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Hawks unable to overcome rough start in home loss to Hornets

A third straight loss for the Hawks.

Charlotte Hornets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks finished their three-game homestand with a disappointing loss against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, falling 102-94 to their fellow Southeast division rivals.

John Collins led the Hawks with 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Kevin Huerter hit five three-pointers on his way to 19 points.

For the Hornets, Gordon Hayward erupted for a career-high 44 points, with LaMelo Ball adding 16 points off of the bench.

Let’s get started...

This was a game defined by its opening quarter, one where the Hawks scored 11 points — their lowest output in a first quarter since the 2013-14 season — and played catch-up the rest of the way, trailing by as many as 24 points in the first half.

While the Hawks did end up coming back — and actually took the lead in the fourth quarter — they ultimately fell short but the damage was done in the first quarter.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what happened for the Hawks offensively in that decisive first quarter, where the Hawks shot 5-of-22 and doomed themselves to an uphill battle from which there was no recovery last night.

These misses came in many forms.

Cam Reddish had another tough night at the office last night and, again, some of his shots were just bad, such as this drive and attempt near the rim:

In transition from his own steal, Reddish attempts to finish on his own at the rim, only to be swatted by P.J. Washington with Trae Young and John Collins in support:

On the step-back, Reddish’s three-pointer is contested and it falls short:

The Hawks shot 1-of-10 from three in the first quarter, and from the wing, De’Andre Hunter’s three-pointer is a contested one, getting closer to the sideboard than the rim on this attempt:

The Hornets played some good defense too, as Washington blocks Hunter’s attempt at the rim on the drive as the help defender:

Having watched the shots from the first quarter back, the Hawks perhaps weren’t as bad as the numbers make it all out to seem, or certainly how it felt watching the game live: they just missed a lot of shots, but the Hawks unquestionably got more than a few good looks.

After getting the switch on the screen from Collins, Young gets a decent look from three on the step-back but the shot doesn’t fall:

From the wing, Collins gets a good look as he’s guarded by Devonte’ Graham. Collins gets to a good spot — before Bismack Biyombo can contest — and his shot over Graham doesn’t drop:

The Hawks moved the ball pretty well in stages last night, creating good looks such as this one for Reddish, who can’t hit the three:

In transition, Huerter’s ball-fake frees up space for an open three, which is a high-percentage shot for Huerter, but it doesn’t fall:

On the pass from Young, Collins is able to work himself into a good position in front of the rim but misses the easy look at the rim:

Another fake from Huerter in the corner frees up another good look for the sharpshooter but, again, it just doesn’t drop:

So, plenty of good looks that the Hawks created but — and this theme would continue in the second quarter — they just couldn’t hit anything. The Hornets couldn’t hit much either; for as much as the Hawks struggled, the Hornets shot 9-of-26 in the first quarter themselves — it just so happened the Hawks were so bad offensively (and not getting to the free throw line a ton, or making any of the two they attempted, didn’t help either).

The Hawks looked as though they were getting on track in the second quarter, cutting the lead to 11 points with under five minutes to go before the Hornets reeled off a 20-7 run to push the lead to 24. The Hawks then made some inroads in the third quarter before reducing the deficit to an unlikely 10 points before the Hornets pushed the lead back to 14 heading into the final frame.

The Hawks then fought to chip into that lead and took it themselves on an ‘and-1’ play from Collins. From there, the Hawks didn’t have enough to seal the deal as Hayward took an exceptional night into a career-night.

The Hornets retook the lead as Graham and Hayward put Young through the pick-and-roll, with Hayward receiving the ball from Graham on the bounce-pass and immediately rising into the mid-range jumper:

At the other end, the Hawks end up taking a tough shot as Hunter’s step-back three is contested and missed:

On the drive, Hayward creates space on the drive but misses at the rim. However, he grabs his own miss and stick the follow through for the second chance bucket at the rim, plus the foul:

After his first quarter misses from behind the arc, Huerter got hot from downtown but couldn’t hit, arguably, the biggest three down the stretch for the Hawks as they move the ball to find him in the corner:

Tough break for Huerter, who shot 5-of-12 from three last night as he continues his strong start from behind the arc on the season.

Now down four, the Hawks are in need of a stop to stop the bleeding but with the Hornets in the bonus, Hunter is called for a soft foul on the hold on Hayward, sending the forward to the line for two more onto his now-career night:

The next Hayward shot was arguably the biggest of the night (and one that Lloyd Pierce would reference postgame). In a late clock situation, the Hawks throw an extra body on Hayward but he hits the step-back as the shot clock is about to expire to put the Hornets by seven points with a minute and a half remaining (video is timestamped):

From there, the Hawks couldn’t reply and the Hornets sealed the deal at the free throw line, dropping the Hawks to 4-4 and a third successive third loss at home.

