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Hawks unable to hold fourth quarter lead in loss to Wizards

Not a great loss...

Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks arrived into the nation’s capital for the first time this season to take on their division rivals, the Washington Wizards, on Friday but despite the hosts missing Bradley Beal the Hawks could not emerge with a victory, falling 111-101.

Trae Young led the Hawks in scoring with 19 points while Kevin Huerter — despite his foul trouble for the majority of the second half — added 16 points.

For the Washington Wizards, Jordan McRae scored 29 points, Troy Brown Jr. added 18 points.

Alright, let’s get into this one...

Missed chance on the road

The Hawks were actually favored heading into this game after Bradley Beal was ruled out of action with injury. Beal isn’t the only Wizard absent on Friday night — Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, C.J. Miles, Moritz Wagner and, of course, John Wall all missed this one.

So, it probably should have come as no surprise that the Hawks were leading this game and they had responded well to overcome an early 15 point deficit, but the Wizards finished the third quarter on a strong note to take a slender lead into the fourth quarter.

The Hawks responded, taking a six point lead (their biggest lead of the night) mostly after the good work of Brandon Goodwin (who scored 12 points in the final quarter and got some run in crunch time). Thereon after, however, things... did not go well for the Hawks as the Wizards made a decisive 24-8 run before the final buzzer.

Ish Smith was the Wizard who had it going for a stretch to help cut this Hawks lead in the fourth quarter — here, weaves his way through into the paint using the screen before lifting a difficult shot over John Collins and into the net:

After McRae turns De’Andre Hunter over, the Wizards come in the other direction with Smith, who is able to take advantage of Hunter guarding and crosses the rookie before scoring:

Smith continues his run as he spins by Young and scores the reverse layup:

After Ish Smith had erased the Hawks’ lead, next it was the turn of Jordan McRae and Ian Mahinmi to step up, and it was mostly these two that damaged the Hawks from here on out.

McRae continues Washington’s upturn by driving by Kevin Huerter to the rim — Huerter playing with five fouls and obviously not wanting to pick up his sixth:

We’ll talk about it in a little more detail later, but the Wizards killed the Hawks on the offensive glass and in second chance scoring. Again, Huerter is reluctant to get too involved on this McRae drive, the layup from McRae is missed but is cleaned up by Mahinmi:

Sadly, this was a theme in the final quarter as Huerter allows Ish Smith to drive by a little too easily, forces Len to have to rotate and challenge and this allows Smith to just dump it off to Mahinmi for the dunk:

After Jordan McRae hit a contested three over Brandon Goodwin, he gets the better of De’Andre Hunter on this drive to the rim to put the Wizards up by seven points with under two minutes to go:

And for the straw that broke the camel’s back... the Hawks double Ish Smith near half-court, the Wizards move the ball, it finds Davis Bertans in the corner, Hunter closes out well but makes the crucial error on biting on Bertans’ fake, leaving Bertans an open shot from the corner to complete a 24-8 run to seal this game:

Huerter isn’t a terrible defender but when you’re trying to avoid a sixth foul, things become a little trickier. The Wizards did well to exploit that and, unfortunately for the Hawks, Huerter found himself at the heart of a number of Washington’s baskets in the fourth quarter.

It’s unfortunate for Huerter, who was rolling in this game, scoring 13 points in the first half on 5-of-8 shooting. With the timing of Huerter’s fouls — his 4th coming early in the third quarter and his 5th coming very early in the fourth quarter — he only played six minutes in the second half, which obviously hurt the Hawks offensively and then defensively as we’ve looked at, not wanting to pick up that sixth foul.

But alas, that’s how things changed for the Wizards offensively/Atlanta defensively...what about for the Hawks on the offensive end during that stretch? What went wrong?

Clearly, the Hawks started the fourth quarter well offensively in order to take that six point lead but things went south quickly after that.

Let’s be honest, this was arguably Young’s worst performance of the season — 7-of-20 from the field and 0-of-7 from three but some of Young’s shot selection in the fourth quarter left something to be desired.

At this stage of the game, Smith has gone on his run and the Hawks hold a slender lead. On this possession, Young hoists a contested three-pointer attempt which misses:

I’m not huge on possessions where no one else touches the ball only for a poor shot to be hoisted — that’s what this is. No one else touches the ball for 10/11 seconds of this possession and the end result is a contested three-pointer. Yes, Young can make them, but it’s not an optimal shot.

