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Hawks drop thriller to Nets, suffer first loss of 2020-21 season

An epic battle in Brooklyn, but one the Hawks just fell short of winning

Atlanta Hawks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks suffered their first loss of the season in a (very) high-scoring affair against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center, 145-141 on Wednesday night.

30-10 games from both Trae Young and John Collins (a season-high) weren’t enough to carry them to a fourth straight victory. Cam Reddish got to the foul line a career-best 10 times en-route to 20 points. Bogdan Bogdanovic notched a season-high 22 points, including six three-pointers.

Kevin Durant led the Nets with 33 points — including nine free throws in the final quarter — while running-mate Kyrie Irving overcame a tough shooting start to score 25 points. Joe Harris hit six three-pointers to add 23 points for the Nets.

Let’s break this one down, shall we?

Back-and-forth all game, Hawks fall short late

Worth leading, off of the bat, that this was a very entertaining game from both sides — a very fun game. As could probably have been predicted, this was a high-scoring affair and neither side let up all game long (with neither team leading by more than nine points).

The Hawks’ hot shooting, high-scoring output on the season continued as they scored 41 first quarter points and another 68 first half points. Their problem, however, is that the Nets 67 first half points themselves — the Hawks just could not stop the Nets in any way, shape or form. That being said, the Nets also couldn’t stop the Hawks or pull away (their biggest lead on the game was only five points) but the looming issue for the Hawks during this game was that Kyrie Irving was 1-of-10 from the field at the half — that wasn’t going to last, and the question was going to be asked ‘What would happen to the Hawks if Irving gets it going? Could they outlast the Nets?’

Well, with two minutes remaining in the game — and Irving very much firing now at this stage — the Hawks trailed by just two points on the road for a chance to win this game. We’ll take a look at the plays from the final two minutes from the game, seeing where things went wrong for the Hawks down the stretch and go from there.

Even before we get into that, the Hawks were already on the back-foot being the team that was trailing in a game where both teams exchanged buckets, meaning the Hawks needed to chain at least a few stops to have any hope of winning this game.

This first bucket is Kyrie Irving being Kyrie Irving as he hits a deep three on De’Andre Hunter to put them up by five points (their biggest lead of the game):

The response to this was instant, with Trae Young bursting by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and gets the step on Jarrett Allen to finish at the rim to cut the lead to three points:

In a similar spot to the three he just made, Irving is faced by De’Andre Hunter again. This time, Irving steps in and Hunter’s contest is a much more effective one, and the three from Irving is long:

In a fourth quarter where the Nets shot 63%, misses were rare, which meant the Hawks absolutely needed to score on any Nets miss, especially down three with 1:30 remaining.

With Young collecting the rebound, he quickly outlets to Reddish. Reddish does what he should: put pressure on the rim and allow the shooters to fan to their positions. On his near-side, Reddish finds Hunter for a wide open three-pointer, which is missed:

Because the shot is missed, you’re inclined to think ‘perhaps Reddish should have found Bogdanovic on the weak-side’ and, given how he was rolling last night, perhaps Bogdanovic should have been the one the ball went to? However, the shot Hunter got was a fantastic shot, a fantastic opportunity. Unfortunately for Hunter, he couldn’t hit it when it mattered. Not to rag on Hunter, but this was the biggest shot of the game — to tie the game with under 1:30 to go — and it was a chance that passed him by on this occasion.

What hurts even more for the Hawks after this was that they actually put together another stop (the only instance of the Hawks getting consecutive stops in the fourth quarter other than the very start of the fourth), as Durant tries to take on Collins one-on-one but his three-pointer is missed:

Still, another chance for the Hawks to tie the game with a three coming down the floor. The Hawks take their time, eventually running a Young-Collins pick-and-roll. Young puts Allen behind him and Luwawu-Cabarrot has to commit to Young, leaving Collins in a prime spot to receive the ball under the rim, hammered by Allen for two free throws:

With 40 seconds remaining, the Nets come the other way with Kyrie Irving, who gets inside in a hurry before whipping out the step-back, contested fadeaway and it’s nothing but net:

Not a ton more Hunter can do here. That’s just Kyrie Irving doing Kyrie Irving things.

“It’s tough to see,” said Collins on Irving. “After you play a great game and give it up in the fourth. At the end of the day a lot of the shots were tough, but that’s what he does: make tough shots. Those are the hard ones to live with.”

