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Hawks kick off homestand with uneven loss to Raptors

Things were great and then they weren’t...

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks began their seven-game homestand with a defeat as they fell short against the shorthanded Toronto Raptors (who had only nine available bodies last night in the aftermath of the Marc Gasol trade while Kawhi Leonard was also a late scratch) on Thursday night, 119-101.

Taurean Prince and Trae Young both scored 19 points to the lead the Hawks’ scoring effort, while the Raptors were led by two career-high efforts by Pascal Siakam (33 points) and Fred VanVleet (30 points).

This really was a game of two halves, and it all started so well for the Hawks — they roared out to a 33 point first quarter, a 68 point first half and a lead as high as 17 points.

And they did it thanks behind a preposterous three-point shooting half.

The Hawks were on fire from three-point range in the first half, hitting 13 of their first 17 three-pointers and these came in a number of different ways.

Taurean Prince doesn’t need a second invitation to shoot an open shot as Danny Green tries to go for a steal, leaving Prince to hoist this three and this kickstarted Prince’s night:

There were times where the Hawks caught the Raptors off-guard heading down the floor, Vince Carter hitting this three as the trailer:

Atlanta’s ball movement was sublime at times, with the Hawks really working the ball on this possession and the result of a corner three for DeAndre’ Bembry:

A well worked basket and one of the Hawks’ 18 first half assists.

But a huge reason why the Hawks received and scored a lot of their three-point opportunities was because the Raptors played a zone (a 3-2 zone, I believe), leading to a lot of favorable looks for the Hawks.

Having big-men that can hit three-pointers was key for the Hawks when the Raptors played this type of zone, Alex Len — who did not feature in the second half — hits the three-pointer as Serge Ibaka attempts to closeout:

Of course, Alex Len isn’t the only Hawks big that can dial it up from long-range, Dewayne Dedmon also got in on the fun as he hits the corner three:

On this play, the Raptors are a little scattered in their zone and Bembry is able to drive inside, draw the attention of both Siakam and OG Anunoby and hits the open Prince for a three:

Again, Raptors play the zone, the ball swings to Kevin Huerter, who drives by Siakam before delivering a great pass to the open Prince who hits the three:

“I couldn’t have been more encouraged by how we played in the first 22 minutes, 21 minutes, in the first half- 13-for-20 from the three (point-line) and the ball was moving,” said Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce postgame. “We were shooting with confidence. They tried to play zone and we shot them out of the zone. They couldn’t match up with us in man (to man). So, very encouraged by what we saw.

“TP (Taurean Prince) did a great job in the first half just spacing the floor, and Dre’ (DeAndre’ Bembry) and Jeremy (Lin) found their guys. So, very encouraged...”

“I give them credit man,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “They came guns-a-blazin and we were not good. We couldn’t find them or locate them at all and they were knocking them all down...”

The Raptors did what they could to hang around in this one and dug themselves out from their 17-point hole and brought the gap down to just six points behind an 11-0 run before a basket from Prince gave the Hawks just an eight-point lead at the half.

“I think they obviously came out and played well in the second half,” said Pierce on the Raptors’ run to end the second quarter. “You know for us, we could feel that the game was different. Finishing that second quarter was different and for some reason we got away from how we were playing.

“I thought they (Toronto) came out and played with a different energy, they were moving the basketball. We came out and were very static, we didn’t execute, we didn’t move, we didn’t work for the shots that we wanted offensively...”

Pascal Siakam was a huge reason why the shorthanded Raptors hung around in this one, scoring 20 first half points.

He was just a force driving towards the rim, no one had answer once Siakam got any sort of steam heading down the lane.

Here, Siakam gets a head of steam and gets around John Collins with a nice step for the layup at the rim:

Siakam hit a couple of three-pointers in this game but turned down the chance to shoot one here as he attacks the lane, gets to the rim and extends for the finish:

“Lots of energy and athleticism,” said John Collins of Siakam. “Real solid handle for a tall dude and he has the ability to get in the paint and finish. Tough guy to defend, especially at the four spot. He’s having a hell of a year.”

Siakam went 6-of-8 at the rim in the first half and his 20 points in the first half were huge for the Raptors. Fred VanVleet also provided an important spark as he scored 14 first half points.

In the second half, it all fell apart for the Hawks.

The Raptors dropped the zone and the Hawks went cold from three and both of those thing proved to be a deadly combination. In fact, the Hawks only hit three threes in the second half, shooting 3-of-15 from three.

