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Hawks struggle in first quarter, show encouraging fight in road loss to Bucks

Things threatened to get ugly but the Hawks showed fight

Atlanta Hawks v Milwaukee Bucks

The Atlanta Hawks faced an uphill battle from minute one of their Sunday night contest against the Milwaukee Bucks as both Trae Young (back spasm) and Clint Capela (right hand soreness) ruled out prior to tip-off at Fiserv Forum, while the likes of Danilo Gallinari, Onyeka Okongwu and Cam Reddish were on minutes restrictions, though Lloyd Pierce did not disclose the exact details of these restrictions pre-game.

Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kris Dunn remained out.

In the end, the Hawks were unable to overcome their absence, falling to the Bucks 129-115.

The Hawks were led by a career-high effort from De’Andre Hunter, who scored 33 points, as well as 30 points from John Collins. Danilo Gallinari added 17 points off of the bench. For the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way with 27 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. Bobby Portis added 21 points off of the bench.

The first quarter — and first half for that matter — probably went exactly as many would have expected, given who was absent for the Hawks. The Bucks ran out to a 32-15 lead after the first quarter and went on to establish a 24 point lead in the second quarter.

Looking at the boxscore, you’d be forgiven for thinking the first quarter was the one that doomed the Hawks — it was and it wasn’t at the same time.

We’ll look at a few clips from the first quarter, just to see where a few things got away from the Hawks and put them in the position they were: chasing the game the entire way.

From the Bucks’ side to begin with... Giannis is going to be Giannis sometimes, and there’s not a ton you can always do. Case in point on this possession, where Giannis drives on Hunter, extends and finishes at the rim:

Giannis draws a crowd in the paint, as one would imagine, leaving opportunities for his teammates on the outside, such as this possession here, where Giannis finds Kris Middleton for three:

De’Andre Hunter, unfortunately for the Hawks, predicted the pass to Jrue Holiday in the corner.

Rajon Rondo was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Trae Young, which doesn’t always help defensively. Here, Rondo already begins to look a little behind the play defensively before getting pinged by the Giannis screen before Donte DiVincenzo hits the three-pointer:

Rookie Onyeka Okongwu was inserted into the starting lineup in place of the injured Clint Capela for his first NBA start and, well, at times defensively it was baptism by fire, certainly on the first possession of the game where Giannis goes at the rookie at the rim, resulting in a dunk:

Here, Okongwu is beaten on the move by Middleton, who is allowed to turn the corner and finishes at the rim:

There were positives from Okongwu in his first NBA start but he struggled in the opening quarter. In fact, after that Middleton layup the Hawks took a timeout, out of which Solomon Hill was inserted for Okongwu.

The Bucks shot over 61% in the first quarter while the Hawks shot 27% from the field and 2-of-14 from three.

Some of these attempts were good looks that the Hawks just didn’t convert on, such as this decent look from Hunter on a three at the top:

On the screen, the Bucks go under and Brandon Goodwin gets a good look at an open three but can’t convert:

For the most part however, the Bucks deterred the Hawks from attacking the paint/rim (the Hawks scoring just two points in the paint in the first quarter), forcing the Hawks into a jump-shooting team.

Here, you can see the problem. You have the ball guarded by Giannis, Brook Lopez manning the back-line and guards DJ Augustin and Jrue Holiday in close proximity to the paint/help. Here, Hunter drives, meets the defense before finding Collins in the corner for the three-point attempt:

On this possession, Rondo probes, sees Giannis planted in the paint, explores his options before finding John Collins again on the perimeter but can’t convert on the three as Lopez closes out:

On this play, Solomon Hill gets downhill, the defense closes in the paint, Hill passes to Tony Snell behind the arc but the former Buck can’t convert from the outside:

This theme continued throughout the first half as the Hawks struggled to 47 points on 39.5% shooting from the field and 5-of-25 from three while the Bucks shot 60% in the first half from the field for 66 points. For the game, the Bucks ended up doubling the Hawks’ efforts in paint points: 60-to-30.