With 32 seconds remaining — and now coming out of a timeout — the Hawks have a choice now in how they handle this situation.

They can draw up a play that gets them an instant three-point shot and go for a 2-for-1 with 32 seconds left. If they make it, great, if they don’t, they can perhaps still have another shot and they don’t have to foul.

The other alternative is that they could run something a bit more elaborate into the clock, go for a bucket and play the foul game with some clock left.

Out of the timeout, Young inbounds to Collins, who returns the ball to Young and heads towards the rim. Young then hands the ball off to Bogdanovic and sets the screen. Bogdanovic hesitates but puts up the three-point attempt but it falls short:

Before we talk about what happens next... The Hawks probably waited too long on this play for the shot they ended up getting. By the time the shot is released and the ball in the hands of Allen, the shot clock is off, and the Hawks need to foul.

During this time, the bench is imploring those on the court to foul. They miss the big chance to foul Luwawu-Cabarrot and send him to the line. Cabarrot finds Irving, who quickly lofts the ball to Durant, Collins can’t reach Durant who drives and finishes with the dunk to basically end the game:

Between Reddish and Hunter, one of them has to foul in that situation but the big one was Reddish not fouling Cabarrot — a disappointing way for the Hawks to end this game considering everything they did to get to this point in the game.

Watching this clip back, I noticed something from the Nets bench, in particular, coach Steve Nash... did he try call for a timeout after that miss?

It looks like he tried to, wasn’t seen and then awkwardly passes it off as it ended up working in the Net’s favor. Maybe that’s a call for something else (but what else is there to call at this stage when the Hawks need to foul you?) but it sure seemed to look like that.

Anyways, with the game basically over now, the Hawks use their final timeout. Out of it, Hunter drains a catch-and-shoot corner three to bring the Hawks back within two points:

Ironically, this was a harder shot to make than the one he missed to tie the game earlier (which, again, makes that miss even tougher). From here, the Hawks put Durant on the line, where he ices the game and the Hawks, with no timeouts, fall to their first defeat of the season.

All game long the Hawks couldn’t produce consistent stops but when it came time for the fourth quarter, the Nets had something in reserve, in the tank as they scored 43 points in the final quarter, with Durant (16 points) and Irving (17 points) combined for 33 of those 43 points, with the Associated Press noting that Durant and Irving scored the final 20 points for the Nets over the remaining 5:23 of the game.

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce is usually pretty talkative postgame but when asked what the difference was heading down the stretch of this game, he simply replied, “Kyrie (Irving) and Kevin (Durant) got hot in the fourth quarter.”

The end of the game was particularly messy and unfortunate between the failure to foul as well as the botched 2-for-1 opportunity with the Hawks down three points, which Pierce admitted wasn’t executed properly, costing the Hawks a possession.

Postgame, Pierce admitted that this play wasn’t executed as it should have been, costing them a possession.

“We just didn’t execute it,” said Pierce. “Didn’t execute the play. Thought we could’ve got a clean look, didn’t really get a clean look. Came out and got it done the second time (the Hunter three) but we kind of cost ourselves a possession.”

Despite the unfortunate end to the game, the Hawks can take solace knowing they can hang with one of the best scoring teams in the league, and a team I think many expect to be a dark horse in the Eastern Conference this season.

“We know we can beat this team,” said Pierce on positive takeaways. “We’ve got to learn to execute, we’ve got to learn to finish down the stretch, we’ve got to put together a defensive fourth quarter. This is what finishing is about: execution on both sides of the basketball.”

Pierce would later discuss Reddish not fouling Cabarrot after that Bogdanovic three-point miss as part of the execution and finishing he referenced moments earlier.

“That’s part of the execution: time and score situation,” Pierce said. “Obviously we’re down three on the first possession, we didn’t get a clean look. You want to foul quickly and give yourself time, because then we’re going to have to use the timeout. So we’re going to need as much time on the back-end, I think we wasted some valuable seconds not fouling immediately. That’s just part of finishing. All of the details of it: knowing time and score, if we make the three we don’t need to foul and we need to understand that as well.”

In the end, the Nets had more experience in the hands of Durant and Irving, as well as an extra gear like the one Irving found after his 3-of-16 start to the game.

