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Hawks fail to move needle in horrid loss to Memphis

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Not a good showing for the home side.

Memphis Grizzlies v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks wrapped up their four-game homestand with a truly horrific loss against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night, 127-88 at State Farm Arena.

In a game where basically everyone struggled — only one Hawk shot over 50% from the field in the form of Damian JonesTrae Young led the Hawks in scoring with 19 points while Kevin Huerter added 13 points.

For the Grizzlies, nine players cracked double-digit scoring, the highest coming from Gorgui Dieng: 17 points. That in itself is quite the stat.

If you, for whatever reason, wanted to catch up and see how this game unfolded, you can do so here.

The first half of this game was one of the ugliest games you would’ve seen this season. The Grizzlies began this game 0-of-11 before both teams shot 32% and 31% from the field respectively.

If there was a play that epitomized the first half, this play where the Hawks botch the inbounds pass and Dillon Brooks misses both attempts underneath the rim:

Maybe you could also add this blown dunk by Josh Jackson too:

Despite their slow start, the Grizzlies won the first quarter — probably a poor sign of things to come for the Hawks, given that 0-of-11 start from Memphis — and opened up a 14 point lead in the second quarter. The Hawks responded well, however, on a 14-3 run to, somehow, pull this game to three points at the half.

You sat at halftime and you think to yourself ‘Look, the Hawks are shooting 33% from the field, Trae Young is struggling from the field, John Collins is having an uncharacteristic game in terms of his shooting, the Hawks already have 10 turnovers on the game and it’s just an ugly, ugly game. There’s a good chance in the second half.’

The first half was hurtful to everyone who is blessed with the gift of sight, and yet the Hawks were only trailing by three points at the half — things could only get better. Right?

Wrong.

The Hawks laid an egg in the second half, beginning in the third quarter. A floater from Young brought the Hawks within two points (55-53) but this was as close as the action got, as the Grizzlies reeled off a 20-3 run to create the separation.

There’s not a ton to say offensively about this stretch. The Hawks got some OK looks but couldn’t convert, and then there were shots that were not as OK. Not awful, but just not fantastic shots.

This shot from Young, for example. It’s not a very good shot, but I’ve seen him take worse shots:

This attempt from De’Andre Hunter — who, to be honest, was nearly invisible in this game — is another example. It’s not awful (well, unless you’re big into analytics) but it’s not great:

Defensively, the Grizzlies were able to score a number of points near the rim in the third quarter, Ja Morant in particular had a couple of impressive drives to the basket.

The Grizzlies also created second chance opportunities in the third quarter, this second effort leads to a De’Anthony Melton three-pointer:

That particular play was created by Jonas Valanciunas, who proved a thorn in the side of the Hawks all night with his offensive rebounding, grabbing seven offensive rebounds and thoroughly won his matchup against Bruno Fernando.

By the end of the third quarter, the Grizzlies had outscored 32-19, shot 57% from the field and carried a 16 point lead into the fourth quarter.

Then came the fourth quarter, where the Grizzlies opened on a 10-2 run to open a 24 point lead (where the game effectively ended), went on to establish a 30 point lead, and then a 41 point lead as they outscored the Hawks 43-20 in the final quarter, and 75-39 in the second half.

For the second half itself, the Hawks shot 15-48 for 31% and 5-of-18 from three. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, shot 66% from the field and 9-of-14 from three in the second half

Really, there isn’t a ton to say after that — just an utterly horrid loss. Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce himself was at a loss postgame.

“I don’t know what that was,” opened Pierce postgame. “I’ve got nothing for you guys. You can ask away. I’ve got nothing for you.”

Having endured what was a brutal game to watch, I was looking forward to some of the quotes that Pierce might give postgame (specifically about the starters, which we’ll get to soon) but that wasn’t going to happen, with Pierce’s postgame press conference being unusually short. The one question asked was about what teaching points could be used from this game.

“I don’t know what to teach,” replied Pierce. “You can’t teach effort. You can talk about it, but effort is effort.”

End of press conference.

Again, it would’ve been interesting to hear more, but I think that was just reflective of how poor the Hawks were last night.

After some tough losses, Pierce is still usually open for questions, sometimes he makes a joke, gives an ol’ chuckle during an answer, but none of that was there to be seen last night after this one. In some ways I’m disappointed (only because I would’ve liked to have heard Pierce’s thoughts on the game) but at the same time I don’t blame him at all because the Hawks were just ghastly from start to finish.

“We started off bad, we started off bad,” said Young postgame. “Picked it up a little bit. It’s tough whenever you’ve got more dudes in suits than jerseys. We’ve just got to get everybody healthy. Three games in four nights isn’t easy. They’re obviously battling super-hard to get a playoff spot. You saw how much they fought for it. They just wanted it more than us. That’s just what it is.”

