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First quarter struggles doom Hawks in road loss to Grizzlies

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks made their way to Memphis on Saturday night to face off against the Grizzlies and Rookie of the Year front-runner Ja Morant at FedEx Forum.

Prior to tip-off, the biggest news of the night was Trae Young returning to the starting lineup after just missing Friday’s game in Washington due to an illness. Young did not appear to be 100% over that illness, however, as he appeared to make his way around the court with a slower step than normal.

Lloyd Pierce’s starting lineup was the usual Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon grouping. Meanwhile, Taylor Jenkins’ starters consisted of Morant, De’Anthony Melton, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson and Jonas Valanciunas.

The Hawks came out of the gates well with a quick five-point spurt. That did not last very long, though, as Memphis quickly turned on their offense and took off.

After the Hawks led 5-2 at the 11:00 mark of the first quarter, the Grizzlies went on a 14-0 run to take a 16-5 advantage. Both Melton and Brooks connected on three-pointers during this run with little to no resistance.

Collins temporarily stopped the bleeding with a three-point make of his own, which narrowed the deficit back to single digits momentarily.

Memphis then went on a 10-1 run from the 6:37 mark to the 3:41 mark, and that really blew the game open for them. The Hawks gave Young an early hook at the 6:22 mark with him not looking very comfortable out on the floor, and he did not see time again in the first until the 40-second mark.

Young was not particularly effective by his standards, but the offense completely fell to pieces with him not on the court. After the collective 24-5 run by Memphis, Cam Reddish drew a foul and hit both free throws to stop the excessive bleeding, but the Grizzlies did not exactly slow down.

Atlanta only scored five points total from the 11:00 mark to the 3:41 mark of the quarter after scoring five points in the first minute of the game. Pierce turned to 11 different players in the first 9:12 of the game looking for offense, but the Hawks simply had no answers.

A special moment in the first quarter was at the 2:48 mark when Vince Carter entered the game to a large standing ovation from the crowd. Carter played for the Grizzlies from 2014 to 2017 and this contest represented his final visit to the city as an active player.

Down the stretch, Atlanta turned heavily to Jeff Teague to score, and he obliged with five points in over six minutes of action as he spelled Young. Teague had an important three-point play in the final minute to cut the lead from 20 back to 17, which felt like keeping things from getting totally out of hand for Atlanta.

Overall, the Hawks shot just 23 percent from the field (5-of-22) and just 2-of-12 from three-point land in the first quarter, as Huerter and Collins each made one. Those offensive numbers paired with five Atlanta turnovers, plus the Grizzlies shooting 60 percent, spelled a 38-18 lead when all was said and done.

The second quarter saw the Hawks pick their play up, but it also began with three Hawk fouls in the span of the first three minutes.

Memphis stretched their lead to 23, which was the largest lead of the night to that point, at the 9:01 mark and that prompted an immediate timeout from the Hawks’ bench.

Atlanta re-appeared from the timeout with improved effort. In particular on the defensive end from Cam Reddish. Unfortunately, Reddish would be forced from the game for the first time at the 8:20 mark with what appeared to be cramping in his left calf.

Reddish would return at the 3:55 mark after stretching on the sidelines. Then, just moments later, Reddish would ask out once again. He was taken straight to the locker room and was ruled out at halftime with cramping issues in his lower leg.

There was more Young in the second quarter than in the first, as he played over eight minutes for the Hawks. As a direct result, the offense looked better for Atlanta.

Young drew an important offensive foul at the 7:06 mark of the second against Valanciunas and less than two minutes later Dedmon got the second on the Grizzlies center.

Dedmon got himself involved in some verbal exchanges with Brooks after one of Young’s patented three-point fouls. Dedmon and Brooks were assessed with double technicals and Young knocked down all three of his free throws.

Just after, Huerter added another three points after coming off a nice pin-down screen from Dedmon.

The Hawks also culminated a 10-2 run at that point to get back within 15 points, but Memphis was having none of it and shot back a 9-0 run to get their lead up to 24 with just over three minutes left in the half (which was the largest of the night at that point).

Atlanta finally got their first three-point make from someone not named Huerter or Collins when Reddish knocked down a deep shot right before exiting the game. Teague then followed with a three-point make, and Collins was able to hit another himself.

Carter added this late layup after switching onto Morant in a moment of good recognition by Teague.

Memphis was able to hold off the Hawks late push and ended up taking a 66-45 lead into the break.

The score honestly should have been worse than that, as the Hawks mustered just 30% shooting overall in the first half. They shot just 6-of-24 from three-point range and turned the ball over eight times.

Valanciunas absolutely tore the Hawks up inside with Dedmon sitting for large stretches due to a combination of ineffectiveness and foul trouble. Valanciunas scored 21 points and grabbed 10 boards in the opening half, which would be a good line for most centers for an entire game.

