The Atlanta Hawks rolled into Brooklyn for Wednesday night’s contest against the Nets but were unable to emerge on top as the Nets triumphed 117-108.
De’Andre Hunter produced a season-high 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting while Trae Young added 21 points on 6-of-22 shooting from the field.
For the Nets, Kevin Durant led the way with 32 points while Joe Harris poured in 18 points. James Harden scored 16 points.
It’s no secret the Nets have championship aspirations — a favorite in the Eastern Conference — and they are a stacked team offensively. How the Hawks fared against them could serve as a good measure of Atlanta’s own aspirations and how their own goals for Eastern Conference glory looked.
For nearly three quarters the Hawks were right there with the Nets, trading blows offensively, but the end of the third quarter proved extremely costly — particularly offensively — as the Nets built a 16-point lead over the last 4:40 of the third (the Hawks only scored four points in those final 4:40), a margin the Hawks would never overturn.
Let’s look at this stretch offensively — and sprinkle in a few defensive plays — and how the Hawks lost this one in to end the third.
To start that stretch, Cam Reddish misses a tough three-pointer as the shotclock ticks under 10:
Very early in the shotclock, Reddish uses the John Collins screen and springs the three-pointer but the result is less than ideal:
A contested three-pointer with 19 seconds left on the shotclock isn’t ideal for the Hawks in this spot.
On the next defensive possession, Collins has to rotate on Harden’s drive to the rim, forcing the rotation from Hunter on Blake Griffin in the corner, who in turn swing it to Durant for the three:
Difficult one to judge. In some ways, Reddish should be much quicker to recognize and rotate to Durant since Hunter was much snappier to his rotation to Griffin in the corner. On the flip side, Hunter probably shouldn’t leave Durant to guard Griffin in the corner (2-of-7 from three) — a classic case of ‘Know Your Personnel.’
After two baskets from Collins, he’s involved in the Hawks’ next offensive trip as he exchanges the hand-off with Reddish, who fumbles the ball on the pressure from Bruce Brown, who comes up with the steal (the turnover officially credited to Collins):
The Hawks are still only trailing by four points at this point as Young exits the game and that wouldn’t change as Collins misses a good-looking three in the corner:
This is the part of the third quarter where the Nets begin to pour on the points, starting with Patty Mills pull-up jumper off of the screen:
The Hawks attempt to respond in a hurry and Reddish’s attempted jumper coming off of the screen is blocked by the recovering Brown:
Off of that block, Brown scores at the other end on the drive against Danilo Gallinari:
Things wouldn’t get better for the Hawks as they commit another turnover, this time Kevin Huerter’s attempted pass inside to Collins isn’t completed as the Nets pick it off and attack the other way as former Hawk Deandre’ Bembry scores in transition:
Immediately after this basket, Reddish storms down the court but barrels into Blake Griffin and is called for the charge:
The Nets lead, by this stage, has now reached double digits and Durant would add to it as he hits this contested jumper over Reddish:
The Hawks worked themselves into a good opportunity on this next possession as Collins gets an open look from three:
After Bembry split a pair of free throws, the Hawks’ last shot of the third quarter ends with an airball from Lou Williams:
Really good defense from the Nets and Bembry here to contain the ball in front and force Williams into the shot.
To cap it off, Durant hits another tough shot with Reddish close-by to put the Nets up by 16 points to end the third quarter:
A 20-4 run from the Nets — 2-of-8 shooting for the Hawks vs. 7-of-9 for the Nets — to take this from a close game to a potential blowout. The Hawks were still in a good position two minutes from the end of this quarter and when Young exited the game with 1:50 remaining in the quarter too, but things got out of hand in a hurry and overturning a 16-point deficit was always going to be difficult on the road.
“That’s a big gap to overcome,” said Young of the Nets’ double digit lead to end the third quarter.
The Hawks played very fast and a little out of control down this stretch, they just appeared to be in a rush to score while the Nets seemed a lot more settled.
The elephant in the room also needs to be addressed when it comes to this run/the Hawks’ offensive struggles down this stretch. Reddish has had some good games this season but this stretch offensively was horrid and he featured a lot during it. There were some shots that were fine but a lot of settled shots, too, mishandles and he looked as though he was playing far too fast than he was able to control, and his -25 +/- on the game is close to a fair reflection (though, perhaps a tad harsh).
In the fourth quarter, the Hawks were able to close the deficit to 10 points but a timely seven straight points from Harden tucked the game away again as Harden scored 10 points in the final period as the Hawks fall on the first night of their back-to-back.
Postgame, the end of the third quarter was — naturally — a topic of conversation and Hawks head coach Nate McMillan explained how the Hawks’ offense led to its troubled transition defense last night.
“We talked about shot selection and taking care of the ball and that’s the first thing we have to do,” said McMillan postgame. “Our transition defense starts with our offensive execution where we take good shots with a balanced floor so we can rotate back. Taking quick shots and turning the ball over will lead in this league to easy baskets and they punished us with our quick shots and turnovers. 14 turnovers, 28 fastbreak points, it’s going to be hard to beat any team when you’re giving up that many easy points.”
The Nets made that third quarter push against a Hawks unit that mostly featured second unit guys and there’s still work to be done in terms of maximizing how the second unit plays together.