Postgame, Pierce was relatively happy with the looks the Hawks got last night and spoke to the challenges the Hornets pose defensively.

“I actually thought we had really good looks,” began Pierce. “First and foremost, give them credit. This is a team we knew who they would be: they would be scrappy, they would press, they would switch defenses, they’d zone, they scramble and what they do is they give you some easy looks but those are the looks they want you to get, not the ones we were trying to create. Sometimes it’s fools-gold: you’re shooting some of those shots because you’re sped up and they’re moving you.”

Pierce described the Hawks as ‘sloppy’ while describing Young’s seven turnovers in the first half as ‘uncharacteristic’ as Young accounted for seven of the Hawks’ 13 turnovers.

“I thought we were sloppy, it was really uncharacteristic,” continued Pierce. “Not a lot of turnovers, Trae obviously had a lot in the first half — uncharacteristic. You don’t see that from him and it’s just one of those nights. There were a couple that just bobble up into the air — you don’t really blame anyone on, it was that kind of a funky night. I wouldn’t say it was flat, it was just sloppy. Some of the shots in the first quarter, missed a couple of easy ones, got a couple blocked. It kills your psyche a little bit and they make a run and they speed you up a bit more.”

That said, Pierce was satisfied how the Hawks held the Hornets in the second half, saying it was unusual for the Hawks to be in this position.

“Second half, we were able to attack them and hold them to under 45 in the second half,” he said. “We take the lead through all that, there was nothing that suggested we would’ve taken the lead. I thought our guys came in and competed and then ran out of gas. I give (Brandon Goodwin) a lot of credit, he played 16 straight minutes in the second half and when he was taken out it was because he had nothing left. It’s an uncharacteristic, and unusual position for us to be in, to be down and to come back and get that lead. Once we settled, I think we had three second half turnovers. We couldn’t capitalize on any of our things down the stretch.”

Pierce was right in the sense that nothing suggested the Hawks could back into this game: they had little right to be in this game or even have a chance to win this game in the later exchanges. He also referenced Brandon Goodwin, who injected all the right things in the second half and made winning plays.

“The way BG came in tonight was unbelievable,” said Young of Goodwin. “The way he got us back in the game — it wasn’t all scoring, the pace he played at and the way he played — I think really gave us a boost off of the bench. It’s been something we’ve been wanting to see from him. He’s done it multiple times throughout the last year. I was excited to see him get into a groove in that third quarter to help us get back into the game and ultimately take the lead. I know he was gassed late at the end just from playing so much, that last stretch for us. He played a hell of a game and I’m just happy for him. Hopefully he can keep doing that for us while Rondo is out.”

Pierce also talked about how he wanted to stick with the group that got the Hawks back in the game but how they would ultimately pay for that down the stretch as they ran out of gas.

“These are some of the decisions you make,” he said. “You can’t move that rotation when they’re flowing and that was what we decided to do but you’re going to end up paying for it down the stretch, and that’s kind of what happened. The guys who came back still weren’t quite in rhythm and the guys that got us going were out of gas. You play that game of ‘what do you do at that point?’ We had to sub and we were hoping we could get a new energy and capitalize and they took advantage of it.”

Perhaps this fatigue was reflective in the Hunter and Huerter shots we looked at late on, but you can see Pierce’s plight. For example, Young added effectively nothing to this game for the Hawks — let’s be honest — and he was one of the players you feel Pierce referred to that didn’t quite have the rhythm but because Goodwin played for as long as he did in the second half (in addition to an ankle tweak), he had to come out.

In the end, Hayward set a new career-high of 44 points on 15-of-29 shooting and 4-of-9 from behind the arc, including three threes in the first quarter and 14 points in the final quarter.

“He’s tough,” said Pierce of Hayward. “We got caught in some of the switches early, he made tough shots — that one at the end, we tried to throw a second body because the shot clock was running down and he hits the fadeaway but at that point of the game everything was pretty easy for him. Does a great job of moving. He comes out of a timeout and gets a backdoor. We were prepared to blitz him and he was able to reject that. He’s a smart player, he’s a veteran player. They paid him a lot of money and you see why: he’s a good player.

“We had our best defender on him for most of the night and he just had a tough night defending him. We were prepared to blitz some of those, he rejected about two of them before we could get to it. We tried to avoid switching the matchups late and some other guys had to make plays, which was pretty good for a quick stretch which is why we got back into it. He’s a good player. This is the NBA ... there’s a lot of guys in this league that are capable of doing that. Unfortunate he did it against us tonight.”