The Hawks only lost the second quarter by a point (28-27), but the damage from the first quarter was already done. Collins led the way at halftime for Atlanta with 13 points.

The play from the second quarter continued over into the third quarter for the Hawks as the two teams simply exchanged blows.

Hunter and Collins combined for a mini 7-0 run to close the gap back to 14, but the Grizzlies responded and had their lead back to 19 by the 9:02 mark. This was thanks to a stabilizing run fueled by Morant and Anderson.

Collins did have an impressive finish to a no-look pass from Huerter during that stretch, which is worth seeing.

The Hawks continued to score, but the Grizzlies had a response almost every time. Memphis made three shots from deep in just over a minute around the 7:45 mark, and despite the Hawks best efforts, the lead continued to sit at 20.

Things finally loosened up for Atlanta late in the quarter as they went on a 13-4 run in the final 4:24 of the third to get the lead down to 15, after being down by as many as 25 in the same quarter.

Atlanta outpaced Memphis 33-27 in the third and shot a much improved 44 percent from the field. They only turned the ball over twice and really made some good progress in the latter half of the third. A big part of that was Collins, who was +11 in the quarter and had 20 points through three periods.

The Hawks did not turn that good close of the third into a good start to the fourth quarter as Memphis rattled off the first four points of the final frame. After grinding a bit, and thanks to a pivotal steal by Dedmon, Atlanta was eventually able to get the lead back down to 15 at the 9:11 mark.

A big moment came at the 8:20 mark of the fourth as Gorgui Dieng committed a foul on Young which put the Hawks in the bonus for the rest of the game. Young’s free throws kept the Hawks within shouting distance at 101-85.

Just after, Young had a nice steal and was able to find Collins to narrow the lead even more.

Morant hit two tough threes in less than a minute to take the Hawks deficit back up to 19 and really took some wind out of the Hawks sails (if they had such a thing).

Atlanta found themselves down 19 with seven minutes to go, but the visitors quickly got the lead down to 14 after a Collins dunk and Graham three-pointer. However, the teams continued to just meddle their way down the stretch.

The lead remained at 16 at the 4:29 mark after a Collins three-pointer. Then, Carter was able to cut it back to 14 with his final three-point make in Memphis at the 3:44 mark.

Brooks and Brandon Goodwin exchanged three-pointers with just under three minutes remaining.

Finally, the finishing sequence came around the 1:40 mark when Morant missed a layup, rebounded his miss, and then made a tough basket under the rim to take the lead to 118-101 which more than put things on ice.

The Hawks played relatively well after the first quarter and actually outscored Memphis after the opening period. There simply was just too much damage done early for the team to make that large of a recovery effort.

“First off, credit to that team,” said Lloyd Pierce postgame, via Fox Sports Southeast. “I respect how they play, how hard they play, how competitive they are. I thought our guys brought out a fight in the second half, after really just getting frustrated early in the first quarter.”

Atlanta did not shoot particularly well at all on the evening. Young, Huerter and Dedmon combined to shoot just 1-of-21 from beyond the arc, and as a team, the Hawks shot just 13-of-48 from deep (good for 27%). The Grizzlies, meanwhile, shot 12-of-33 from three point land (36%) and shot 49% from the field overall.

“It’s tough,” Pierce said. “We go 13 of 49 from three. We shoot 33 percent. The ball’s not falling. Some of it was their effort. A lot of it, we missed a lot of open shots, and we just couldn’t get in rhythm. I thought our guys came out and competed in the second half, especially to start the third quarter. But a lot of credit to Memphis and the way they play, and the intensity at which they play.”

“No matter what, the message in the room is there will always be nights when the shots aren’t falling,” Pierce continued. “The most important thing you can bring is your effort. We shoot 33 percent. You’re not going to win a whole lot of games shooting 33 percent. We go 13 for 49 from three. We get to the free throw, shoot 28 free throws. But the one thing you have to control is your effort and your competitive spirit. When you play a team like Memphis, you have to have that, but you have to have that against anyone. They just magnify it every time we play them, but making shots is not going to be our DNA. It can’t be. It’s an education for the guys in the locker room that we have to bring the fight, just in case the shots don’t fall, so we can make it tough for them.”

Collins led the way for the Hawks with 27 points and eight rebounds. Young scored 16 despite looking under the weather, and Kevin Huerter added 11 more while shooting 3-of-6 from three-point range.

Memphis was paced by Valanciunas, who had a 27-point night to go along with 17 rebounds. Morant poured in 24 more points on 8-of-12 shooting in a very impressive display.

Atlanta will be back in action on Monday night at State Farm Arena where they will battle the Charlotte Hornets.

Stay tuned.