“First and third quarters, offensively we’ve just got to be a little better,” said Huerter. “Our group, the second group is still finding our groove a little bit, get everybody to playing along the same game. Just a couple of us talking, maybe getting back to some of the things we were running last year to get guys better looks, get guys more in rhythm. It’s something we’ll figure out. Just got to finish quarters better. Bad shots led to the transition points for them, against a good team it’s hard to recover.”
Delon Wright did not feature in this game (Williams was favored last night instead) while Gorgui Dieng wasn’t seen in the second half either. That second unit hasn’t seen a lot of consistency in terms of personnel and bodies available so it’s been hard to truly identify the areas which it has struggled at times and how everyone looks together — and that’ll change again when Onyeka Okongwu returns to the fray.
Another aspect of this game that got away from the Hawks was the three-point shooting from the Nets: 22-of-48. Generally speaking, when the opposition hits 20+ threes in a game, that’s always going to be difficult to compete with. Harris hit six threes, Harden cashed in on five threes and Mills added four threes from the bench. With the threat of the three so prevalent, your defense is left to scramble and the Nets were able to get inside the paint and kick the ball back out to the perimeter for threes.
“You’ve got to have multiple effort,” said McMillan of the Hawks’ perimeter defense. “Anytime you have breakdowns on the perimeter and you have to rotate to help. James Harden is one of the best guards in the league at moving the ball, he will pass the ball to the open guy. Both he and Durant were able to break down the defense, get to the paint and kick it out to the three-point shooters. Some of that came from transition but a lot of it came from those guys passing the ball and us not being able to control the basketball.”
“...But us as a whole, defensively — we had some good individual play but as a team — we didn’t do a good job of controlling the basketball and keeping the ball in front of us,” said McMillan later in his postgame comments. “Too many times they were able to break us down on the perimeter, get into the paint and kick-out to the three-point shooters. They made 22 threes tonight. Not a good job of controlling the basketball.”
Both McMillan and Young praised Harden in his ability to read the defense and create looks for others (Harden had 11 assists on the night, including seven in the first quarter).
“James, he’s super smart at reading defenses and understanding where the help is coming from,” said Young of the Nets’ corner threes. “A lot of the time we were helping from the low-man and he’s guarding the corner guy and James is doing a great job getting over there quick and they were just making some shots tonight.”
The Hawks didn’t have a bad night shooting the three themselves (13-of-35 for 37%) but when you look at it through the lens of being outscored 66-39 from distance, that’s always going to be tough.
There were tough games to be had for Young — despite starting out hot — who shot 6-of-22 from the field, Collins (who was questionable with a foot injury prior to the game) shot 5-of-14 and Reddish shot 1-of-6 from the bench.
That said, there were positives for the Hawks to be had here, in particular for two Hawks who have struggled offensively at times to begin the season.
Hunter broke out in a big way last night, scoring 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 from three.
“I thought he let the game come to him,” said McMillan of Hunter. “He was knocking down his shots. He allowed the game to come to him. We didn’t call a lot of sets for him, he basically just played within the flow of the offense. The things he did tonight he’s capable of doing. He’s a two-way player that can defend as well as put the ball in the basket.”
“It was a great performance,” added Young of Hunter. “I wish we would’ve won it would’ve been a lot better, could’ve been more happy. He shot the ball really well.”
Hunter has been tasked to be a two-way player and often guards the opposing side’s best offensive player. To what range this impacts his shooting offensively is unknown but Hunter has been happy with the shots he has taken and says it’s just been a matter of those shots falling or not.
“My shot always feels good,” said Hunter postgame. “Just a matter of going in or not but tonight it was going in.”
Huerter has endured notable struggles to start the season. Huerter — who McMillan revealed had barely started running again during training camp — poured in his best performance of the season as he scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 from three.
“He’s very capable as well,” said McMillan of Huerter. “It was good for him to see the ball go in the basket tonight, I thought he made some good plays.”
After a strong performance against the Wizards on Monday, the Hawks had been looking to build on that performance, to improve. As the Hawks host the Utah Jazz tonight, they’re looking to improve on this performance on both sides of the ball.
“It’ll be preparation for tomorrow night,” said McMillan when asked if the contest against the Nets will be a litmus test to see where the Hawks are in their aspirations. “We talked about our last game against Washington, some of the good things that we did: shot selection, taking care of the basketball, the defense was connected — we wanted to build in this game. That’s always our approach: be better than we were in our last game. That’s our approach for tomorrow night. We’ve got to be better. We’ve got another really good team coming into our building tomorrow night and we have to be better on both ends of the floor than we were tonight.”
All-in-all, I don’t see this as a bad loss for the Hawks. Despite that horrid run to end the third quarter and despite those 22 Nets three-pointers and conceding 28 fastbreak points, the struggles from Young, Collins and Reddish... To only lose by nine points on the road? That, honestly, isn’t too bad, all things considered. The result probably overshadows the performance but the Hawks played a decent game, certainly not a great game, but a decent game.
The Hawks (4-4) return to Atlanta where they will be greeted by the 6-1 Utah Jazz at State Farm Arena on Thursday night.
It could prove to be a tough game (a Nets/Jazz back-to-back is pretty brutal) but a good test for the hosts nevertheless.
Until next time...