Hayward was, by far, the best player on the court last night for either side. The player who is normally the best on the court for the Hawks, Trae Young, let’s talk about him.

It was...a strange game. He seemed very passive, very unlike himself, scoring seven points on 2-of-9 shooting from the field, 0-of-3 from three while committing seven turnovers (all of which came in the first half). Unfortunate, since the Hawks shot 7-of-40 from three on the night (five of those coming from Huerter).

“Uncharacteristic is the best word I can use,” said Pierce of Young’s night. “A lot of turnovers in the first half, so it takes away your opportunities. I thought he was thinking a bit much. We’ll look at it and see what they were doing. We knew they were going to hedge his pick-and-rolls, we knew they were switching everywhere. This wasn’t a traditional big come up and set a screen, get separation. They just switched everything, and they had a lot of their smalls in the action, so we’ve got to make some adjustment.

“Again, we had open looks. They weren’t Trae but we had open looks. When you have a team that’s scrambling around, you can’t really hold onto the basketball. You have to beat them with the pass. I thought we moved the ball well, we didn’t capitalize. He’s a guy that’s going to create the movement, so he didn’t to get a lot of the looks. When he was trying to be aggressive, they crowded him. They did a good job of crowding him and putting pressure on him. I thought he was playing the right way for the most part and we just couldn’t take advantage of it.”

As for Young himself, he described a combination of not wanting to force the issue too much and how the Hornets defended him as the main reason he wasn’t as aggressive as he normally would be.

“For me, just not wanting to force too much,” said Young. “They were hedging hard and I was just getting off of the ball and kind of wanted to let everyone else make plays. Whenever I get off of it, they were face-guarding, just making it tough for me to catch it back.”

Games like this for Young are pretty rare, especially to the nature of last night. While the drop-off in three-point attempts per game (down to 5.6 per game from the 9.5 last season, though, a short sample size) is concerning and becoming more of a trend now as his total number of field goals per game has dropped from 20.8 to 16.9, he will be unlikely to have another night like this any time soon.

In addition to Young struggling last night, Reddish continued to struggle — scoring eight points on 3-of-15 shooting from the field and 0-of-8 from three. Again, Reddish took some unbelievably poor shots last night (I won’t damage your eyes by making you watch them) and, honestly, he’s looking like the rookie Cam Reddish from October 2019 on offense.

Over his last four games, Reddish is averaging eight points on 26.8% shooting from the field on 10.3 attempts per game, 21% from three on 4.8 attempts per game — it’s really, really rough for Reddish at the moment. He appears to be trying to force too much and I think perhaps the coaching staff are expecting a little too much offensively/putting the ball in his hands a little too much, certainly with this efficiency right now.

It was a surprise to some that he started last night’s game and, honestly, it’s going to be a surprise if he starts Saturday’s rematch against the Hornets. It’s just not working for him right now offensively and the Hawks need to do something different amidst this losing streak where their offense has dipped significantly — it might make sense at this stage to insert one of Bogdan Bogdanovic (the more likely option) or Huerter into the starting lineup.

All-in-all, the Hawks did well to show some fight in the second half but this was still a very poor result for them. They were truly woeful at times — though, a number of shots just didn’t fall and if Reddish and Young don’t combine for 5-of-24 from the field and 0-of-11 from three, perhaps this goes another way.

Collins (who is now very much rolling after his early struggled to the season), Huerter and eventually Hunter enjoyed strong games, as well as Goodwin off of the bench.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, their schedule isn’t going to get easier anytime soon, with games against the conference-leading Sixers and road games against the Suns and Jazz coming soon — bad time to go 0-3 in a homestand in three games the Hawks were favored to win all of.

I want to finish with this quote from Pierce.

“Tonight was nasty, there’s no shaking that,” said Pierce when asked about the team’s confidence. “I’m thankful our guys were able to get back, take a lead and show the resiliency that we need in this league. We’ve seen it on the other end being up and teams being resilient. We’ve shown this is a league of runs and we can come back and there’s no lead that is out of reach.

“I think we haven’t arrived yet. The message is clear. As we take a break tomorrow and come back Friday’s practice and travel, we’ll be able to get back in, refresh and work. Our guys are high confidence, they’re learning each other, they’re good character, high character guys and we’ll be fine. But this is a nasty stretch. I said it at the beginning: some teams will get off to good starts, some guys will hit their rut and some guys will figure it out a little bit later. We’re going to get a little bit of all three but we need to get out of this rut first.”

The Hawks (4-4) will have some time to evaluate adjustments for Saturday’s rematch against the Hornets in Charlotte. The Hawks bounced back well in this situation in their second matchup against the Brooklyn Nets and they’ll need to do so again on Saturday.

Until next time...