The Atlanta Hawks suffered their fifth straight defeat as they fell to the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City on Tuesday night, 110-98.
Kevin Huerter led the Hawks as he started in place of Bogdan Bogdanovic (out due to right ankle soreness) with 28 points, while Trae Young added 27 points. For the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell led the way with 27 points, Bojan Bogdanovic added 18 points.
The Hawks were always going up against it in this spot: the second night of a back-to-back on the road, in Salt Lake City, and minus De’Andre Hunter (right wrist strain) and Bogdanovic.
The Jazz threatened to blow this game open in a few different spots, including the end of the first half where the hosts led by 17 points with 1:12 remaining in the second quarter before the Hawks closed the gap to 12 points to go into the half. They’ll be disappointed not to do more in that second quarter as Rudy Gobert ran into foul trouble.
In the third quarter, the Hawks closed the margin to three points but the tide seemed to turn when John Collins picked up his fourth foul — the Jazz pushed their lead back up to 18 before the end of the third. A three from Young cut it to 15 to head into the final quarter.
The Hawks, at that point, honestly looked against it: second night of a back-to-back on the road, down 15 points, shorter on bodies and with seemingly no answer for the Jazz defensively, who had scored 30 or more points in all three quarters prior to that point. The Hawks, however, showed spirit and launched another comeback as they cut the lead to seven points with 8:20 remaining. Collins missed a three-pointer in the corner that would have cut the lead to four points:
A basket from Clint Capela made it 93-100 game in favor of the Jazz with 6:48 remaining but the Hawks’ offense stalled from this point onwards. The Hawks would only score five points the rest of the way and went scoreless for the next three-plus minutes as the Jazz pulled away.
The offensive woes began with a Cam Reddish turnover:
Reddish’s handle isn’t what I would call tight, or secure, and a costly turnover occurs as a result.
Reddish isn’t able to make up defensively as he loses Jordan Clarkson on the run-around before being unable to overcome the Gobert screen and Clarkson hits the three:
Young is unable to respond as he probes near the rim before retreating to the three-point line with Hassan Whiteside closing out and the corner three is missed:
Fatigue seemed to set in at this stage for the Hawks as Capela doesn’t contest the offensive rebound on the next defensive possession and Whiteside is able to score the second chance points:
The Hawks — now trailing by 15 points — are unable to respond as Huerter misses a shot near the baseline, and while Capela is fouled on the rebound he would go on to miss both free throws:
Fatigue seemed to set in offensively and when this exchange near the rim didn’t fall for Collins nor Capela, you got the sense this one had slipped away from the Hawks:
And that sentiment would continue as Reddish’s entry pass to Young is too long, leading to the turnover:
A turnover and a missed three from Young all but seal what was already an unlikely comeback as the fourth quarter unfolded. The Hawks shot 6-of-20 in the fourth quarter for 18 points. What will add to their disappointment is that the Jazz scored just 15 points in the final period: the Hawks had done enough defensively to make this a game had they made their shots.
Alas, they did not, and the visitors were left to rue another loss, but Hawks head coach Nate McMillan and while he was satisfied with his side’s fight the defense left a little something to be desired.
“I thought we did fight,” said McMillan postgame. “I thought we played hard. The fourth quarter, the last seven minutes we scored four points. Defensively, we’re just not stopping anybody. We’re not getting stops, we’re playing out of the net and just got to work harder at forcing them to shoot over the top and getting stops.”
“We played hard,” added Young. “We tried to make it tough and battle. We played hard. They made more plays than we did and a couple more shots. I had too many turnovers tonight, I can be better in my turnovers. Overall I think my team did a great job playing hard.”
The Jazz shot 50% from the field and 39.% from three (shooting 15-of-38); through the first three quarters, the Jazz shot 57% from the field.
“Controlling the ball,” said McMillan when asked one thing that has affected the Hawks defensively. “It starts with controlling the ball, keeping the ball in front of you and force missed shots and finishing the play with the rebound. We have not been able to control the basketball, keep it in front. When they get downhill, it forces the defense to collapse, teams are moving the ball and kicking it out for three. It’s a simple game that we all want to try and play. It starts with controlling the basketball.”
McMillan pin-pointed ‘controlling the basketball’, Huerter looked to the Hawks’ defensive rotations on the court.
“Something we’ve talked about being better about flying around and rotating once we’re broken down teams get into the paint, something we’ve got to do, flying-around — that’s a word we use — and just be better at it,” said Huerter.
