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Third quarter dooms Hawks in preseason loss to Grizzlies

Not a pretty second half for the Hawks.

Atlanta Hawks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks fell to their second defeat in the preseason, swept aside by the Memphis Grizzlies 128-106 on Thursday night.

De’Andre Hunter continued his fine preseason with another 22 points, while Trae Young added 15 points.

For the Grizzlies, Dillon Brooks scored 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 4-of-8 from three. Jonas Valanciunas added a double-double with 20 points and 13 points.

The Hawks and Grizzlies: two young teams with easy comparisons from a number of different areas but it was the Grizzlies who were very much the superior team last night, especially in the second half.

The Grizzlies threatened to pull away towards the end of the first half, but a three-pointer by Young and a foul on a three-point shot from Young allowed the Hawks to stick with the Grizzlies but once the third quarter came, the Grizzlies finally pulled away and once they did pull away... it was over quickly, and the fourth quarter was largely redundant, the Grizzlies leading by as many as 29 points and outscoring the Hawks 31-17 in the third quarter.

In that decisive third quarter, the Hawks shot just 6-of-23 (26%) and 3-of-11 from three for 17 points while the Grizzlies shot 12-of-26 (46%) and 4-of-9 from three. Perhaps more worryingly than that for the Hawks, they only notched two assists in that third quarter, while nine of the Grizzlies 12 made field goals were assisted.

The Hawks appeared to lack a bit of urgency defensively (something Clint Capela mentioned in his post game comments as well) in the third quarter, we’ll look at a few of these Grizzlies baskets in the third quarter and the things that went wrong.

The Hawks went into a zone on quite a number of occasions last night (not just in the third quarter). It looks like, on this possession, the Hawks try to go into that zone early in the third quarter. You could look at this Jonas Valanciunas three-pointer in that way or from the view that Capela has been stretched by Valanciunas as the trailing shooter. Either way, Valanciunas can hit those shots and certainly when it’s open:

Capela’s defense of Valanciunas was disappointing at times last night, here was one such instance as Valanciunas fakes Capela and draws the free throws:

Off of a Hawks miss, the long outlet pass is made to Ja Morant down the floor. Keep your eyes open here because this will happen quickly. As Morant probes, he’s well covered in the paint. As this is happening, Young is on the weak-side of the ball but he allows Grayson Allen to slip in behind him as Young himself heads towards the ball-side. Morant makes the pass to the weakside corner, where Allen is all alone and Bogdanovic’s efforts to close out is in vain as Allen hits the three:

There’s no real need for Young to get too drawn to the ball-side here and should probably be aware of Allen here in transition. Regardless, it’s a poor basket for the Hawks to give up in transition, and perhaps unsurprisingly it leads to a Hawks timeout.

Kyle Anderson is... not a prolific three-point shooter, but give any professional basketball player this much space to load up and you’re asking for trouble:

You’re not desperate to close-out on Anderson shooting a three, but the Hawks didn’t exactly covet themselves in glory either to at least make Anderson think about it with a late closeout.

When Capela went off of the floor, Valanciunas continued to roll. He collects the rebound on the defensive end, heads down the floor, receives the ball again and hits the runner:

Valanciunas continued to assert himself in the third as he establishes deep position on Danilo Gallinari and the basket is an easy one to make from there:

Nine of Valanciunas’ 20 points came in that third quarter but he was a persistent pain all night long for the Hawks.

“He’s a throwback center,” said Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce of Valanciunas. “There’s not many guys in our league, probably just handful (like him). Instantly you go back to last year and think of the two games we played and his ability on the offensive glass: that’s a major of concern for us and an area they dominated us on tonight. His presence, when you take Clint out — I thought Clint did a good job on him early — but when you take him out, he’s going to present some problems there.

“He’s a classic big, he’s a big body, he’s a strong physical guy and he’s going to clog up the paint. I think more than anything, his screen setting for a guy like Morant puts a lot of pressure on the defense. That was an of focus for us (tonight). I thought we did a pretty good job in the first half, they shot it well, and then I thought we completely collapsed offensively in the second half.”

The straw that probably broke the camel’s back in the third quarter was perhaps this next three-pointer from Anderson, though the Hawks played this possession a lot better defensively (Solomon Hill leaving Anderson to prevent Morant turning the corner). Hill gets a hand up but it’s not enough to prevent Anderson making the three to put the Grizzlies up by an ultimately unsurmountable 16 points:

Again, the fourth didn’t really matter, even though Pierce kept a lot of his starters in for a lot longer than one normally would in a regular season blowout, as the Grizzlies went on to secure the deserved win.

Ultimately, the Hawks couldn’t stop the Grizzlies from doing what they wanted while also struggling themselves offensively — shooting 38% from the field and 29% from three on 45 attempts.

“We didn’t take anything away from them,” said Hunter postgame. “They shot 50 threes, had a lot of points in the paint, had transition points... They basically getting whatever they wanted. The first, we limited it, the three-point shots, we were getting good contests, they were missing them. In the second half, they were hitting the three-point shots, they were getting into the paint, they were running in transition. It just all piled on each other.”

