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Ugly start sinks Hawks in road loss to Nets

The offense struggled without the injured Trae Young.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Brooklyn Nets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The outlook for the Sunday evening match-up between the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets changed significantly in the 24 hours leading up to tip-off. Atlanta would have to play without their second year phenom point guard Trae Young. Brooklyn would see the return of their star lead guard, Kyrie Irving, who had not played since Nov. 14.

Hawks fans hoping to see their team pull out a rare win could only probably hope that Irving would be rusty returning from a lengthy absence, but that would not be the case. En route to a 108-86 Brooklyn victory over Atlanta, Irving converted on 10 of his 11 field goal attempts, including his only three-point attempt, and led all scorers with 21 points in just 19 minutes of game action.

Spencer Dinwiddie was elevated to a starting point guard role while Irving was out due to a shoulder injury. In this game, Nets coach (and former Hawks assistant) Kenny Atkinson opted to leave him in the starting lineup to roll out, effectively, a two point guard lineup.

With Atlanta missing the services of Young, the disparity in offensive creation between the two teams was obvious from the opening minutes of the game. Brooklyn led by a score of 25-10 with the less than three minutes remaining in the first quarter and the game was basically never competitive from that point.

Brandon Goodwin (on a two-way contract) had been on a string of solid games playing as the back up point guard of recent but being thrust into the starting lineup was a lot to ask of him especially in light of Irving’s return. He was just one of numerous Hawks’ players to struggle to connect on perimeter shots.

The final score is actually a bit misleading in terms of how competitive the game was. Atlanta is last in the league in three point percentage. Still, a 12 for 48 performance from the arc was below expectations.

It’s unusual to see a team take 20 more field goal attempts and 22 more three point attempts in a game and put up so few points that the game is never competitive after the opening minutes. But, well, that’s what happened in Brooklyn on Saturday evening.

The Hawks managed to force 26 Nets turnovers on their way to such a massive a shot attempt disparity. However, the visitors lacked sufficient play making skills to turn those opportunities into high percentage looks.

Cam Reddish was the only starter to reach double digits in the scoring column for the Hawks. He had one of his better performances of the season with 22 points, a career-high five steals and two assists. He was just 2 of 10 on two-point attempts, but Reddish converted four of his six three point attempts and all of his four free throw attempts.

Reddish continues to show flashes of defensive play making, especially as an on ball defender. He was disruptive defending at the point of attack but, like his teammates, struggled to stress the Brooklyn defense on the other end of the court.

John Collins, Kevin Huerter and Goodwin each posted eight points. Collectively, they were 6 of 33 from the field and 3 of 18 on three-point attempts. Huerter had five rebounds and five assists. Collins managed five rebounds and three assists.

Vince Carter, playing in his final game in Brooklyn, had eight points on six shooting possessions. Also in reserve play, DeAndre’ Bembry had 12 points, four steals, three rebounds and three steals in his most effective game in several weeks. Alex Len, typically the Hawks most productive center, had ten points and four rebounds.

Lloyd Pierce decided to start John Collins at the five again in this game alongside Hunter, Reddish, Huerter and Goodwin. Collins would split his time between the center and power forward positions. Atlanta struggled to maintain connectivity on defense and the result was Brooklyn shooting (unofficially) 20 for 24 inside the restricted area. The Nets, by way of their aggressiveness, also ended up with a 29-11 advantage in free throw attempts.

The Hawks’ coaching staff is usually pleased to see the team generate 40+ three point attempts. But if the way they accomplish such is to manage just 18 attempts at the rim (converting 12 of them), that’s not going to be viewed as a sustainable way to do so in a manner that leads to wins.

Both entered play as top six teams in the league in generating points in the paint. Brooklyn rode their edge in offensive play making and interior defense to outscore Atlanta 50-36 in the lane.

“They were good,” Pierce said of the victors after the game. “They fed off of Kyrie being back and had some great momentum in that first quarter. We were stuck in sand, stuck in cement, just trying to move and just late to everything with everybody.”

“The double threat of the guys that they have out there in Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyrie and an ability to make plays for themselves.” Pierce continued. “I thought we had a couple of good looks that didn’t go down early. You dig a hole and you just don’t have any pop… we didn’t have any pop in terms of creating good shots and knocking those down. We had a couple of those early and they just didn’t go down for us.”

