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Hawks falter against Magic behind poor fourth quarter showing

Not a fantastic final frame for the home side...

Orlando Magic v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks kicked off their four-game homestand with a loss against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night, 130-120.

Trae Young — behind an excellent second quarter in which he scored 20 points — led the Hawks in scoring with 37 points and 11 assists while John Collins added 26 points for the Hawks, who had to juggle their starting lineup, sending in Bruno Fernando in place of Dewayne Dedmon who was ruled out for this game.

For the Magic, Evan Fournier’s strong fourth quarter (14 points in the final period) pushed his total to 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting while Aaron Gordon added 25 points and 10 rebounds.

As always, if you need to catch up on how the action unfolded, you can do so here, but we’re going to fast-forward today.

Trailing by 12 points with seconds to go in the third quarter (a quarter which was a disaster for the Hawks, and a quarter the Magic scored 40 points), two quick buckets from Kevin Huerter — the second coming off of a Cam Reddish steal after the first made bucket from Huerter — cut the Orlando lead to eight points heading into the final quarter, giving the Hawks a better chance of overturning the lead.

Despite trailing by double-digits, the Hawks cut the Magic lead to four points with 7:47 remaining after a Cam Reddish three-pointer, leaving a lot of time for the Hawks to complete the comeback.

However, the Magic proceeded on a 14-5 run to put this one away, as the Hawks faltered offensively and defensively.

Let’s start on the offensive end for the Hawks and where it went wrong. It was...not a great fourth quarter offensively: 8-of-24 from the field and 2-of-8 from three.

The Magic just clamped down on the Hawks in the paint in the final quarter, and they got their run started on the defensive end as Aaron Gordon blocks this alley-oop attempt from Jeff Teague to Damian Jones:

I actually liked how Teague handled this switch and how he went for the oop when Fultz tried to switch back to him, and this was originally called a foul but the Magic challenged the call and won the challenge. If this call was a little more contentious, this could’ve been a big swing, since the Hawks — who found themselves in the bonus very early in the fourth quarter — would’ve been shooting free throws had this not been challenged, and the chance to cut the lead to two points would’ve been there. But, alas, the block was clean and the foul shouldn’t have been called in the first place.

Coming out of bounds, Kevin Huerter finds Reddish near the basket, who takes a tough shot inside and results in a miss:

Perhaps not the best shot to take in this spot by Reddish, may have been better off to find De’Andre Hunter in this spot (though, Hunter himself had a very tough game offensively, scoring two points on 0-of-8 from the field, picking two points up at the line).

Speaking of the Hawks rookie, Hunter himself takes a pretty ill-advised and contested shot himself as he drives inside:

You see a few of these kind of shots from others on the roster but Hunter not as much, so it was odd to see Hunter do it.

You could debate whether this next shot was ill-advised, as John Collins tries to hook over Nikola Vucevic but the former All-Star blocks Collins’ shot inside:

Shortly after, again, Collins can’t hit over Vucevic, who contests this long floater by Collins:

Things wouldn’t get better for Collins as his efforts in transition is thwarted by Aaron Gordon:

Trae Young had, arguably, a tougher time of things in the fourth quarter (1-of-9 in the fourth) and his floater just wouldn’t fall late. This contested shot just doesn’t drop:

Credit to the Magic for their defensive effort in the fourth because they definitely turned it up and produced stop after stop in the paint and obviously Gordon and Vucevic were a huge part of that.

“Very well-coached team and they have guys that know how to run their system...” said John Collins of the Magic’s defense.

We’ll take a look now at what happened to the Hawks defensively during this stretch, and this was the area that alarmed Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce postgame (which we’ll get to).

With the shot clock winding down on the Magic, James Ennis III makes a move off of the ball as Fournier and Vucevic link on the wing. With a second left on the clock, Ennis ends up alone in the corner and he hits the corner three:

A bit of a mess defensively there. De’Andre Hunter appears to get lost, and he should probably be the one to track Ennis on the switch to the corner, instead of relocating to the weak-side. Young tries to direct Hunter back over to the ball-side corner, but once Hunter — mistakenly or not — is over on the weak-side, perhaps Young should head over ball-side himself? A lot of questions to be asked here.

On this play, the Magic turn defense to offense — a play we’ve already looked at — as Vucevic blocks Collins and Evan Fournier finishes in transition:

After Collins blocked Ennis’ shot in transition, the ball finds its way to Evan Fournier on the perimeter. Ennis starts the second possession on the floor but gets up and heads to corner, similar to the possession he hit the three-pointer. This was, potentially, still fresh in Collins’ mind and he heads out of the paint and toward Ennis. This removes the rim protection and opens the paint open for Fournier, at that exact second Collins is out, whose quick step on Reddish leaves the rookie behind and Fournier finishes at the rim for the bucket and the foul:

A big bucket there for the Magic to re-establish the Magic’s double-digit lead, and an impressive step from Fournier to shed a good defender in Reddish. Fournier himself was just very good in the fourth quarter.

