint, they play downhill, and they are good in transition as they are number one in pace in the NBA.”
“It’s not an easy back-to-back as back-to-backs never are. Landing at 3 AM, coming in and playing these guys, they are a hard team to play against and I thought the guys did a good job.”
A staple of a Steve Clifford coached team: they don’t turn the ball over very often, and that was the case last night as the Magic committed just eight turnovers.
The Hawks themselves enjoyed one of their best games in that department, committing what is tied for their second-best outing for turnovers in a game with just 11 turnovers (from which the Magic still scored 18 points from) — too bad it didn’t mean anything in the context of the final result because that was definitely one successful aspect of this game for the Hawks.
D.J. Augustin, we’ve mentioned already, had a great game but so did Jonathan Isaac, who scored 17 points, hit three threes and blocked five shots, including a trip where he blocked John Collins (who struggled last night) three times on one possession — not something that happens very often.
They were great and, really, only a handful — maybe less — played well for the Hawks. Kevin Huerter played decently with 15 points, Jeremy Lin scored 12 points off of the bench, Alex Len scored 16 points and hit a couple of three pointers but outside of that...just not a good game from the Hawks at all.
The Hawks (18-38) will need to regroup because on Tuesday night LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers and the multitude of Laker fans will pour into State Farm Arena, where they Hawks will hope to avoid a fourth loss in a row on the homestand and a sixth straight loss at home.
Should be fun.
Until next time...