The Atlanta Hawks wrapped up the first ‘half’ of the season as they headed into the All-Star Break with a truly horrific performance, as they fell short to the floundering New York Knicks — losers of 18 straight games — at State Farm Arena on Thursday night, 106-91.
Dewayne Dedmon led the Hawks in scoring with 21 points while both Kent Bazemore and Trae Young added 16 points, Young also adding 11 assists.
For the Knicks, six players scored in double-figures with Dennis Smith Jr. leading the way with 19 points.
Sigh... Let’s get into this one, shall we?
First off, I sincerely hope you didn’t watch this game live because it was truly awful. Both teams were so incredibly bad last night, it was extremely painful to watch. And if you were in the building to watch it live... I’m so sorry.
And it started right from the off as the Knicks ran out to an immediate 12-0 lead before Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce took a timeout, after which the lead increased to 14-0 before the Hawks finally got on the board.
This left the Hawks chasing the game — and for all of the game, as the Hawks never led in this one — from the very beginning and really set a tone for the game. So, let’s take a look at the 14-0 run since it was, arguably, the defining run in this game that set the tone for everything else.
After Dennis Smith Jr. split a pair of free throws, he then drains a three-pointer after DeAndre Jordan creates separation from Trae Young with a screen:
After a missed floater from Young and a missed shot from the Knicks, the Hawks attempt to get on the board but Kevin Huerter’s pass inside is intercepted by Jordan:
Next for the Knicks, Damian Dotson comes off of a Jordan screen and steps into an easy mid-range jumper:
After a miss from John Collins and a made three from Luke Kornet to push the Knicks lead to nine points, the Hawks are still trying to get on the board but would have no luck as Dedmon’s three rims out:
Dedmon would go on to make multiple threes in the same fashion as he took this one but for now, the drought continued for the Hawks.
The Knicks’ barrage from three continued as Kevin Knox heads down the court and drains a three, leaving Pierce with no other option but to call a timeout with his side now 12-0 down:
Coming out of the timeout, Huerter leaves his shot well short, and that ended up typifying his night in the end as he was scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting:
And to cap off the 14-0 start, Smith gets out in transition immediately following that Huerter miss and Knox delivers the ball to him, Smith absorbs the contact and scores the layup at the rim:
The Hawks finally got on the board with a John Collins dunk but left themselves with a hill to climb.
“I don’t really know (what happened),” said Trae Young of the start of the game. “We can’t start out the game the way we did and expect to come back and get a win. It wasn’t a good start at all...”
But, despite going 14-0 down early, there weren’t many people who thought the Hawks wouldn’t make a comeback. The Knicks came into State Farm Arena on the second night of a back-to-back and, oh yes, they also arrived with an 18-game losing streak. And once that 14-0 run ended and the Hawks made some buckets, the Knicks’ offense slowed right down and you got a glimpse as to why they had lost 18 straight games heading into this one.
The basketball being played was just bad, so bad. Without former Hawk John Jenkins out there (who got going in this one for 14 points), they just didn’t seem to know what to do on offense. They looked utterly clueless at times and it was very easy for the Hawks to guard at times. And when Jenkins was on the court in the first half, their identity on offense was just ‘Get him coming off of a screen.’
The Hawks did end up making some shots but not many and tied a season-worst 13 points in a quarter as the first frame ended, trailing 28-13.
In the second quarter, the run everyone believed would come against this Knicks team did come, and after failing to hit a three in the first quarter the Hawks finally got going from three. Dewayne Dedmon three threes in the second quarter as the Hawks shot 6-of-12 from behind the arc in the second quarter to close the gap and even tie the game up at 47 apiece with just over a minute remaining in the half.
Again, everyone expected the Hawks to close this gap and the Knicks showed why they could in the second quarter and why the Hawks were favored to win this one. Arguably, the Hawks should’ve at least taken the lead at some point but had done well to recover from a 17-point deficit and headed into the break down by just three points.
