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Hawks begin road back-to-back with blowout loss to Jazz

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Utah Jazz Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Following a postponement on Wednesday, the Atlanta Hawks returned to action in Salt Lake City on Friday evening. While there were moments of encouragement, the overall performance lacked considerably for the visiting team, and the Hawks fell by a final score of 116-92 for the team’s first double-digit loss of the 2020-21 season.

The evening began in unfortunate fashion for Atlanta, and the slow start put the visitors behind the eight-ball from the opening tip. The Jazz opened on a 10-2 run, with the Hawks scoring just two points in the first five possessions, and Atlanta struggled to contain Mike Conley in the early going. The Hawks kept digging the hole out of a timeout, allowing back-to-back three-pointers and a dunk to trail 18-4 in rapid order.

Atlanta’s energy did pick up from there, consciously choosing to push the tempo, and the results improved to the tune of an 11-1 run.

Cam Reddish was one of the few Hawks performing well at the start, generating a steal and a dunk before rattling the rim with a big dunk in the half-court.

Utah’s lead ballooned back to ten by the end of the first quarter, however, and the Hawks generated only three assists in the opening period. As the second quarter began, De’Andre Hunter asserted himself, knocking down two mid-range jump shots and scoring six points in a hurry.

Atlanta cut the margin all the way down to five points with less than five minutes to go but, as they did at the start, Utah reasserted control. The Jazz closed the first half on a 16-6 run, taking a 15-point lead at the break, and the Hawks allowed Utah to produce far too many quality shot attempts from all across the floor.

Though the task was significant to overcome a double-digit lead on the road against a quality opponent, the Hawks did what they needed to do coming out of the halftime break. Trae Young created free throw attempts, Reddish knocked down a three-pointer, and Young found Clint Capela for a dunk to force a timeout by the Jazz. In fact, Atlanta scored the first 11 points of the third quarter to cut the margin to four, and Capela was key with activity and production.

The remainder of the evening was far less kind, however, as the Jazz put the game away before the middle of the fourth quarter. Utah responded to Atlanta’s run with a 19-7 push of their own and, even as the visitors scored eight straight points later in the third quarter, it wasn’t nearly enough.

The closing kick was a 21-0 run by the Jazz that doubled as a bludgeoning. Utah’s explosion between the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter opened up a 29-point margin with fewer than nine minutes to play, and that cleared the bench for the Hawks.

While the rest of the night served as garbage time, it did allow Hawks rookie Onyeka Okongwu to score the first points of his NBA career, and he made a highlight dunk along the way.

In totality, Atlanta’s struggles manifested on both ends of the floor. Even with a letdown in the final minutes, the Jazz scored more than 1.1 points per possession, largely on the strength on 20-of-44 shooting from three-point shooting. Utah did shoot the ball well but, in the same breath, Atlanta had myriad breakdowns defensively, yielding wide open shots at alarming frequency.

“Our defensive containment on the basketball was a point of emphasis and we didn’t get it done tonight at all,” head coach Lloyd Pierce said when prompted on the defensive issues. “This is a three-point shooting team that creates threes off the dribble, and they were able to get into the paint, beat our guys off the dribble, and they were able to spray out.”

Offensively, it was a dismal night for the Hawks. Atlanta failed to score even 0.9 points per possession, an ugly figure, and the team combined to convert only 5-of-28 from three-point range. The Hawks created only 15 free throw attempts, well below their baseline, and Atlanta’s 16 turnovers led to 29 points for Utah.

Individually, Reddish led the way with 20 points, including 8-of-13 from the floor and 4-of-5 from three-point distance. Until the final minutes, he was the only member of the Hawks to convert a triple, and Reddish added five rebounds.

“Shots were falling. It’s good to see,” Pierce said of Reddish. “He got some rhythm shots. He hits a wide-open three in transition. Most of his shots were under control and in rhythm… He just made shots that were open and that were there. I didn’t think he tried to press too much. I thought he took what was there, and he was effective doing so tonight.”

Clint Capela added 16 points and 11 rebounds, with Hunter (14 points), Kevin Huerter (10 points) and John Collins (13 points) also reaching double figures.

Young finished with only four points on 1-of-11 shooting, though he did produce seven assists in 24 minutes. The All-Star guard struggled throughout the night to get his offense going, and the Jazz extended their defense to make life difficult on Young.

“Denied him the entire game, as much as they could,” Pierce said when asked what Utah did to slow Young. “Challenged him to work. Probably frustrated him. Made it difficult to get any entry. He’s used to bringing the ball up and playing, and they took that out.”

Though the issues went well beyond Young, it is difficult for the Hawks to sustain high-level offense on nights when he struggles. That is particularly true with both Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic sidelined but, with the notable exception of Monday’s win over Philadelphia, Young has scuffled in the recent past and Atlanta’s overall results have slipped in tandem.

With the loss, Atlanta falls to 5-6 on the season and 3-3 away from State Farm Arena. The Hawks will return to action on Saturday evening, closing a difficult back-to-back with a trip to Portland, though the task will be difficult and the team must play at a higher level in order to threaten the Blazers.

“We have to meet the challenge,” Pierce said in looking ahead to Saturday. “I thought we didn’t meet the challenge tonight. We have to come out and meet the challenge tomorrow. That’s part of the reason why those guys were taken out early in the fourth. We know we have a game tomorrow. Let’s get some other guys some minutes and some reps. See if we can reload and lock into Portland.”

Stay tuned.