Alright... Let’s talk about defense and some of the thought patterns that should/shouldn’t be happening right about now.

First of all, knee-jerk reactions are never good — always worth keeping in mind. Secondly, if you saw the way this roster was constructed, you probably should’ve known that the Hawks were not likely to be an elite team defensively. It shouldn’t surprise you that the Hawks leak points on that front alone (they also 27th in the NBA in defensive rating).

That said, the Hawks were playing a team that is more than likely going to be one of the better offensive teams in the Nets, who rank third in the league in points per game, so their defensive frailties — especially at the point guard position — are going to be exposed by Irving, and Durant at those forward spots, in addition then to all the attention those guys receive you have Joe Harris making six threes last night.

“It’s tough,” said Pierce when asked about defending Irving. “You’re trying to send him to the screen. He’s so shifty. You want to try blitz him, he’s shifty, he can reject those screens and now you’re down a defender on one side. When you do blitz him or hedge or something up top, he’s elusive and you’re scrambling around. I think they got a three the first time we tried to blitz him, the second time they get us with a back-door cut because you’ve got two guys committed to the basketball and now you’re ball-watching everywhere else trying to take things away. You leave him one-on-one on an island, you kind of know what to expect in that situation.

“There’s no easy answer when you have guys like that. You have to throw different looks, we tried to throw different looks and they came out on top with that tonight. There’s no easy answers for him, for KD. Our thing is how can we throw early looks, how can we throw different looks? We brought in Solo(mon Hill) so we could switch easier for a possession. When you get into situational basketball you hope one of those things sticks. You hope, if they don’t make that three, hopefully what you’ve done is you’ve gotten the ball out of his hands and you’ve made someone else beat you where they make that three and they get that back-door, which is what you’re looking for, you just don’t want to be punished by it.”

Yes, the Hawks conceding 145 points isn’t ideal but it also shouldn’t be too surprising given the roster compilation and the opponents on the night.

The Hawks don’t really need to hear too much about the defense: everyone knows it needs to be better, and even saying that it only needed to be better for a few possessions in that fourth quarter.

“We just needed to get a couple of stops,” said Young. “We were scoring every time with them but that wasn’t going to help us win that game. We just needed a few more stops for us to get a lead and maybe hold it, try close it out the end but we couldn’t get a couple of stops. That’s something we can definitely get better at.”

The Hawks’ poor defense is going to be a takeaway for many I’m sure but there’s a lot of positives to be found in this game too.

There’s no shame in narrowly losing against this Nets team, a team with two top-15 players in the league with an elite shooter in Harris and solid supporting cast even without Spencer Dinwiddie in the form of Allen, Caris LeVert, and strong shooters like Landry Shamet and Taurean Prince coming off of the bench — they’re a deep team, and can play to their strengths with Durant and Irving requiring so much attention.

People have high expectations for the Nets and the Hawks pushed them all of the way and hung with them the entire way — their effort was commendable.

The Hawks are still shooting the ball very well, they’re still getting to the free throw line (another 16 free throw attempts for Young, 35 for the Hawks in total compared to the Nets’ 23 attempts), 12 turnovers is a good outing for the Hawks (who were the worst team in the league in turnovers last season), 17 offensive rebounds for 24 second chance points, they held the Nets to 10 fast break points despite their personnel, scored 20 points off of the Nets’ nine turnovers...

There’s a lot of positives to take for the Hawks from this contest, despite leaking 145 points in regulation, and hey, they scored 141 points themselves. Granted, the Nets — like the Hawks — do not have a defensive squad themselves but an impressive effort nevertheless.

The Nets were also impressed with the Hawks’ effort last night, the Hawks’ scoring effort dismantling the number one defense heading into last night.

“Ky(rie Irving) definitely brought us home,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash via the New York Post. “We definitely got tested. We came into the game No. 1 defensively, and that went out the window.”

They may have lost the game but the respect for the Hawks across the league could only have increased after last night. All-in-all, a strong game for the Hawks in what was a big test for them but by no means a defining one.

“It’s a big test for us to see where our defense is at, to see where our minds are at offensively and execution-wise,” said Collins. “As we saw tonight, a lot of stuff we can work on, a lot of stuff we do well and everything in the middle as well.”

