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Flat performance sinks Hawks in blowout loss to Pistons

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe this was as much of a schedule loss as the Atlanta Hawks have had coming all season. And maybe that should have been obvious. After all, the Hawks secured an emotional win in San Antonio on Friday evening and a win like that can leave a team flat for their next game, even if no one wants that to be the case.

Add to it that Atlanta was playing on the second night of back to back games. They had gone just 1-7 in like games prior to Saturday’s eventual 136-103 loss to the Pistons. This was their 6th consecutive time that the second of the back to back games came after a night of travel.

As much as the young team would have liked to extended the modest winning streak, they would have had to overcome a lot to make that happen.

The Pistons throw a lot of size and length at their opponents, and that starts with their starting center Andre Drummond. The name might ring a bell.

The Hawks have been playing without their biggest center, Alex Len, for a number of games now. Sometimes starter, sometimes reserve rookie big man Bruno Fernando played in just his second game after a brief absence for personal reasons. So, the Atlanta coaching staff decided to start John Collins at the five again in this game.

A strategy like this can work… playing several players up a position against a team that mostly presents big, traditional lineups. But to have success, things are going to have to work out pretty well on the offensive end.

Why? An undersized defense has a chance against a bigger opponent if it has enough opportunities to get set… and that generally means making baskets. If the shots don’t fall on the offensive end, and they did not in this contest, the game can come off the rails quickly. And this one did.

Through the first three quarters (the fourth quarter was almost completely irrelevant), Atlanta shot just 40% from the field (30-75) and 28.6% from the three-point line (8-28).

After getting a stellar offensive performance from their starting back court and wings on Friday night, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter (who hit the game winner in San Antonio) combined to go 7 for 23 from the floor and just 2 of 9 from long distance. Reddish also struggled in this one.

Hunter had a solid game shooting the ball but was mostly able to find opportunities to seek his own shot… not in a selfish manner. He was just not able to find a way to unlock anything for his teammates in any meaningful way.

“We’ve struggled on back-to-backs,” said Atlanta head coach Lloyd Pierce. “That’s not an excuse, it’s just the reality.”

“They didn’t feel us in the first half. They didn’t feel us all game actually,” Pierce added. “And that was the biggest issue, just kind of chasing them all night.”

For the Pistons, Derrick Rose played so well that it made you wonder if the former MVP has played in his last All-Star game. He had 27 points (in 26 minutes of action) on just 18 shooting possessions. He added nine assists and turned the ball over just one time.

Prior to taking leadership in Detroit last season, Pistons head coach Dwane Casey oversaw one of the more effective offenses in the league in Toronto during the previous seven seasons. It was there that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry used the offensive scheme installed by Casey to relentlessly attack from specific angles that make it uniquely hard for a defense to bring help to the rim to deter solid shots after dribble penetration.

In this contest, it appeared as if there was nothing Atlanta could do to keep Rose away from those angles and from getting to “his spots” at will. Help at the rim, when the Hawks would commit to getting it there, left the middle of the paint wide open for pocket passes to Pistons big men or offensive boards to whichever players had started away from the point of attack.

Drummond, personally, had seven offensive boards that he used to generate 16 points. The Detroit starting unit needed very little help in the scoring department from their other starters (Tony Snell, Sekou Doumbouya and Bruce Brown) who connected on just five of their 14 field goal attempts.

The second unit of the visiting team just ran the respective Hawks’ lineups right out of the arena. It was not the result of a single player picking up from where Rose left off when he went to the bench. They got the ball into the paint at will and created a seemingly endless number of good shots at the rim and the three-point line.

They generated a whopping 76 points on 46 shooting possessions that included shooting performances of 27 for 40 (67.5%) on field goal attempts and 12 of 23 (52.1%) from the arc.

The play of Hunter was a rare bright spot for Atlanta in this game. There are no moral victories to be had. But when a team is playing rookies, of which the franchise is heavily invested, their play is noteworthy (good or bad) almost irrespective of the team result on any given night.

He had 19 points, five rebounds, three assists and no turnovers. He was especially effective working out of his own dribble penetration.

Collins stuffed the offensive stat sheet, in ways good and otherwise. He had 20 points on 17 shooting possessions including connecting on two of his four attempts from beyond the three-point line. But he struggled to defend without fouling (five fouls) and had five turnovers.