Young takes it inside on this possession but is unable to convert, and neither is Alex Len on the follow:

Huerter has sometimes been guilty of not being aggressive at times, but he shows aggression here as he takes the pull-up three-pointer which misses:

Now, this isn’t a great shot — it’s contested and there’s still plenty of time left on the clock — but for Huerter it’s progress of a sort.

Hunter is next as the Hawks continue their tough scoring stretch but a rookie drive here from Hunter into traffic is missed. He probably got what he deserved on this possession as the ball goes out off of Hunter and gives possession back to the Wizards:

Blink and you might miss this one because it happens very quickly — the Wizards score and Young immediately heads down the floor and hoists a contested three:

This is just an awful shot, even if it is somewhat explainable by time and score. You need to score (and quickly) because now the Wizards have turned a six point deficit into a seven point lead. So you need to run a play or something, because now the lead is getting dangerously large for the amount of time remaining. One of the worst things you could do is to miss the shot Young attempts here — a contested shot inside the first three seconds of the shot clock with no screening action and no one else touching the ball or being involved in the play.

Cam Reddish — who enjoyed a good game last night — is next to have a crack, coming off of the Len screen and he settles into a mid-range shot, which misses:

It didn’t go in, but that’s a much higher quality shot from the Hawks, even if it was Reddish shooting a jump shot. A decent screen from Len to free Reddish up and, look, I’m not always huge on Reddish’s jump shot but he was playing well on Friday, there’s nothing wrong with that shot.

Time is running out for the Hawks now, and their case isn’t helped as this 30-footer from Young misses everything:

Young was searching for a foul here but, yeah... when it’s not called, it looks poor.

And to wrap it up before that Bertans three, Goodwin works himself into a three-pointer but it misses badly and... there’s your game for the Atlanta Hawks:

This was a bad loss for the Hawks and there is no other way to put that. Having taken a six point lead in the fourth, poor shot selection really affected the outcome of this game, in conjunction with how easily the Wizards were able to score at times down the stretch.

It was the shot selection, among other things, that displeased Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce.

“We took some bad shots,” said Pierce postgame of the fourth quarter via Fox Sports Southeast. “We took some shots that we didn’t need to. We stopped setting screens. We stopped rolling. We tried to find the home runs and the easy way out. This wasn’t one of those games where you could take the easy way out.”

“Ish Smith goes coast-to-coast because he wanted something a little more than our guys did tonight,” Pierce continued. “You have to turn it up in the fourth quarter defensively, you have to get every 50-50 ball and you have to continue to put pressure at the rim...Jordan McRae got going and he wanted the ball in his hands. Ish Smith gets going and he’s going coast-to-coast, attacking us because we didn’t have our first three steps to get back in transition. So many different layers of competition that we lacked tonight.”

From the clips we’ve looked at, you can see literally what Pierce described: lack of screens, home run plays... The Hawks got away from themselves.

During the opening phase of the first quarter, it looked as though the Hawks could’ve found something in the Young-Collins pick-and-roll, particularly for Collins as he was able to get in behind the defense.

Here’s an example:

Granted, he missed this alley-oop, but this kind of opportunity was there all game for the Hawks if they wanted to go and find it. They didn’t seek it as much as perhaps they should have. Collins himself seemed to be underused (only playing 27 minutes in this game) and he should probably have more than six shot attempts in the first half in this spot.

This should’ve been a spot where Collins thrived offensively — and the Hawks didn’t go back to this Young-Collins pick-and-roll action as frequently as they did the first quarter. At the very least, they certainly didn’t exploit it as much as they could have. Some of that has to fall on Young to initiate and I think as the coach some of it falls on Pierce to call for it — either way, it should’ve happened more than it did.

When Pierce says the Hawks got away from their screening in this game in the fourth quarter, I think this is part of it.

Speaking of Collins, a lot was made of a stretch in the fourth quarter where Collins sat on the bench. Postgame, Pierce revealed Collins needed a breather rather than battling an injury (though he did have a bit of a fall in the third quarter and was a little sluggish getting back on the immediate possession but was fine to continue).

“He was tired,” said Pierce of Collins. “Ish Smith is going coast-to-coast. Ish is fast. We talked about it pregame: you can’t take a break when he’s going coast to coast. Ish has two back-to-back layups and we don’t have anyone who is getting back. That’s fatigue. That’s why you sub. When you compete you should play to exhaustion. Trying to keep bodies on the floor who aren’t giving you 100 percent is tough. It wasn’t that he wasn’t giving 100 percent, he played to exhaustion, so you got to get him out.”