“We were really random offensively,” said Pierce postgame. “I told the guys, ‘it’s preseason and that’s the good part’. It’s a new group. One of the things you have to learn with a new group is how to handle adversity and I thought we failed on that one today. In terms of our response to first half, second half, I don’t think they did anything differently — they were the first team to decide they wanted to commit defensively in the second half. We became even more random in the third quarter specifically with what we were doing offensively. When you combine the randomness with the inability to make shots, it really hurts the defense and that’s what happened in the third quarter.”

When asked for an elaboration on the ‘randomness’ he eluded to, Pierce said it was the “execution” side of things.

“I think it was a big thing, execution,” Hunter added. “We weren’t really getting into any sets, guys weren’t really getting to their spots. We were kind of playing rushed and I feel like we didn’t have to.”

A number of players for the Hawks just couldn’t get it going offensively as would normally be expected.

Young (4-of-15) couldn’t get it going, Bogdanovic (4-of-11) couldn’t really impose himself offensively, John Collins (10 points) struggled to find a way offensively to impact the game, Danilo Gallinari (2-of-8) struggled, and Kevin Huerter (3-of-12) also struggled in his return to the bench.

You wouldn’t normally expect all of those players to struggle shooting the ball like that as they did last night, and I can’t see this being a trend too common when the season rolls around

The only player who excelled in any form was Hunter, who again showed encouraging signs of a player who could take a solid step in his second season — 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 from three.

“He’s been the ‘steady-Eddie’ for us,” said Pierce of Hunter. “He’s had three games of not really being any focal point (offensively) but finding his spots. He’s continuing to attack, he hit a couple of threes tonight — he’s just competing. I applaud ‘Dre for his efforts. I thought there were some plays... I’m always expecting a little more, I thought there were some plays on the defensive glass where he could’ve helped on. For the most part, he’s been steady, I think he’s gotten better each game with his effort. Obviously the shots are falling and his ability to attack is where his mind is and I want to keep him that way.”

Hunter has, I think, excelled offensively in a role where very little is run for him, benefitting from kick-outs, drives on closeouts. I wouldn’t go out of my way to get Hunter a ton more shots because he’s excelling as the guy people aren’t focusing on as much, and most importantly he’s making the most of these opportunities he’s receiving, and if this continues into the regular season that would be huge for the Hawks.

Ultimately, on a night where too many of the Hawks’ big scorers struggled, it didn’t make a difference to the end result but on another night it could.

Elsewhere, Rajon Rondo made his Hawks debut last night, scoring three points and dishing out seven assists in 18 minutes of action. Scoring wise, Rondo obviously doesn’t offer a ton, but his playmaking can’t be disputed. What I like when it comes to Rondo’s passing is the snappiness of the passes he makes, such as this assist to Hill on a three-pointer:

It feels like most passes Rondo makes are quick, direct, snappy and that’s fun to watch.

“He just sees everything,” said Capela of Rondo. “When you’re on offense, he makes you feel that confidence because you know he’s going to see you when you’re open. He’s just that general on offense, he sees everything. You feel every call that he makes it’s for something that he knows because he knows the defense will help somewhere or he knows he’s going to get a corner three from somewhere. Even the one time he found me, I was surprised that I was open! He’s that kind of player, he’s that special for us.”

We didn’t really see Young and Rondo share the floor last night, which was unfortunate but I’m sure it’ll happen at some stage... Shoutout, though, to the weird Rondo, Reddish, Hill, Hunter and Capela lineup to open the fourth quarter. An interesting lineup to say the least.

Reddish also returned to the action last night having missed the previous game against the Magic and continued to showcase his defensive capabilities/playmaking: three steals on the night, including this great interception after reading the play before finding Collins in transition to turn defense into offense:

A clip that made some rounds on NBA Twitter, for obvious reasons.

There’s really not a ton else to say about this game — it just turned into a mess in the second half. A game where the Hawks’ defensive concerns came to the fore and a possible outlier as to how things may unravel if the Hawks can’t hit shots in a game.

We’re going to see a quote from Pierce in a second, but as he says... the Hawks have to find a way to stay engaged when the Hawks aren’t making shots.

The Hawks (1-2) are back in action on Saturday night, taking on the Grizzlies once again in a game where Pierce said the Hawks would find out more about themselves.

“Learning what new challenges will present itself,” Pierce said. “Today, our ability to stay organized in the third quarter offensively, and our ability to — when we weren’t making shots — commit to the defensive end. It was really more a commitment, I don’t think it was a scheme or anything like that, I think it was just a commitment. It’s classic in our sport: shots aren’t going down, it affects your defense. We can’t be that team. We have to find ways to be a team is going to hang our hat defensively knowing that shots will fall.

“Today it was a form of adversity and the beauty of it is we get to play the same team on Saturday, so we’ll know a little bit more about ourselves after Saturday. Either way it goes, we’ve got to be ready to go on Wednesday (season opener) and we will be.”

The Hawks were able to bounce-back in their second game against the Orlando Magic. Against a tougher matchup, can the Hawks do the same again?

We shall see...