John Collins’ season-best showing

Collins was a little slow out of the gate to start his fourth season but got his feet firmly on the ground as he scored a season-high 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting from the field, 2-of-5 from three while grabbing 10 rebounds (including four offensive rebounds) in 30 minutes.

In what was his best game by far on the young season, let’s take a little look at how this came about.

In what is become of a trend, Collins trails the play heading up the floor and is found by Hunter for the straightaway three:

With DeAndre Jordan on the floor and preferring to sit closer to the paint, it allows the Hawks opportunities outside, and Collins has a relatively free look from three, which he hits:

From the wing handling the ball, Collins comes off of the Clint Capela screen and pulls up for two at the elbow:

I really liked this play between these two and wouldn’t mind seeing a little more of it from time-to-time. Reminded me for a brief second of the four-five pick-and-roll the Rocket had going for them with Josh Smith and Dwight Howard that absolutely wrecked the Dallas Mavericks in the 2015 playoffs (though, Dirk and Tyson Chandler made easy prey for those two) ... maybe when Capela is in a little better game-shape...

Next came one of Collins’ famous pick-and-roll slips, with Trae Young delivering the bounce-pass to Collins on the slip for the bucket:

Another slip, this time in the third quarter and with Allen back-pedalling, Collins is able to finish with a flourish on the alley-oop from Young:

On quite a few possessions, Collins found himself with a mismatch. Harris is the mismatch on this possession as Collins hits the face-up jumper before Durant can help:

LeVert didn’t fare any better either and attempts to draw a charge but the contact is not called and Collins has an easy task to finish as LeVert goes down on contact:

Collins was also able to clean the glass on the offensive end, grabbing four offensive rebounds and turning those into second chance points (scoring eight of them last night).

Off of his own miss attacking Allen, Collins grabs his own miss, takes the contact, stick the ball through and draws the foul for the ‘and-1’:

Off of the Rajon Rondo miss, Collins bodies Durant out of the way and stick the putback layup:

For more variety, Collins attacks Allen in the fourth quarter, going to his right before switching to his left-hand to finish at the rim:

Love to see Collins use his left-hand in a situation like that... Collins, looking like himself last night in a matchup he has enjoyed over the years.

“He’s played well against these guys,” Pierce said of Collins. “They’re a small-ball team. Their four’s are usually perimeter fours, so it’s an ability for him (Collins) to get behind the defense, it’s an ability for him to get some lobs and things at the rim, crash the offensive glass. He’s done this historically against these guys.”

Collins is elite at slipping pick-and-rolls and putting pressure on the rim with his athleticism, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

High praise from one of the league’s best players.

For Collins, he credited his teammates for his night last night, as well as crediting the game-plan.

“My teammates were finding me tonight,” said Collins of his night. “I feel like I understood the game-plan and how they were going to play me and I was just ready to attack. I felt like if I didn’t come out tonight have a JC-type-of-game, a solid night, an active night, I feel like I’m going to put my team at a disadvantage. I just wanted to come out with energy and aggression and try and create a spark.”

Collins was disappointed not to pick up a victory last night but his play last night was a huge positive after a slower start than many would’ve had for Collins heading into his fourth season. With the Hawks in action against the Nets again on Friday, you feel it’s another opportunity for Collins to build on this strong performance — the Nets have had no answer for Collins in recent memory.

Danilo Gallinari’s injury

A large negative from last night amidst the positives was the injury to Danilo Gallinari, who had just returned from injury having played only the first game of the regular season against the Chicago Bulls.

Gallinari was diagnosed with a right ankle sprain in the first half and did not return. Postgame, Pierce was unsure himself on Gallinari’s injury.

“Just sprained his ankle again,” said Pierce of Gallinari. “Not sure if it’s the same one or a different one, probably the same. Just sprained it again.”

The severity of his injury remains to be seen but an unfortunate break for Gallinari, who has struggled to stay on the court in the past. He played just three minutes last night and had already scored five points — had the makings of a decent game for Gallinari but now the Hawks will have to wait and see if he’ll be available for Friday’s contest against the Nets again.

The Hawks (3-1) will face off against the Nets again on Friday night at Barclays. It will be interesting to see the various adjustments made by both sides, with both teams I’m sure hoping to avoid conceding 140 points once again.

Should be fun.

Until next time (and Happy New Year!).