Well, this isn’t where Atlanta Hawks fans expected January to take them after a New Year’s Day win over the Brooklyn Nets took their record to 4-1 and caused a stir of conversation about them around the association. The Hawks were looking ahead to four games against teams that were with them in bottom third of the Eastern Conference last season before Atlanta went on a spending spree to build a capable roster around third year star point guard Trae Young.
Following a 113-105 loss on Saturday evening to the Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta has now lost each of those games, to to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the New York Knicks and now Charlotte twice.
Wednesday’s ugly loss to the Hornets was well documented, as was other off the court happenings. Despite the loss, Saturday’s performance was closer to what is probably expected in the energy and activity categories, but left far too much lacking in the shooting department.
Despite the improved competitive spirit, it is still sure to be frustrating for Hawks fans to see the team drop another game, even this early in the season, that they were broadly expected to win. They were favored, again, in this game despite playing on the road — for whatever that’s worth this season — and the Hornets were playing on the second night of back-to-back games after winning in New Orleans on Friday evening.
Truth be told, the key players Atlanta was missing due to injuries (Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn and Onyeka Okongwu) probably offset the schedule advantage they had to some degree. And, in the first half, they lost Bogdan Bogdanovic, who started in place of the previously struggling Cam Reddish in this game, to a knee injury that could keep him out for a while.
That left the Hawks with an eight-man rotation, for the most part, which isn’t ideal. But, even on short rest, Charlotte chose to deploy an eight-man rotation of their own.
Still, I don’t think Hawks fans would get an argument from anyone that this is a game Atlanta should have won.
“We are in a lot of a rut and we are just trying to find our way out,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said in postgame comments. “I thought the best thing was to try Cam (Reddish) in a different role and try to get (Bogdanovic) going as a playmaker out on the floor and I thought our start was great.”
“You know, we had two or three shots to cut into the lead, they were up 79-76, and we had a couple of good looks, Brandon (Goodwin) I think and Solo (Hill),” Pierce continued. “And to me that (next) possession summed up the rest of the game. We couldn’t make the open shots and they hit a couple of big ones. All of a sudden you think you could tie the ballgame up to swing the momentum and as they were hitting their shots it went up to about 15 (point lead) after that.”
This video encapsulates that stretch.
After the LaMelo Ball three pointer to put the Hornets up 82-76, Charlotte would outscore Atlanta 31-29 the rest of the way. That sounds manageable, except that the Hornets had a double-digit lead almost the entire fourth quarter. The Hawks scored the final six points of the game in undramatic fashion to make the final score appear to reflect a more competitive game that it actually was down the stretch.
In the stat sheet, this game was a pretty neutral battle, or even one tilted to Atlanta, in every area except the shooting. Charlotte was just plus two points scoring in the paint. They were plus one point in transition. The Hawks were plus ten points on second chance opportunities, but they missed many more shots than did the Hornets.
There was no glaringly bad area of play for Atlanta in this game, for the most part, except that their shots weren’t going in.
The Hawks generated an impressive 46 attempts from beyond the three point line but connected on just 14 of them. And a good majority of them were quality looks.
“I feel like they were just hitting shots,” commented De’Andre Hunter after the game. “I feel like we were playing solid defense for the most part. They hit some tough shots at the end of the shot clock. We weren’t really hitting on our shots.”
Charlotte made one more three pointer (15) than did the Hawks despite taking 13 fewer attempts. Further damage was done as the Hornets shot 56.8% (25 for 44) on two-point attempts.
Pierce opted to deploy John Collins and Solomon Hill at the center position during stretches when their starting center, Clint Capela, was off of the court. This provided a more switchable lineup to use as to try to contain Gordon Hayward, who had 44 points on Wednesday night, but seemed to cost them a bit in the rim protection department.
The shooting performance for the Hornets was an anomaly, which can happen in any game. They were 21st in the league shooting from distance entering Saturday’s game (35.5%) and shot 45.5% in this game with a good number of them contested and/or at the end of the shot clock.
And it just seemed that down the stretch that any time the Hawks would get within reach they would miss their next three-point attempt and Charlotte would make their next one and the six-point swing would go in the wrong direction and the hill would just get steeper for Atlanta.
Ball was the undisputed star in this game, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to post a triple-double with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. And it seemed like every play he made came at the optimal time to help his team achieve and maintain, if not extend a lead.
“Melo is doing stuff that I expected him to do,” Trae Young said about Ball’s play. “He’s a tall PG who can pass who can obviously rebound. He’s just a smart player. Things are going to become a lot more easy for him as he plays more and more games in this league. I’m just happy to see he’s doing really well.”
Terry Rozier added 23 points, to lead all scorers. PJ Washington equaled Ball’s 22 points and blocked an impressive six shots. Charlotte would need every bit of help as to be able to amass 113 points considering Hayward managed just 13 points in this game.
From the bench for the Hornets, Caleb Martin had 15 points on just nine shooting possessions.
Reddish led Atlanta scorers with 21 points, which was a sight for sore eyes considering his recent shooting struggles, which didn’t completely disappear in this game. He was four of 13 on three-point attempts and two of four on two-point attempts but he looked more at ease as a shooter in this contest.