Jeff Teague did not disappoint in his first game back in an Atlanta uniform. He had 15 points on 10 shooting possessions. He added seven assists but was charged with five turnovers.

The Atlanta defense was not good in an of itself in this game, and the shooting woes on offense made the challenge on the other end of the court just that much harder to overcome.

“We gave up way too many transition points,” said Young regarding how the offense did not help the defense. “A lot of it was on me, getting floaters and just not making floaters or not making the right pass, them getting steals and them getting long rebounds and getting out in transition and getting easy buckets.”

“Miscommunication was probably the biggest (issue),” said Collins of the defensive performance. “We had a defensive game plan, and we’ve played this team (before). We knew how they were going to attack us. We just didn’t execute our plan well. We came out a little slow and let them hit us first, and we really didn’t respond too well.”

As a result, the Pistons were able to avenge a loss to the Hawks on opening night to take the season series two games to one.

Let’s take a look at some of the action.

This possession early in the game provides a glimpse at the lack of defensive resistance the Pistons would see for much of the game.

Rose and Drummond work together to attack the Atlanta defense before it can get set (following a Hawks missed shot attempt). Drummond seals Huerter, already a less than ideal match up. Rose works past Young and gets to the rim for the easy score.

Even when the Hawks could force a lower percentage shot, as they did on this play, the shots (of Rose especially) fell more often than they didn’t.

Here, Collins is able to get in between Rose and the rim but the floater falls.

It should be noted, however, that Rose is one of the better shooters in the league in the three to ten foot range.

This possession is an prime example of how the Hawks offense so effectively fed the Pistons offense throughout the game.

Huerter turns the ball over near the top of the key. Detroit is off and running in transition and scores with little difficulty.

Off the bench, Morris was able to score at all levels on the floor, including in the post. Here he is defended by Treveon Graham, playing in his first game for Atlanta.

This is another Detroit shot attempt that the Hawks would probably live with on any possession but Morris is able to get the fall away jumper to go down.

This play is, perhaps, an insight into what the Hawks may need more of from Young as to get him to contribute offensively without the ball.

On this sideline out of bounds (SLOB) play, Young sets a back screen on Christian Wood. Collins uses it to work to the rim where he receives a pass from Hunter and scores.

On this play, Hunter demonstrates his improving ability to drive to and finish at the rim.

As the Hawks look to develop an increasingly successful offense often based upon the high pick and roll, it will be important that they have players that can punish from the weak side of the play as defensive rotate additional players to the strong side.

That capability could very well look like this.

As Hunter continues to spend more time playing at the power forward position, he will see opportunities such as the one he sees on this play. His defender, Morris, is not going to naturally want to defend on the perimeter the way that wings do. As such, he could see a regular dose of shots available to him like this one.

This SLOB play by Detroit offers an example of how the offensive scheme built around attacking from specific angles works.

The play design here calls for the center, Wood, to receive the in bound pass and move it to Langston Galloway on the right wing. Wood then turns to step into a screen for he Pistons best shooter, Svi Mykhailiuk. This demands the attention of the Atlanta defenders, including Collins.

As a result, Galloway is able to attack from an angle that prevents Collins from getting back into the play.

Playing at the power forward position will also result in Hunter, at times, being matched up with the other teams center, as is the case on this play.

Seeing the matchup, Hunter takes Wood off the dribble and is able to convert a lay up for the and one opportunity.

This possession allows for another look at Detroit attacking from an angle that forces the opposing center, Collins in this case, to commit to helping on the shot or staying attached to Drummond. The result is an simple drop off pass and an easy score.

This defensive possession also serves as an example of what opposing teams frequently try to do when Young is on the court for Atlanta.

Once Detroit recognizes that Young is matched up on Bruce Brown, they move him to the weak side corner to, essentially, make Young the help defender at the rim.

This is a situation for which the Hawks will need to develop a way to handle.

Despite the mostly tough game on offense, Reddish continued function as a defensive play maker, especially as an on ball defender.

Here, he gets the steal from Rose and is able to convert it into a transition bucket.

After Saturday’s loss, it’s a quick turnaround for the young Hawks team. To celebrate Martin Luther King Day, Atlanta will host the Toronto Raptors on Monday at 2:30 pm ET.