With how much Pierce talked about competing and the Hawks doing a lack of it, perhaps this was just Pierce’s way of saying Collins competed and that no one else did? Perhaps, perhaps not, but I think Pierce definitely wanted to send some messages with his postgame comments.

I thought Collins played well in this game — despite the missed opportunity offensively — as he continued to rack the blocks up from the starting center spot: tying a career-high with another four blocks last night, as well as adding 15 points on just 12 shots for the game (he should be taking more) and 15 rebounds.

Regardless, Collins not being in the game for a stretch wasn’t what doomed the Hawks in the fourth quarter.

We’ve already talked about shot selection dooming the Hawks but — and these are notes for the game itself more so than the fourth quarter — the Wizards also crushed the Hawks on the offensive glass. Washington grabbed 19 offensive rebounds which partly resulted in the Wizards attempting 23 more shots than the Hawks. Oh, and 29 second chance points.

“Competing. That’s 50-50 balls. It’s effort,” said Pierce postgame of the offensive rebounding. “They wanted it a little bit more. They had 23 more shots than us, they wanted it a little bit more. It’s inexcusable. It’s something that we went into halftime — they had 17 more shots than us at halftime, and it’s a five point game. They shot 36% for the game. All of those game points to...those are the games you’re supposed to win except for the effort department. When you lack the competitive spirit that we had tonight for some reason, you’re going to have 19 offensive rebounds given up and you’re going to have 29 second chance points given up.”

“The lack of focus, we go 12-for-24 from the free throw line,” Pierce continued. “That’s competitive: you’re not making your free throws, you’re giving up offensive rebounds, guys are attacking you in the paint, you’re settling in the fourth quarter and taking easy shots. That’s the competitive spirit. We’ve talked about the fourth quarter for a while but that’s where you have to be more in tune, more locked in, more aggressive. Brandon gets going, we bring in some other guys, they have to bring the juice — that’s why we’re resting guys. Whether it’s our starters that are coming back in or our reserves coming back in, we’re bringing guys in because we need fresh energy. But that’s disappointing.”

12-of-24 from the free throw line is tough. Pierce mentioned at another stage in his postgame interview that the Hawks shouldn’t have been 15 points down and that they shouldn’t have had to bounce back from that. Arguably, they should’ve been 15 points up, and maybe they could’ve been close to that had they made their free throws.

It’s tough when you’re in the fourth quarter, you take the six point lead but you should probably already be ahead by double digits but aren’t because you didn’t make your free throws earlier in the game, and then the Wizards come back and win.

It’s not as though the Wizards played well themselves — they also missed 11 free throws and they shot 37.5% from the field. They certainly helped themselves by only committing nine turnovers on the game (and just four in the second half) but the home team did not play overly well, and the Hawks still lost by double digits.

This was a very winnable game for the Hawks and one they probably should’ve won. Outside of the fourth quarter, it was a sloppy game from both sides and the Hawks did not play well.

Pierce couldn’t hide his disappointment postgame.

“Didn’t compete tonight,” opened Pierce postgame. “We were sloppy from the beginning. In a game where we ended up with 62 points in the paint, we knew we could get whatever we wanted. We got whatever we wanted and didn’t have the focus, didn’t have the competitiveness that we needed. We didn’t compete tonight, and it’s frustrating.”

“...whoever wanted to compete was going to get what they wanted in this game tonight,” Pierce went on to say. “We just didn’t have that approach all game.”

Goodwin scored 12 points in the final quarter. No other Hawk scored more than four points in the final period — that’s not going to get it done. It’s unfair to ask Goodwin to be that player, to expect him to make shots down the stretch. He has provided a huge lift for the Hawks as a competent backup point guard and he’s a huge reason why the Hawks were able to hang around when Young was on the bench in the first half and obviously when they took that six point lead in the final quarter.

He and Reddish (and the shot-blocking from Collins, to be fair) can be seen as positives from this game but other than that, this was a poor loss from the Hawks against a banged up Wizards team.

“Nothing about these guys is surprising,” said Pierce of the Wizards. “We said this team is undermanned and everybody that is playing that has an opportunity is playing hard. They don’t care that they’re undermanned. They’ve beaten some good teams, Denver and Boston. Nothing was a surprise...”

The Hawks (8-31) are back in action on Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center, as the Hawks will try to avoid a fourth successive loss.

Until next time...