Young had 15 points but came up empty from the arc again (five attempts), making him one for 14 in his last three games. It’s hard to imagine him not getting that straightened out sooner than later, but it was his inability to put his imprint on this game in the fourth quarter that was most head-scratching.
“Whenever shots aren’t going, I understand the work I put in,” Young said postgame. “And I know it’s going to pay off. So I’m not too worried about my shots not going in.”
He did have 10 assists and just four turnovers.
John Collins had 12 points and ten rebounds (six on the offensive end) but took just seven field goal attempts. Atlanta seemed to be almost forcing him the ball on a couple of their first several offensive possessions.
Continuing his positive play this season, Hunter posted 20 points on 15 shooting possessions and served as the player that most kept the offense moving forward in the game.
On the second unit, Huerter managed 11 points while struggling as a shooter in his own right. He was just three for 10 from long distance. He did have six assists and was helpful for the most part despite the shooting struggles.
Now, we have to talk about the injuries.
The Bogdanovic injury happened on this play:
He never returned to the game and it seems as though he may miss some extended time.
“I thought the best thing was to try Cam (Reddish) in a different role and try to get (Bogdanovic) going as a playmaker out on the floor and I thought our start was great,” Pierce said about moving Bogdanovic into the starting lineup.
“It’s unfortunate.” he said about the injury. “We’ll find out some more information on (Bogdanovic). It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get to see him through.”
Later Pierce added, “Again we are probably looking at another guy that’s probably going to be out for a while,” surely referring to Bogdanovic.
Then there was a scary moment for Young:
It looked concerning for a few minutes as it appeared to be an injury to his left wrist. But he returned to play in the fourth quarter.
“It’s nothing severe but it’s definitely hurting for sure,” Young said about the injury.
“I was trying to play through it. I got some xrays after the game,” he added. “But I just tried to play through it.”
He finally concluded, “I’ll be OK.”
Let’s take a look at more of the action.
Charlotte deployed more zone in this game in an attempt to contain Young again:
Notice the reaction as soon as Young receives the pass from Hunter. Devonte Graham rushes up to front him well above the three-point line. Washington clears the lane and puts himself in the would-be dribble penetration path of Young. And Rozier comes across as far as the top of the key.
Young swings the ball back to Hunter who can work with Bogdanovic, basically, in two-on-one fashion with just Hayward defending that side of the floor.
This reflects that the Hawks had an offensive plan for the Charlotte zone from the top of this game.
The Hawks were using quite a bit of switching on defense, as seen on this Hornets baseline out-of-bounds (BLOB) play.
Capela does a solid job of staying Rozier and contesting his shot.
Interestingly, Young and Collins seemed to have good chemistry early in the game:
That was technically a missed shot by Young and the first of the six blocks for Washington. But no one could convince me that didn’t go just about as intended by the two despite the strong contest.
This possession offers a look at the optics of the Hawks defense before Charlotte really got it going from the perimeter:
Young and Hunter work well to communicate regarding switching/not switching on the ball screen. Young works hard over the screen and to get back as to offer a contest on the Graham three-point attempt.
Charlotte had a hard time keeping Capela and Collins off of the offensive glass especially early in the game:
Take another look at the Hornets zone there, most closely when the ball is un Hunter’s hands at the beginning of the play. When is the last you saw an offensive player, without the ball, faced-guarded by a zone defense? And this isn’t a box-and-one!
Atlanta’s struggled to deal with Ball’s playmaking ability from basically the time he entered the game:
Capela had a wow play in the second quarter:
How many centers have a “rip-through” ready to put to use when they catch the ball in space at the three-point line? That’s impressive!
A good number of the Hornets perimeter makes looked like this:
Cody Martin sinks a shot with Brandon Goodwin in his face.
A good number of the Hawks misses looked like this:
A great shooter, Huerter, with a wide open look.
Some of the two-point attempts looked similar. Here PJ Washington drives on the under-sized Young but meets Collins, who is vertical, at the restricted circle:
Hunter would make smart plays here and there. Like on this one where as soon as Washington steps up to account for Capela after he steps toward the paint to create a passing lane for Young which leads to a bucket:
Then Ball would make another play for his team:
And the rest mostly looked like that.
The Hawks would scrap back within a two-possession game, or so, then miss an open three-point attempt followed by a Charlotte made contested three. Hunter made smart and timely plays but Ball made more of them.
A pretty good majority of games (maybe two-thirds of the time?) this defensive effort (good enough) paired with the shot profile Atlanta created in this game produces a win. But that is little comfort for Hawks fans who had such high expectations for the team especially early in the 2020-2021 season when the schedule seems so favorable.
All one can do at this point is hope for soon returns on the part of the missing players (especially Gallinari) and wish as much as one can that the Bogdanovic injury isn’t too bad.
The Hawks (4-5) are scheduled to host the Philadelphia 76ers (7-3) on Monday at 7:30 pm ET.
There could be all sorts of news, on both sides, regarding which players will actually be available to play. Stay tuned here for all of that information and more.