The Hawks did find a gear in the second half and worked their way back in looming contention, cutting the lead to eight points in the third quarter before the Bucks re-established their double-digit lead.

The Hawks received scoring contributions from every member who stepped on the court en-route to 36 third quarter points. To begin the fourth quarter, the Hawks again cut the lead to eight points (96-88) with 10:35 remaining — a lot of time to dig further into the Bucks’ lead and maybe more.

For as hard as the Hawks worked to get back to this point, their hard work was undone in the space of about two minutes.

To start, the Bucks’ double-digit lead was restored as a miscommunication on defense between Brandon Goodwin and Cam Reddish led to an easy DJ Augustin three:

For the Hawks, the screen from Goodwin doesn’t quite take Pat Connaughton out of the play and he’s allowed to recover and block the cutting Hunter at the rim:

The Hawks get another opportunity but don’t put it to good use as Reddish’s three-point attempt is contested and miss:

0-of-5 for Reddish from downtown last night: it’s just not a high percentage shot right now.

Off of this miss, the Bucks charge the other way with Giannis. Hunter’s attempted charge is side-stepped by Giannis, forcing Reddish to have to step further than he probably would want with DiVincenzo behind him. Once Hunter is dispatched, it’s over, and Giannis who DiVincenzo for the layup at the rim:

Something I think everyone wants to see maybe a little more, the Hunter-Collins pick-and-roll. Hunter finds Collins and Collins gets a good look at a mid-range floater but can’t convert:

To cap off, the Hawks get all sorts of lost off of the ball defensively as Giannis squares off against Gallinari. Collins finds himself slightly indecisive as he tries to figure whether he should get to Lopez — who has a mismatch with Reddish and Goodwin — or remain with DiVincenzo. Reddish attempts to intercept Giannis’ pass to Lopez, who has shed Goodwin, leading to the easy layup at the rim, giving the Bucks a 15-point lead and prompting the timeout from Lloyd Pierce and the Hawks:

After the timeout, a Gallinari three cut the lead back to 12 points but what really killed this game for the Hawks after this burst from the Bucks was a flagrant foul being called on De’Andre Hunter after he was deemed to have gone underneath Bryn Forbes on a foul on a three-point attempt. Forbes converts all three free throws as the Bucks retain possession, off of which DiVincenzo scores at the rim with the dunk to put the game beyond the Hawks for good.

In the space of just a few minutes, the Hawks went from having a shot at getting well and truly back in this game — trailing by only eight points — to this game going back to blowout range down 17.

The Hawks shot over 62% themselves in the second half while connecting on 9-of-14 from downtown in a much improved second half that saw them get within single digits twice. While the Bucks regressed to 50% shooting themselves in the second half, their margin built in the first half was enough to carry them through.

Postgame, Pierce discussed how the Hawks didn’t take great shots in the first quarter but was satisfied that his team played with the ‘right mindset’ in the second half.

“I thought we took the easy way out to start the game,” said Pierce postgame. “Some of the shot selections, some of the shots that were going up were kind of the first options — we didn’t make them work and they weren’t great shots. Once we started to move the defense and get downhill — and ‘Dre got going a little bit — but it was because we were attacking. We had the right mindset in the second half, we had the right mindset to start the third quarter, we had the right mindset of how we wanted to play offensively. For some reason in the first quarter we were taking the easiest shot we could get. There was no rhythm there.”

“I think for our guys in the second half, just to find a rhythm,” Pierce went on to say. “The game got away from us early, to find a rhythm ... put some stops together, see the ball go in the basket. We have to compete like that when we’re missing guys, we have to compete when we have a full roster. It was good to see us not lay down and come out and hit them in the mouth in the first couple of minutes in the third quarter.”

Collins praised the group’s spirit and effort, saying that the Hawks wanted to at least play hard and give the game their best effort in the second half.

