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Hawks knock off Grizzlies with offensive clinic

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The Hawks obliterated the league’s best defense since the All-Star Break on Wednesday night,

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks knocked off the in-form Memphis Grizzlies behind one of their best offensive performances of the season, triumphing 132-111 at State Farm Arena on Wednesday night.

John Collins was one of three Hawks to score 20 or more points (and one of six Hawks to crack double-digits), scoring 27 points while grabbing 12 rebounds. Trae Young added 22 points while Alex Len added 20 points off of the bench.

For the Grizzlies, C.J. Miles hit eight three-pointers and scored a game-high 33 points while recent Western Conference Player of the Week winner Mike Conley scored 20 points.

With the Hawks having not played since Sunday and enjoying some time off at home, they were ready for this game against a Memphis side that has won four of its last five games and also hadn’t played since Sunday. However, it was the Hawks who showed the most energy (by far) to start this game — their intent was clear from the get-go as the two teams looked poles apart from the first whistle.

The Grizzlies — on multiple occasions in the first half — made a few little runs to cut the deficit to 5/6 points whenever the game looked like it was going to get away from them, C.J. Miles’ six three-pointers and 20 points the only reason they were hanging around in this game.

The Grizzlies cut the Hawks’ lead to five points with 2:19 left in the first half after Miles’ sixth three-pointer and the Hawks responded with a 7-2 run to re-establish their double-digit lead, taking a 12 point lead into the break.

Alex Len got that run started after Vince Carter’s miss results in a scramble for the rebound which Len wins before sticking back the second chance opportunity:

Taurean Prince had a strong end to to quarter, stepping into the mid-range after the Len screen:

Alex Len again came to the fore as his screen gives Prince exactly the separation needed to pull the trigger from behind the arc:

(Blame for the quality on this one)

With this 12-point lead heading into the second half, the Hawks were just one run away from putting the Grizzlies in a very difficult predicament and an uphill battle, and that’s what ended up happening as the Hawks opened the third quarter with an 8-2 run to stretch the lead to 18 points, that run including this deep Trae Young pull-up three after the steal:

The Grizzlies’ early timeout didn’t seem to do a lot for them, as soon after that the Hawks ran out to a 20+ point lead and never looked back for the majority of the second half — their work was done after their 38 point third quarter.

The majority of the fourth quarter ended was, effectively garbage time and nothing major really happened in the final period — the Hawks just brought it home in a mature way.

While the fourth quarter was a little short on action/highlights, this game as a whole certainly wasn’t.

The Hawks had a number of highlight plays, none more so than this alley-oop from mid-court from the hands of Trae Young to John Collins:

Collins — who was great last night, his activity on the offensive glass was really an illustration of the difference between the two sides in terms of energy and effort — also had this crazy play where he was almost blocked by Jonas Valanciunas (who gets a hand on the ball) but retains the ball and, while hanging in the air, reverses the ball in regardless:

The Hawks played like a side that had been off for a few days and enjoyed their time off, and enjoyed themselves back on the court in what was a very mature victory for this young side against a Grizzlies side that has been in-form — favored to win this one — and tough to break down defensively, but you would’ve never known that heading into last night’s game.

The Memphis Grizzlies entered this game fifth in defensive rating for the season and first in the NBA in defensive rating post All-Star, and the Hawks sliced through them like a hot knife through butter.

The Hawks got close to season-highs in a couple of different areas and finished with 132 points on 50% shooting from the field, 37% from three (hitting 17 of them), tallied 35 assists with just 12 turnovers (!!), out-rebounded the Grizzlies 51-35 (including 15 offensive rebounds), came up with nine steals and nine blocks.

The crowd was a sparse one at State Farm Arena but those in attendance got to see a much better game than many would’ve anticipated on a Wednesday night. It was an unexpected performance in the eyes of many, including Hawks head coach, Lloyd Pierce.

“I didn’t really see that one coming,” opened Pierce postgame. “I thought Memphis had been playing really good basketball the last week or two. Mike Conley, player of the week. New group, competitive tough group. I thought our guys just took the challenge and responded well...”

Pierce, as you could imagine, was delighted with the Hawks’ ball movement and lack of turnovers, expressing his delight in how the Hawks have taken care of the basketball recently.

“35 assists, 12 turnovers… we’ve been trying to preach that all year, turnovers have been a big issue all year for us,” continued Pierce. “The last two weeks have been great. We’ve been great at taking care of the basketball. The ball movement was special tonight. It’s a full 48 minutes of good performance from our guys tonight.”

Pierce referenced a play in his postgame comments — and, were it not for Collins’ oop from Young, would’ve been the play of the night — and it was this play where Vince Carter gives up a corner three to find Len for a dunk at the rim:

“That’s what we want,” said Pierce when referencing the play. “We want our players to feel empowered by the ball movement and sharing the basketball. He (Carter) passed up a great shot and got a better one at the rim. Everyone feels good when you do that. 35 assists means there’s a lot of guys moving and sharing the basketball and a lot of guys are moving and benefitting from that, and it’s easy and fun to play that way.”

The Hawks’ 35 assists were impressive but their turnovers I thought were more impressive — just 12 turnovers on this game, one of those coming right at the end of the game in order to eat the shot clock violation.