The Magic run continued as the Hawks, initially, rotated and switched well on this possession (Hunter in particular) but Huerter probably needs to be a little more snappy in getting himself in front of Vucevic, who has a very easy task to finish at the rim once Hunter rotates away from him to prevent Gordon from a certain dunk:

Not great from Huerter who, despite his boxscore and his three-point shooting numbers, did not have a strong game.

And finally, just an utter mess defensively for the Hawks as a team where many rotations should have been made (or shouldn’t in the case of John Collins, perhaps) and the end result is an Evan Fournier layup:

Having looked at both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter now, you can see why Pierce was more critical of the defense than the offense.

“Tough, tough loss,” opened Lloyd Pierce postgame. “I thought the third quarter was brutal after coming out, getting off to a good start. I think we go up eight, the first timeout is called, and we just kind of fell apart the rest of that third quarter.

“It’s really our defensive end. We just couldn’t get stops. We didn’t have a ‘stop’ mentality. We didn’t take away anything from them in that third quarter. They shoot 58 percent and have a ton of points in the paint. I tried to mix it up with some zone but we just didn’t have the right mentality defensively in that third quarter. We just really never recovered from that whole second half defensively.”

I’d argue that Pierce mixed it up with a lot of zone, rather than just “some” zone but the difference was that the Magic strung stops together when it mattered and the Hawks did not.

“We just never got stops,” Pierce went on to say. “Some of the offensive rebounds that they got, they punished some of our switches in the paint. We were really confused on a lot of rotations and I just didn’t think we had a sense of urgency to get stops defensively, and we were able to score and get back in the game. We finished the third quarter with two kind of ‘chance’ plays, but we really never took command of the game. I have to play some other guys a little bit more. The energy was low tonight. We couldn’t get going offensively and it affected us defensively late.

“But our mentality to hit and really trying to take away their confidence. They made a run in the third quarter and they had a lot of confidence and when we called the timeout, you could feel it. So at that point I’ve got to trust a couple other guys and see if we can create some new energy and kind of change their energy.”

When Pierce says he has to play some other guys more, I think that obviously feeds into the Hawks defensively (which, to be frank, was poor last night). I would’ve liked to have seen Treveon Graham play a little more in that case, who can provide some good defensive energy. Graham played nine minutes and played zero minutes in the fourth quarter, and given the Hawks’ struggles defensively in the second perhaps Graham could’ve helped.

When you look elsewhere across this game, there a few other of interesting items, again, despite the poor loss.

The Hawks actually produced their best game in terms of turnovers, committing a season-low nine turnovers last night. However, while the turnovers were few, the Magic scored a-plenty, scoring 21 points off of those nine turnovers. That’s tough, because we (collectively) have seen the Hawks commit so many turnovers this season but to commit only nine turnovers and still leak 21 points off of those turnovers, that’s tough.

This was not a good loss, but Collins was a bright spark as he continued his strong season — another 26 points on high efficiency shooting. Since February 1st, Collins is averaging 25 points per game on 63% from the field to go along with 10 rebounds per game — he has been excellent.

But added to that is Collins’ three-point shooting, shooting 3-of-5 from distance last night. On the season, Collins is averaging 38% from three on the season and since February 1st, he’s averaging 50% from three on three attempts per game.

What I’m going to touch on next is not an original thought but it’s one I want to explore.

We (collectively) are beginning to reach a point with Collins where this level of three-point shooting seems to be legitimate.

I remember when Taurean Prince — as a member of the Hawks — ignited from the outside down the stretch of the 17-18 season (41%) and, at least, I wasn’t sure, if Prince was that good of an NBA shooter from three. Was it just because there were injuries and Prince’s offensive role increased or was it legitimate? But when Prince still continued to shoot high percentage from three in the 18-19 season, that thought of ‘Oh, this is who he is from three-point range’ came fairly quickly, that validation of a legitimate three-point shooter was there.

With Collins, this validation as a three-point shooter is nearing.

He shot 35% from three last season and he’s shooting 38% this season on more attempts. I think the sample size, for the moment, is maybe holding Collins back for now (because he’s still played just 34 games this season) but this reality is inching closer and closer. Given the position he plays, this is a very valuable asset to have, and with Hawks President of Basketball Operations Travis Schlenk — speaking last night on the broadcast — optimistic that Clint Capela is progressing well in his recovery from injury and that he might be able to return by mid-March, it only adds intrigue as to how Collins and Capela would look together on the court, especially if this three-point shooting carries.

That’s for then, but for now, those three threes Collins hit last night were very welcome.

All in all, not a great loss for the Hawks. This was a matchup the Hawks enjoyed earlier this season and, again, this was a winnable game for the Hawks in the fourth quarter — down four points with over seven minutes remaining. You have to give the Magic credit for their defense, they made life tough for the Hawks in the fourth quarter but defensively there was a lot to be left desired from the Hawks and they didn’t make life tough for the Magic in the fourth quarter, who scored 130 points. Their season average is 104 per game.

The Hawks (17-43) continue their homestand on Friday night — the first night of a back-to-back — when they’ll take on the Brooklyn Nets.

Should be fun.

Until next time...