A few easy excuses are being made here, if we’re being honest.

Yes, the Hawks have played three games in four nights, but it’s not like they had to travel at all during that time. The fact that the Hawks lost is not the issue, it’s the NBA and the Grizzlies are obviously in an intense battle for the 8-seed in the Western Conference where every game is crucial.

But to lose by 39 points at home in that manner in the second half is just not good enough.

The injury angle isn’t much of an excuse either, even if it holds some water.

Yes, the Hawks were obviously shorthanded with 10 available bodies, missing Dewayne Dedmon and Cam Reddish, and those absences were felt. While the Grizzlies had more bodies available, the talent they were missing rivals what the Hawks were missing in terms of talent, as Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke and Justise Winslow were sidelined for this game.

Yes, Clint Capela is missing for the Hawks but considering he actually hasn’t played, I’m not putting him in that conversation with Dedmon and Reddish, who are playing right now and have been key contributors. DeAndre’ Bembry hasn’t played for a while now and his place in the rotation was looking sketchy before his injury, so his absence isn’t crippling. Skal Labissiere is in the same boat as Capela.

Kevin Huerter was blunt in his analysis of the game.

“It can’t happen like that,” said Huerter postgame. “Obviously we laid an egg. We didn’t play defense. We didn’t get back. They killed us in transition. We couldn’t make a shot on the offensive end. There was nothing we did well tonight. We can have off-nights, but not that off. We expect to play better, especially at home. You never want to lose like that.”

“This is a game you throw in the trash,” added Young. “You can’t really watch film on this. All you can really do is reflect on your energy, reflect on how hard you competed. This isn’t something you can really watch film on, you’ve just got to reflect on it.”

The Hawks opened with a different starting lineup last night, inserting Bruno Fernando into the starting lineup having ran with Collins at center previously. Missing Dedmon on a night where the Grizzlies are in town is tough, but Fernando struggled in a major way last night — he just looked completely out of his depth, shooting 1-of-8 from the field and was a minus+31 on the game — that sounds about right.

To be fair, he wasn’t the only starter who had a tough time of things — they all struggled.

Combined, the Hawks’ starters shot 18-of-61 from the field but they were also just played off of the floor too. Plus/minus is a subjective stat and needs context, but in this spot — where the Hawks’ starters combined for a total of -123 — I think it tells the story of this game, a game where the home team were run out of their own building, all in the second half too. You look at the final score and you’d forget that this was a legitimate game at halftime.

Tellingly, there were two spots in this game where Pierce had enough of his starters,

During that 20-3 Grizzlies run in the third quarter — when the Grizzlies scored to make it a 72-56 contest — Pierce called for a timeout and when it was over, three subs were made as Young, Huerter and Hunter were all pulled (Fernando and Collins had been subbed prior to the timeout). Those three would not return for the remaining 5:25 of the third quarter.

To start the fourth quarter, all five of the Hawks’ starters re-entered the game but the Grizzlies reeled off a quick 10-2 run to push the lead to 24 points and Pierce had seen enough. After calling the timeout, Pierce replaced all five of his starters and brought in the bench unit. While he sprinkled the starters back into the game later in the fourth quarter, the game was well and truly up by then.

This is not something Pierce does often at all, and to do it twice last night... he clearly had a message to send to his starters, who just didn’t bring it.

Again, to be fair, no one really played well last night for the Hawks, though I thought Jeff Teague wasn’t awful off of the bench (he also registered, by far, the Hawks’ best plus/minus rating of -3. The next “best” was Damian Jones’ -15).

I realize I’m leaning on plus/minus a little more than usual this morning, but I think for this game more than others, it tells the correct story for the Hawks.

In the end, the Hawks shot a lowly 88 points on a season-low 32% from the field and 9-of-35 from three. It will have to go on the Hawks’ shortlist of worst games of the season. Again, you can make excuses for the loss and that’s fine, but to lose by 39 at home...some of those excuses carry significantly less weight.

All of that said — despite how bad this loss was — I think it’s important to not overreact to this one game.

The Hawks enjoyed two good victories over the weekend and finished 2-2 on this homestand. That’s fine, that’s absolutely fine, and the Hawks actually winning both games in a back-to-back situation is a big step for the team, given how poor the Hawks have been on the second night of a back-to-back.

The Hawks weren’t a playoff contender heading into this game, and they’re not a playoff contender now. Calls for Pierce’s job shouldn’t have been happening before this game, nor should they be happening after the game.


The good news for the Hawks (now 19-44 on the season) is that they have some time to recover from this game, their next contest taking place on Friday night against the Washington Wizards, the first night of a back-to-back before a rematch against the Grizzlies on Saturday.