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Hawks cruise in Memphis to seventh straight victory

Atlanta Hawks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The offense continued to click at an extremely high rate of efficiency on Friday evening as the Hawks put up 132 points without a single starter playing in the fourth quarter. In a loss, the Grizzlies couldn’t do anything with Trae Young regardless of what coverage and what personnel they threw at the Atlanta point guard.

By the end of the third quarter the Hawks had a robust 39-point lead having posted 105 points, which included 60 points in the paint. They managed a better than 60% shooting mark from both two-point and three point range in the first three periods.

The entire fourth quarter was garbage time.

It has been a massive struggle for Memphis on the defensive end of the court all season. They possess the worst defensive rating in the league and the statistical result in this game is only going to make it worse.

The Grizzlies essentially swapped Jonas Valanciunas for Steven Adams during the off season as part of a much bigger trade among three teams. And the move hasn’t remotely worked out for them. Memphis will get off of the Adams contract a year earlier than they were scheduled to get Valanciunas off of the books. And that matters.

But they made an appearance in the Western Conference playoffs last season and have one of the most dynamic young players in the league in Ja Morant, their starting point guard. They are a franchise that seems to be at least in a semi-serious place. But the defense is an enormous problem for them at the moment.

Speaking of Morant, his exit with an injury in the first quarter was easily the most profound development for either team in the contest.

Atlanta led by six points when Morant exited with 3:12 remaining to play in the first period. And the young point guard really hadn’t even tried to get it going yet.

Unsurprisingly, the Grizzlies were never able to get refocused. It was all down hill from there for the home team.

Hawk fans may not be aware of just how good Morant has been this season. As mentioned, Memphis is statistically the worst defensive team in the league but they entered play on Friday evening with a record of 9-9. Offensively, the Grizzlies are better than league average despite the fact that they don’t surround their point guard with a lot of shooting and play making.

They rely on generating points in transition and Morant significantly powers that phase of the game for them.

It would have been one of the toughest defensive tests of the early season for a Hawks team missing their best perimeter defender, De’Andre Hunter, out as he recovers from surgery on his right wrist.

The defensive test never manifested and Atlanta coasted to a blowout victory.

“You don’t win seven games in a row without playing good basketball and being connected,” said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan in post game comments. “So, I like what our guys have done. I like their focus the last couple weeks. They’ve just been locked into what we need to do out on the floor.”

“I thought we established ourselves right from the start of the game keeping them in front, keeping them off the glass,” McMillan shared about is teams performance in Friday’s win.

“For the most part we did a good job of executing our offense, having a balanced floor where they weren’t able to get out in transition,” he added.

Memphis worked different pick and roll coverages throughout the game depending upon which player they had at center. When Adams, the starter, was on they stayed with a conservative drop coverage. When he was off, they used a mix of traps and switches.

None of it seemed to both Young who has his team performing on offense as well as any team in the league right now.

Atlanta managed a seemingly endless volume of uncontested shots at the rim. Eventually as the Grizzlies made modest adjustments, open shots became available at the three-point line.

A team doesn’t put up 132 points without achieving numerous statistical superlatives. And that was the case for the Hawks in victory.

Young posted 30 points on just 19 shooting possessions and added 10 assists. Individually he was 9 for 12 from two-point range and 3 for 4 from deep.

In the middle. Clint Capela was dominant with 23 points, 17 rebounds, and three blocks. John Collins added 21 points on 13 shooting possessions and added eight rebounds.

Atlanta’s wing starters, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter, didn’t have to do a lot of work in the scoring department because of the frequency at which the Hawks were generating shots at the rim. They had eight and seven points respectively.

Cam Reddish led all bench scorers for the winners with 14 points. He also managed three steals and two assists.

Apart from garbage time, Jaren Jackson Jr (14 points) and Dillon Brooks ( 12 points) led Memphis in the scoring column.

Let’s take a look at some of the action.

The Hawks opened with a Young-Collins pick and roll. The drop principle can be seen on this possession by both Memphis bigs on the floor:

Young gets an immensely comfortable floater to fall.

Memphis, who leads the league in points in the paint, tried to attack with dribble penetration in the early going. They had little success when they pounced before Adams could find his way inside in an attempt to impact Capela’s presence:

The Grizzlies found a cleaner path to the rim when Adams could lock up Capela in some way:

Memphis, one of the top teams in the league scoring on put backs, tried to assert themselves in the early going on the offensive glass:

Atlanta used a double drag on this possession:

What is the Memphis plan here? Is Jackson “tagging” as it briefly looks may be the case. Is Desmond Bane supposed to meet Capela before he gets to the rim?

The focus can be on Adams when the Grizzlies defensive issues are discussed. But this is atrocious team defense.

On this possession, Brooks decides to help on Trae at “the nail”. But no one else on the floor for Memphis seems to be aware of the plan:

By all appearances Brooks made the decision to ad lib here. That’s not going to work.

Jackson’s effort on the baseline looks bad. But if he doesn’t know Brooks is going to do that he’s not going to be ready to “zone up” the two offensive players in his area.

When Kyle Anderson entered for Memphis to play at power forward, in place of Jackson, it freed up Collins to help on Adams in the rebound game:

This is a look at Memphis, with Brandon Clarke at center in place of Adams, looking to be more aggressive with Young:

Notice Clarke much higher on the floor readying himself to impact the ball screen instead of laying back in the paint.

Young sees this coming and creates an alley to the rim for the lay up.

The Grizzlies tried with some regularity to attack the defense of Danilo Gallinari by working to match him up with Jackson:

The use a flare screen to give Jackson a chance to attack with a dribble. Lou Williams helps from the corner and Gallinari is able to funnel the ball handler to Capela, who gets the block.

Similar thought process here for the Grizzlies offense:

Similar result.

Out of a timeout, Memphis gets a different idea and sets up Adams as the initiator above the free throw line, which gets Capela out of the way:

Third time is a charm.

Teams that want to play small against the Hawks Capela-Collins lineups might have to start thinking hard about wanting to do that. The duo’s combination of size and speed is tough to deal with if you don’t have significant rim protection. As seen here:

Too easy.

This is a look at a possession just about the time the Grizzlies decide to start switching the pick and roll:

During the seven game winning streak, Young is shooting 44.2% from the three-point line.

Pick your poison.

Another way to beat a switching defense is by cutting when off ball screens are overplayed:

Easy shots at the rim continue in the third quarter:

Young begins starting possessions off ball, which enables him to get into his midrange game:

The Grizzlies elevate the aggressiveness to outright trapping:

Collins makes the shot and had the option of moving the ball to Bogdanovic in the weak side corner, for good measure.

Perhaps a very early dagger in this game:

The make by Huerter pushes the lead to 29 points.

From there the Hawks would cruise the rest of the way.

Up Next

The Hawks return home to host the New York Knicks on Saturday evening.

Yes, those New York Knicks.

The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 PM ET.