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Hawks wrap up unofficial ‘first half’ of season with loss in Cleveland

The “first half” of the season is in the books.

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks wrapped up their two-game mini road-trip — and the final game before their All-Star break — with a loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, falling short 127-105 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Trae Young scored 27 points and dished out 12 assists while John Collins shot 9-of-12 from the field for 23 points.

For the Cavaliers, six players hit double-digit scoring, led by Tristan Thompson’s 27 points and three three-pointers (!!) while Larry Nance Jr. and Colin Sexton both added 23 points.

The final score — and final margin of 22 points — perhaps doesn’t tell the full story because the Hawks threatened to comeback on a couple of occasions in the fourth quarter, even cutting what was a 20+ point lead to single digits before the Cavaliers just ran away late on with an 11-0 run over the final 3:21, by which point the Hawks were obviously trailing by 11 points anyway.

There were a few moments in that final quarter that proved costly for the Hawks, including a clear-path foul with four minutes remaining and a foul committed with a second/just under a second on a possession where the Cavaliers were just about to commit a 24-second violation.

The reality is, however, that the Hawks struggled throughout this game defensively and offensively in the first half, and the Cavaliers were the superior team (considerably at times) for the majority of the game and that was probably reflective in the fact the Cavs won all four quarters.

Rebounding was an issue for the Hawks and that’s just how it’s been when the Hawks face Andre Drummond — now a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers — but add to that Larry Nance Jr. and old foe Tristan Thompson, and your result is being beat on the boards 55-38 and 17 offensive rebounds for the Cavaliers leading to 21 second-chance points. In fact, Nance, Drummond and Thompson combined for 38 rebounds — still five more than the Hawks managed in total.

Starting small forward De'Andre Hunter led the Hawks in rebounding with eight rebounds while the bigs struggled. John Collins grabbed four rebounds, Dewayne Dedmon grabbed four, Damian Jones grabbed four and Bruno Fernando grabbed four — none of the bigs could establish themselves for the Hawks last night.

Rebounding is effort at times, and you could see Lloyd Pierce sink when Nance followed home this second chance opportunity:

Everything just stopped when Kevin Porter Jr. took that shot and similarly when Nance went up to grab the rebound. Not that this was reflective of the Hawks’ effort on the board all night —it’s just a bad matchup for the Hawks all-around.

The Cavs obviously racked up the second chance points to go with those offensive rebounds and the points in the paint and the Hawks conceding a tied season-high of 44 points in the paint before the Cavs finished with 68 points in the paint.

Postgame, Pierce spoke to the effort of the Hawks and how it was reflective in the rebounding battle.

"Second time playing these guys and they just played harder than us," Pierce said via Fox Sports Southeast. "Their bigs were a handful today in addition to Tristan going three-for-three from three and Nance going 2-of-5 from three. All three of their bigs had the same amount of rebounds that we had. That sums up the game. They were aggressive in the paint on penetration and were aggressive around the basket on offensive rebounds with their 17 (offensive rebounds). That’s effort, that’s just more effort, the attack mentality they had...”

Dewayne Dedmon, inserted into the starting lineup in place of Damian Jones, struggled with foul trouble, playing just three minutes in the first half as he picked up two quick fouls in the first half and a quick third in the second quarter.

“I don’t know how you help a guy when he picks up two early ones and I think he’s at three minutes at that point and he comes back and he gets the third one — you’re under six minutes and you’ve got three fouls and you never get in a rhythm,” said Pierce of Dedmon’s foul struggles. “His best basketball was in the fourth quarter when we started to make a run but you miss that leadership and that stability when he’s on the court, just the inability to play because of the fouls.”

When he was actually playing, Dedmon was productive — seven points on 3-of-5 shooting but adding three steals and three blocks in 17 minutes was impressive from Dedmon.

Dedmon had flashed the defense he could’ve potentially played on Andre Drummond, coming up with this blocked shot before fouling Nance on the offensive rebound:

Dedmon was a positive when he was on the court (he was also the only Hawk with a positive plus/minus with plus-1) but that was the problem... he wasn’t on the court. The center spot was a tough match-up for Atlanta on this night, let alone when Dedmon is in foul trouble.

Nevertheless, Dedmon had shown flashes of positivity last night on a night where there were just not a lot of positives to be had. Young boosted his field goal percentage on the game to 47% after starting 1-of-6 from the field but, in reality, no one really played well for the Hawks, with the exception perhaps of Collins’ 9-of-12 shooting performance, the majority of these being dunks but alas...

Cam Reddish showed some flashes too but also had himself an injury scare as he tried to end Tristan Thompson at the rim at the start of the fourth quarter:

Reddish fell awkwardly and did head back to the locker room but was cleared to return and he did return, allaying any injury fears.

Pierce was asked about Reddish following the game and the head coach praised the rooie wing for his approach to the game last night, lamenting the injury he suffered at the time it did.

“I thought Cam was great,” said Pierce. “It was unfortunate that he goes down with the injury because now he’s out for about six minutes and not sure what it was and they finally say he was good to go back in. I thought he was the guy, the guy who was getting us going and when he went down it was a tough blow ... I was encouraged by his approach tonight.”

Plus/minus can be a subjective (and often misleading) stat, but maybe don’t mention to Pierce that Reddish was a team-worst -26.

Reddish also hit two of his four three-pointers last night and his three-point percentage on the season is sneaking upward, shooting 31.6% from three on the season and shooting 40% since Jan. 1 — impressive, given the struggles of Reddish earlier in the season. Reddish also getting to the line eight times (making six) was encouraging too.

Another facet of the game the Hawks struggled with was the bench battle, a battle Cleveland comprehensively won last night (52-25) and this trend was evident even from the first quarter. Tristan Thompson himself outscored the Hawks’ bench last night with his 27 points.

We’ve obviously talked about Reddish (who shot 4-of-11 from the field), but the rest of the bench really struggled to make any impact whatsoever — no one could match what Kevin Porter Jr. and Thompson brought in terms of energy, impact and production.

Everyone who was dressed for the Hawks played with the exception of DeAndre’ Bembry, who was available to play but ultimately received a DNP-CD last night. This was odd given how everyone else, including Treveon Graham played. It’ll be interesting to monitor what Bembry’s role — if he has one — might be after the All-Star break.

But with that being said, that’s where the focus now turns to the for the Atlanta Hawks: the All-Star break.

The Hawks enter the break 15-41 but the organization as a whole will be busy over the break. Young obviously has an action-packed weekend in Chicago, while a lot of focus and attention from the fans will also be turned to the Hawks and their efforts to get Clint Capela ready to rock after the All-Star break, where the Hawks’ schedule may allow a successful “second half” of the season.

The Hawks (15-41) are back in action next Thursday at State Farm Arena when they take on the Miami Heat.

Enjoy the All-Star festivities, and until next time...