Huerter himself enjoyed his best form of the season as he poured out a game-high 28 points on 11-of-18 from the field while tying a career-best six three-pointers (6-of-9 from three last night).
“It was good to see the ball go down for him,” said McMillan of Huerter. “That’s the Kevin that I saw last year. Think he’s starting to get his legs, getting more of a rhythm out there on the floor and it was good to see him knock down some shots and doing the things he was doing tonight.”
After a difficult start to the season for Huerter coming off of an injury, he is averaging 13 points per game on 58% shooting from the field and 55% from three on four attempts per game in his last five games.
“I’m getting there,” said Huerter on if he’s feeling healthier. “I think everyone is still getting there. Obviously it’s early in the season, a tough schedule so far coming off a back-to-back against two offenses like this it doesn’t help. I think everybody is slowly getting back into it.”
Huerter played a fantastic game and has been really solid on the road but that career-high of 29 points (which looked as though it would be broken last night) still remains, which is unfortunate because Huerter has threatened a number of times to set a new mark and it just hasn’t happened for him and his efforts last night certainly deserved it.
The health and impact of Capela has been a talking point so far this season but McMillan was satisfied that Capela is getting more and more into game-shape.
“I thought he was good tonight against those two big guys,” said McMillan of Capela. “He played a lot of minutes. I had to keep him out on the floor even though it was a back-to-back. I think he’s playing himself into shape as well. He’s starting to move a little bit better on the floor and tonight he was rotating to the ball. I think he’s starting to get in better shape.”
Capela scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 34 minutes of action.
The Hawks were limited in their bodies last night, which led to a different sort of rotation last night: one where both Delon Wright and Lou Williams featured. This rotation was slashed in the second half as a number of starters (Reddish, Huerter and Capela) played 19 of the 24 second half minutes. Young played 17 of the 24 in the second half. Meanwhile, Gorgui Dieng’s and Danilo Gallinari’s minutes were all but naught in the second half, Gallinari played just under seven minutes in total last night.
“Bad matchups,” said McMillan as to why Gallinari played just under seven minutes. “They’re playing small-ball out there, we’re trying to get guys out on the floor who can guard that perimeter.”
This was always a tough spot for the Hawks, nor was this a bad loss. It looked worse than it was on the scoreline and had they hit a few more shots in the fourth quarter, it’s a different story. The record may not reflect it, but the Hawks have been playing well in parts (but not, as Trae Young mentioned postgame, for 48 minutes).
Offensively, the Hawks haven’t been poor (and they hit 18 threes last night). Defensively is another story... Now, their losing skid reaches five as they search for answers.
“We’ve been down before,” said Young. “We’ve been on winning streaks — not many but we’ve been on a lot recently. I know we can do it. We haven’t been home, we haven’t been able to play in front of our fans. When you get one, two games you feel good. It’s a big confidence booster. I know it’s a long, long season so we’ll be alright.”
“I think a lot of people are frustrated,” added Kevin Huerter. “I don’t think we expected to be in this position but we’ve put ourselves in a hole. We’ve nobody to blame but ourselves. We’ve got to be better defensively, got to finish games better. We’ve played some really good teams so far but we look at ourselves and we’re a good team too. We’ve got to figure it out. Still believe in us, it’s still early in the season. Each game I think there’s stuff we can build on.”
There are plenty of encouraging signs from the Hawks on the court, despite their 4-8 record, and as Huerter and Young alluded to, the Hawks have played a lot of good teams and have not played a lot at home. It’d be ideal, of course, for the Hawks to fare better on the road. While their heavy road schedule and strength of schedule are legitimate factors behind a tough start, they also haven’t been up to par at the same time.
And the Hawks are trying to talk more and engage more to address their issues.
“We’ve got really competitive guys in the locker room,” said Huerter. “Every game there’s a lot of dialogue about what went wrong and how we can fix it. The huddles are— we can tell we’re getting that spirit back a little bit — the huddles are a little bit more dialogue and guys are communicating. Obviously it needs to translate to the court but everyone is still locked in trying to turn this around.”
The Hawks (4-8) wrap up their gruelling road-trip with a visit to Denver for a contest with the Nuggets (6-4) on Friday night. Win or lose, the Hawks will return for a very welcome five-game homestand once the Denver game is concluded.
Until next time...