“We just competed,” said Collins postgame. “We had that ‘never die’ spirit. We wanted to come back, to compete. We didn’t like the way the scoreboard looked at all. We just wanted to at least finish knowing that we played hard and gave it our best. I feel like we at least tried, obviously we didn’t execute, we could do some things better as always but I feel like we played hard.”

“It’s tough to win games against a great team when we start the way we did,” Collins would later add.

Collins also hit a career-high six three-pointers as he put up 30 points on 12-of-19 shooting from the field and 6-of-9 from three but was left with mixed feelings on this new mark.

“I definitely take pride in that,” said Collins of his six threes. “I feel like I should’ve went 9-for-9 tonight, that’s just me, just the way I practice. I just hate missing shots. I’m in the middle. I like it but we didn’t win. It’s bittersweet.”

The talk of the game belonged to Hunter, who set a career-high 33 points on 13-of-21 shooting from the field in 41 minutes.

Not to negate what Hunter did, but 10 of these came in the fourth quarter after the Hawks had returned to a 17 point deficit and Hunter’s points sadly couldn’t bring the Hawks back in contention a third time. Nevertheless, Pierce said the Hawks needed every one of those points.

“He was looking to be aggressive. He was looking to get going for us,” said Pierce of Hunter I don’t think it was anything selfish, he was just trying to get us going. We run a play for him, he makes a nice post-up turnaround (jumper) twice. You see the ball go in, you feel you can get going a little bit. We needed every bit of it.”

For Hunter himself, it was as you would expect him to feel about the night.

“It’s cool to have a career-high but would’ve been better to do it in a victory,” said Hunter postgame.

There was quite a bit to be said for Hunter last night but there’s plenty more when it comes to Hunter coming at Peachtree Hoops so, we’ll hold back on the Hunter talk today.

In the meantime, Hunter is averaging 21 points per game on 53.8% shooting from the field on 13 attempts per game, 35% from three on five attempts from distance and 87.5% from the free throw line on six attempts in his last four games.

Hunter has been the Hawks’ most consistent player this season and, arguably, their best player this season too, and shows no signs of stopping.

More to come on Hunter at Peachtree Hoops, stay tuned.

Just going back to the game itself, what probably isn’t being talked about a ton that arguably influenced this game was the foul that was rescinded on Giannis in the third quarter — which would have been his fifth — and the subsequent benefit of the whistle to then not pick up a fifth foul.

How much that would have changed the outcome of the game, no one knows, but it would have been a big moment in this game regardless. Alas...

Coming back to Okongwu, in his first NBA start he scored four points in just under 16 minutes but produced three blocks in that time too.

It was a tough matchup, a tough spot for Okongwu to step in but his teammates were understanding of the situation and appreciated his efforts in his limited action on the court.

“He definitely came ready to compete,” said Collins of Okongwu. “Obviously being thrown into the fire like that, your first start against the two-time MVP. I feel like we understood the mountain he had to climb. We were all there trying to help him, push him along as best we could. Shouts to ‘Big O’, he came in, he competed tonight. That’s all we can ask for.”

It was telling that the Hawks leaned on Okongwu here and Bruno Fernando was a DNP-CD in this spot, minus Clint Capela too. Still, the rookie showed some flashes and it was surprising he wasn’t asked about when Lloyd Pierce was speaking in his availability last night.

Steady progress for Okongwu, who continues to play on a minutes restriction.

All in all for the Hawks last night, they provided a better showing than I think many would/could have expected, especially given how the first half — and more specifically, the first quarter — went, and I think the Hawks themselves were satisfied enough with their second half performance, even though they lost the game and will be disappointed with that, the second half performance was encouraging.

The Hawks (8-8) are back in action at State Farm Arena on Tuesday night on the first night of a challenging back-to-back, on the first night of which they face the Los Angeles Clippers before taking on the new-look Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.

Should be interesting.

Until next time...