The start of the second half came and it was a case in the mind of many where you thought to yourself ‘OK, the Hawks have come back, they’ll take the lead here and never look back and bury this awful Knicks team.’
Right? Right? No, wrong.
Crucially, the Knicks began the third quarter with a 6-0 run to push their lead back to nine points and left the Hawks with work to do.
The Hawks came within three, even two points at times and you still expected them to get it done but a defining run never came as both sides continued to encourage people to gauge their eyes out with some awful basketball.
This play in the third quarter pretty much summed it all up:
The Knicks would take an immediate timeout after this and, honestly, this was one of the few times I had no problem with a team taking a timeout because it just that bad.
The Hawks entered the final quarter down nine points after a comical ending to the third quarter that saw Young commit an offensive foul immediately after Mitchell Robinson scored before the Hawks fouled Kadeem Allen, who shot free throws to end the quarter.
Still...you still expected the Hawks to make a run and push by the Knicks but when the Knicks finally reclaimed their double-digit lead alarm bells began ringing and the realization that the Hawks were in serious danger of actually not winning this game became real.
The clock kept ticking down and the Knicks still held a double-digit lead before Luke Kornet hit the back-breaking three-pointer to push the Knicks lead to 15 points with two minutes remaining and that was a painful end to a game the Hawks really should’ve won — not just on paper but when the ball got rolling too and in the second half after coming back from 17 points. But the Hawks were very poor in the second half (shooting 36% from the field for the game) and didn’t deserve anything from this game.
When the buzzer finally sounded to end this atrocity of a game, the dust was left to settle on what was, arguably, the Hawks’ worst game of the season.
It was a harsh reminder for the Hawks to take nothing for granted.
“Proof how tough this game is,” opened Lloyd Pierce postgame. “You go into All-Star break, with an emotional high on Tuesday- and trying to finish out your last game with not the same atmosphere, and a team that has lost 18 (games) in a row...
“It’s good for them, and good for us. The lesson is learned. We learned a lesson tonight. We learned that this is the NBA and there’s a … a guy asked me last game, after the game, ‘was this our best win of the year against the Lakers?’ and I told him every win is a good win for us and I really meant that. Because every person, every team, understands that in the NBA, you can win on any night, and you can lose on any night. We lost tonight because we deserved to lose tonight.”
If last game against the Lakers was the best win of the season, this can firmly be classified as the worst loss of the season.
With the Knicks’ well documented 18-game losing streak and the Knicks also being on the second night of a back-to-back, the Hawks entered the game as favorites to win this game — and win it by a decently convincing margin of about seven/eight points — they’re at home, they’ve been at home for a while now...all of these things pointed towards a Hawks victory and, of course, it ended up in a 15-point loss to the worst team in the NBA who had lost 18-straight.
That is what we call a ‘trap game’ and the Hawks truly fell for it.
“Just inexperience,” said Kent Bazemore. “Just understanding what it takes to get yourself up for a night like this ... with them coming in in the situation they’ve been in they were coming in hungry, we had to bring it.”
“We played as if we assumed we were going to come out and win tonight,” said Pierce.
“If you’ve been in the NBA for a while, you understand these type of games,” Pierce went on to say. “Matchups, marquee matchups, big games, things like that...you understand that these games happen all the time. Really, they happen to teams like the Warriors, like the Rockets - they know that they are going to the playoffs and they’ve been in this position before, and they’ve got a marquee matchup coming up.”
“So, been in this situation a lot of times where you can overlook an opponent, or you can downplay a game, especially after coming off an emotional high like we did with the Lakers. You can sense that, and you can anticipate that, and you try and prepare your team to find ways not to fall into that trap. We fell into that trap today. We just didn’t have any effort or any fight.”
Energy and effort was something the Knicks had prioritized heading into this one.
“It was major because I think we could have won our last game, and even the game before that if we had started out good,” said Dennis Smith Jr. of the Knicks’ 14-0 start. “Coach (Fizdale) emphasized that after the last game, that he wanted us to get off to a good start and bring that energy. With this group of guys that we have and the young guys, I think that we are fully capable of doing that.”