“We got up a little more on the pick-and-roll but we just got locked in,” said Nurse of the second half defense. “We were so much better in transition, which slowed them down and I thought we did a heck of a job of just keeping the ball in front of us. We limited a lot of their paint touches and when they did kick it out we were right underneath.”

The Hawks’ three-point shooting should’ve always been expected to regress after shooting 13-of-17 from three to start this game. And the Raptors knew this too.

“We put forth a little more effort and contested shots better,” said Raptors guard Fred VanVleet. “They missed some shots in the second half and when a team starts out as hot as they did you kind of figure that the law of averages will not allow that to continue. We just had to try to control the game a little more and play with a little more intensity.”

The Raptors’s intensity definitely picked up in the second half — free of the zone, they contested perimeter shots much more effectively — but they also finally began to make some outside shots themselves, hitting four threes in the third quarter and all of them felt like big three-pointers when they came.

But what really worked for the Raptors was inside scoring: the majority of the Raptors’ field goal makes in the second half came at the rim — 11 of the Raptors 21 field goals in the second half.

And a lot of it had to do with the Hawks simply not being able to keep the Raptors in front of them.

Here, Danny Green is able to skip by Omari Spellman and gets to the rim for the basket:

Vince Carter could’ve possibly helped a little bit on the play but he passed Jerry West for 25th on the All-Time scoring list during this game, so...

Fred VanVleet was able to get some work done on Jeremy Lin in the second half, driving by Lin not once:

But twice:

The Raptors scored 22 fastbreak points in this game compared to the Hawks’ 12, this Siakam dunk coming off of a Hawks turnover:

“With a good team like that, we knew they were gonna change some stuff coming out in the second half, defensively and offensively,” said John Collins. “Definitely changed up the game plan and the way they were attacking. I think we definitely took our feet off the pedal a little bit and let them come back into the game. Tough game.”

Not only did the Hawks’ offense dry up in the second half (they settled for a lot of shots last night) but they missed a ton of opportunities at the free throw line — shooting 13-of-25 from the free throw line. The Raptors ended up making 26 free throws from their 33 free throws — a large disparity between the two sides.

The Raptors ended up running away from the Hawks in the end, turning a 17-point deficit into an 18-point victory, outscoring the Hawks 59-33 in the second half.

For the Hawks, it was a tale of two halves.

After scoring 68 points in the first half, the Hawks could only match their total number of points from the first quarter in the second — 33 points. After hitting 13 threes in the first half, they only hit three in the second half, they dished out 18 assists in the first half and just seven in the second, committing five turnovers in the first half to committing 12 turnovers in the second half — all in all, just a rough game to drop given the Raptors’ situation.

“A tale of two halves,” said Lloyd Pierce in his postgame comments. “We had a good first half and then the last two minutes and 43 seconds of the second quarter pretty much summed up what happened in the second half. I thought we lost our way. We were up 17 with two minutes and 43 seconds left. There was a lot of one-on-one basketball and we missed a lot of execution.

“We came out after the half and played a different style of basketball. So it’s disappointing to not take advantage of going 13-for-20 in the first half (from three) and only having five turnovers and becoming a different team in the second half. We will learn from it; they’re a good team (Toronto Raptors) and even without Kawhi (Leonard) they’ve played well all year. You saw a lot of their guys find their rhythm and confidence and really take over the game in the second half.”

After coming back from a seven-game road-trip, generally speaking, the first game at home is usually a tough one and losses are common for the home team but Pierce dismissed any notion that the loss and the road-trip were connected.

“It’s nothing to do with the road-trip,” said Pierce. “We’ve been back (in Atlanta) and settled for a while. It’s finished. We’ve talked about ‘finish’ for a long time. For us to have a 17-point, double digit lead in the first half — the really good teams, they don’t let you come back ... we’re home and we should’ve played better and we just didn’t.”

A disappointing loss after things had started so well for the Hawks, Pierce was definitely disappointed his side didn’t take advantage of the team’s incredible shooting half and low turnover half.

The Hawks scored just 32 of their 109 point in the paint and did not shoot the ball well at the rim.

The Hawks shot 45% from the field on the game but their misses when they did get opportunities at the rim, coupled with the free throws issues, really hurt them in this one.

The Hawks (18-36) are back in action on Saturday against the Charlotte Hornets as the homestand continues.

Should be fun.

Until next time...