The Hawks have cut down on their turnovers since the break, averaging just 14 turnovers per game — and I say ‘just’ because that’s a very good number for this Hawks side seeing as they still lead the league in turnovers per game by a comfortable margin.

“It’s everything for us,” said Pierce on the turnovers. “We try and look at our offensive numbers on the year and we see us at the bottom 10 and I don’t think we’re a bottom-10 offense. I think we’re a bottom 10-offense because we turn the ball over too much. When we don’t turn the ball over, we definitely can be a top-10 offense, just with ball movement, just with the ability to have 5 and 4-men shoot the three, we get up 45 threes a game. When we’re not turning the ball over, we’re taking those shots away — shots at the rim, shots at the free throw line and threes obviously.

“When we don’t turn the ball over, we’re able to shoot 45 threes, when we’re able to shoot 40-plus threes we’re able to make 17 or 20 and have those types of nights. That’s been our Achilles heel all year — we turn the basketball over a lot, it keeps us from running, keeps us from getting good shots, we have shooters all over the floor. I thought our guys have been great the last six, seven games of not turning the basketball over and that’s why our offense over this nine game stretch has been the best it has been all year.”

Since the All-Star break, the Hawks rank 17th in turnovers per game and rank 3rd in the league in offensive rating — so you can see what Pierce means when he says if the Hawks take care of the ball more, there’s a higher ceiling for them to hit.

Pierce also mentioned that turnovers keep the Hawks from running, and running was a big feature of this game last night — more specifically, fast break points.

The Hawks outscored the Grizzlies 31-8 in fast break scoring and this was a running (no pun intended) theme from start to finish, and by design.

“We thought if we had to play a half-court game against Memphis, we’d be in trouble,” said Pierce on the quick play. “We had 20 fast-break points at the break, and that was key. We were defending, we were getting stops, and we were able to run. A lot of them were just in that early portion of the shot clock, and the ball was moving. We were rewarding guys because of our defense. No one player stood out. I just thought our group and our team effort, starting with the defensive end, was really key for us tonight.”

“...We were playing really well in transition,” said guard Kevin Huerter. “We were playing fast, which is how we want to, and we knocked down shots to start the game.”

It was a clash of fast vs. slow as the top-and-tail of the NBA’s pace met, with the quicker team emerging on top — the Hawks.

Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff praised the Hawks postgame but said the performance from his, basically, new Grizzlies side since the trade deadline ‘wasn’t normal.’

“Give the Hawks a ton of credit for the way they played,” opened Bickerstaff postgame. “We made a couple of runs early and cut it down to five or four, but we didn’t play well tonight. This group hasn’t had a night like this before. Most of the games, whether win or loss, we have been in and we have been competitive. So this is not the norm for us, but give the Hawks a ton of credit. We have been good defensively, so it’s not like it’s something that is normal. Again, some nights you have these nights, you just can’t repeat it. This group since the trade deadline, if you look at the numbers, defensively we have been really good.”

“On a night like tonight, we just didn’t have it,” Bickerstaff went on to say. “There is no rhyme or reason for it. Again I’m not taking away from anything that the Hawks did. They did a great job moving the ball, they did a great job of playing with space, and they knocked down shots when they had them...”

“...Tonight we just laid an egg. Plain and simple.”

I think that one quote describes the Grizzlies in a nutshell last night — from start to finish, they looked a step behind. It was a wire-to-wire loss after all...

And, really, it was the starters who let the Grizzlies down.

Their starting lineup of Conley, Avery Bradley, Ivan Rabb, Justin Holiday and Jonas Valanciunas combined for a total plus/minus rating of minus+109. For reference, the Hawks’ plus/minus for their starting five was plus-135 — every Hawk starter was at least plus-21, Kevin Huerter the highest of the lot with plus-35.

The Grizzlies’ bench played very well and, generally speaking, played much better than the Hawks’ bench — scoring 68 points to the Hawks’ 46 and, despite the blowout, quite a number of the Grizzlies’ bench were positive when it came to plus/minus.

Their bench played well — Joakim Noah came in and contributed when the Grizzlies were down early, Delon Wright struggled shooting at times but had seven assists (and is just a quality young player) and obviously C.J. Miles went off.

Atlanta’s bench had a tougher time of things. Vince Carter had some decent moments but Kent Bazemore struggled again last night as he went scoreless on 0-of-6 shooting.

Since the break, Bazemore is averaging 10 points per game on 32% shooting from the field and from three-point range.

Only Alex Len was positive in plus/minus for the Hawks off of the bench, and he was only plus-1 despite scoring 20 points.

Plus/minus is a very subjective, contextual stat and one that you, kind of, need to read between the lines at times (you can play poorly and still have a positive plus/minus, and visa-versa) but I think, in this case, it was very indicative of the difference between the two starting lineups last night.

The Hawks (24-45) aren’t back in action until Saturday, when they take on the Boston Celtics in an afternoon tip at the TD Garden in Boston.

Should be fun, and even more national eyes will be on Trae Young, given the matchup against Kyrie Irving... and it’s the Celtics.

A great opportunity for the young Hawks to further showcase themselves to the league.

Until next time...