The Knicks only have 11 wins on the season and three of them have come against the Hawks. When asked if the Knicks were just a poor matchup for the Hawks, Pierce dismissed the notion before saying his team just didn’t have the right approach last night.
“It’s a different team,” said Pierce. “The team we played last didn’t have Dennis Smith or DeAndre Jordan, didn’t have Kadeem Allen. Different team, it’s definitely not a matchup problem. Tim Hardaway Jr. was our problem the first two games we played and he’s no longer here. It’s just effort. It’s about us. It’s not what happened with us and the Knicks. We didn’t approach the game the way we needed to approach the game and that was the real issue.”
One thing Pierce talks about often is ‘spirit’ — the spirit of his group, playing with spirit. Despite this loss, veteran Vince Carter — who has seen a ton of games like the one last night over his 21-year career — was happy with how the spirit of the team in the aftermath of that loss, that the Hawks were mad about losing the game.
“I like it,” said Carter of the spirit in the locker room. “I like the fact that we were pissed about it. Seeing the guys kind of like whatever happened, we didn’t just enjoy All-Star. That’s just our growth, and that’s where our guys who have been around a little bit have helped these guys understand how to be a professional and how to take it personally.”
“Sometimes, I get that feeling when you go through shootaround or walkthroughs, you get that feeling like it’s not going to be a good night. Obviously, we had a slow start, but the effort in the second quarter is what you ask of guys like this – to stay focused – because that doesn’t happen often. Usually, when you’re down 12-0 early or 14-0 early, it’s over after that. Guys really stepped up, and we played with pride tonight.”
To be fair, most other teams’ in the NBA would’ve been up by 20-25 points with how the Hawks played in that first quarter and that would’ve been the end of it right there and then but because it was the Knicks, they only went up by 17 points and gave the Hawks the chance to come back. With how the Knicks played in the second half of the first quarter and how many points they left behind, the Hawks should’ve been a lot closer.
The Hawks did come back but despite having the entire second half to overcome a three-point deficit, it truly was baffling how they never even took the lead after the fact. A truly unbelievable loss.
But it’s one that they can file away now as the All-Star Break has arrived.
Trae Young and John Collins will pop over to Charlotte on Friday where the Rising Stars game is taking place tonight and everyone else can get a head start on a well earned break after the first 58 games of the season where the Hawks have matched, if not exceeded expectations despite their 19-39 record.
Despite their different successes, their goals for second, unofficial, ‘half’ of the season haven’t changed despite that though: it’s still about growth and development.
“We’re just going to try to win as many games as possible and just develop,” said Collins. “I think that’s the biggest objective for us as a young team is just developing our young core. We are trying to get everybody minutes and an opportunity to develop while also winning games which at times can be challenging, but it’s part of the battle. We’re all ready for it, and it’s a goal.”
“It’s still growth and development,” echoed Pierce of post All-Star game goals. “Had we lost the game and competed and played as hard as we played the other night and we were out there fighting and playing together, I would’ve had no problems (with the loss). That wouldn’t have been my issue. I didn’t think we had the right approach tonight.
“So, the rest of the year is about our approach, the effort and togetherness and the spirit. We’ve done a lot of good things leading up to this point to get our team and our players together to buy in. We have to find away to hold onto that for the next 24 games. That’s the most important part — our players continue to get better, continue to show growth, continue to work. As a unit, we have to stay together, we have to keep the spirit and we have to finish on a high note.”
The Hawks (19-39) are back in action next Friday when they take on the Detroit Pistons at State Farm Arena as their homestand nears an end.
In the meantime, plenty of Hawks activity at All-Star weekend: Trae Young and John Collins will feature in the Rising Stars game Friday, Young will feature again on Saturday in the skills challenge as will Collins as one of the headliners in the Dunk Contest.
Should be fun.
Until next time...