For Brooklyn, Dinwiddie saw his shot volume (seven field goal attempts) decrease with the return of Irving. It was the first time he had generated fewer than 10 attempts since before Irving went down with an injury. He had just seven points but managed eight assists. The compatibility of the two might be an interesting things to keep an eye on as the Nets look to move up in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Nets make themselves a tough cover by deploying excellent perimeter shooters in the form of Joe Harris and, former Hawks wing man, Taurean Prince. Harris had 11 points and Prince 14 points operating primarily off of the basketball.

Starting center Jarrett Allen had 10 points and 12 rebounds. Reserve big man De’Andre Jordan had 13 points and 8 rebounds. Despite the focus upon Irving and Dinwiddie, it was the activity and physical presence of the two Brooklyn bigs that the Hawks’ just as much to match.

“If there is anything you look at (positively) it’s a good spark for him (Reddish),” Pierce responded when asked about potential positives to take from the loss. “I think he made four threes tonight, to see him knock a couple of those threes in, to be aggressive.”

“We wanted to try to build on that as much as we can,” Pierce said further about the play of the rookie. “We run the first play for him right out of half time and he gets to the free throw line. He was the one guy that had a little momentum going and we tried to use it.”

It felt like just one of too many lopsided, non-competitive losses for the young Hawks on the season. But, it was the second half of last season (this was game 40 of 82) in which the team played solid basketball with increased consistency and, it must be noted, a key to that was the reliable presence of Young, Huerter and Collins in the starting lineup. They have now just appeared in ten games this season.

Let’s take a look some of the action.

On the Nets’ first offensive possession of the game, they ultimately look to run a side pick and roll with Irving and Jarrett Allen. Note that the read here for Atlanta was pretty straight forward. They contain the ball by “icing” the action... Collins jumps into the path of the ball handler before returning to cut off Allen’s movement toward the rim.

It’s not bad defensive execution for the Hawks despite the result. Allen connects on a low percentage attempt and draws the borderline foul call.

One drawback of starting Collins at center is that he, as a primary offensive contributor, has to make tough decisions on defense especially when physical play is required. When he has to leave the game early due to foul trouble, such as when he serves as the primary rim protector, it leaves the Atlanta offense diminished.

Just a couple of possessions later, the Nets run a set they use often for Prince and Harris. The shooter. Prince in this case, cuts toward the top of the key off of successive screens.

As Hunter follows his man over the screens, as to defend the three point line, Prince rolls toward the rim and receives a pass from Dinwiddie.

Having already collected one foul, Collins is careful in how aggressively he steps up to help at the rim. Prince converts the lay up for a score.

On this possession, we see the Hawks struggle to execute defensive assignments.

Irving and Allen are executing high pick and roll action. The lesser shooter, Dinwiddie, is in the strong side corner occupying Reddish.

On the weak side, the two Brooklyn shooters set up to provide spacing... Harris in the corner and Prince at the three point break.

Typically, the defender in the weak side corner would be expected to help on Allen by “tagging the roller.”

In this case, though, it looks like the Hawks’ defensive game plan for this set is to not help of off Harris, one of the very best three point shooters in the game.

It appears Hunter is expected, instead, to help off of Prince, which he tries to do but is slow in his execution and late with his help.

On this possession nearing the midpoint in the first quarter, we see perhaps the first indication that Reddish will play on offense with confidence and aggressiveness. He attacks before Brooklyn can get five defenders back and finishes over Allen with a dunk.

Throughout the game, Atkinson deployed zone defense schemes in an attempt defend Atlanta ATOs (after timeout plays).

On this possession, it appears the action should work through Hunter on the left wing with a likely screen to eventually come from Collins.

The zone defense renders offensive screens useless. But Huerter works the ball back to the confident Reddish who knocks down the three point attempt.

Here we see impact plays from Reddish on both ends of the court. His defense at the point of attack creates a turnover. He eventually receives a pass at the three point line from Collins.

After being chased off of the three point line by Caris LeVert, Reddish sees Huerter sprinting toward the opposite corner with his hands raised. Reddish improvises “hammer” like action and hits Huerter in the right corner for the uncontested attempt from the short corner.

The action from there was largely the same. The Hawks struggled to get organized on defense. Reddish made nice plays now and then. The Nets dominated near the rim on both ends of the court. And Atlanta struggled to make shots.

Up Next

The Hawks will host the Phoenix Suns at 7:30 pm ET on Tuesday evening. They will be looking to even the season series after losing in Phoenix by double figures on Nov. 14.