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Hawks unable to triumph over Mavericks in closely contested game

A controversial end to a very good game, one the Hawks just fell short.

Atlanta Hawks v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks returned to action on Wednesday night after a few days off with a contest against the Dallas Mavericks but couldn’t overcome the hosts as the Mavs pulled off the 118-117 victory in Dallas.

John Collins led the Hawks in scoring with 33 points and seven assists, while Trae Young added 25 points and 15 assists. Kevin Huerter added a season-high 23 points.

For the Mavericks, Luka Doncic’s triple double of 28 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists led the way, while Jalen Brunson added 21 points.

So... Where to start with this one? Let’s actually talk about the first half to begin here.

Off of the bat, I think the Hawks’ first half might have been the best half the Hawks have played this season. The percentages on offense won’t wow you but the execution of the Hawks on offense — especially in that second quarter — was fantastic as the Hawks ran up a double-digit lead to end the first half.

As well as offensively — and what might have been much more impressive than the offense — the Hawks were getting it done defensively, chaining consistent and quality stops together on the defensive end. Bodies were flying, snap rotations were being made and the Hawks were forcing shot clock violations.

Moving onto the second half, Trae Young played heavy minutes in the first half and it seemed clear he was going to play heavy minutes after the bench unit to end the first quarter didn’t inspire a ton of confidence but, again, he has to sit at some point. When he did, the Mavericks made their run to get back into the game but we (collectively) saw something we don’t normally see. It appeared that Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce called a timeout just to get Young onto the floor, appearing to not want to wait any longer to get Young back on.

When he did, the Hawks responded very well and would have entered the fourth quarter leading by 11 had they not conceded a Brunson jumper at the buzzer:

The Hawks perhaps over-helped on this possession and Brunson was hitting this shot for most of the night. However, as has been the case on a number of occasions this season, Atlanta’s opponents go on a run in the fourth quarter to flip the game on its head, and it was Tim Hardaway Jr. who got the Mavericks back into this game.

Hardaway went onto a 7-0 personal run to basically eliminate the Hawks’ lead.

One-on-one, switched on John Collins, Hardaway rises into the contested three-pointer and nails it:

Off of a miss, Hardaway gets matched with Tony Snell in transition and the former Hawk attacks Snell off of the dribble before finishing with the left-hand:

I liked how Snell defended Doncic at times last night and I don’t think he did a ton wrong here but this was a good take by Hardaway and finish with his weaker left-hand.

To cap off Hardaway’s run, he takes Cam Reddish off of the dribble, switches hands, before finishing at the rim leading to a timeout:

It looks like Reddish should be able to contest Hardaway there but is no where by the end of it.

When you look at Hardaway’s run, I don’t think there’s a ton the Hawks really did wrong — it wasn’t blown assignment after blown assignment: he just made shots. When he was with the Hawks, Hardaway had a number of fourth quarter explosions that helped turn games and, well, some things don’t change: he made some tough buckets there.

Offensively, other than this poor three-point shot from Young after the Hardaway three, their shots were decent.

Here’s the aforementioned Young three-point attempt:

Young made a few of those last night to be fair, but that still doesn’t mean it’s a good quality shot and it wasn’t in this case either.

The Mavs ran a zone to begin the fourth quarter and, because of it, Collins — who was rolling all night long — finds himself with a good look but misses the mid-range floater:

That’s a good shot and one Collins can make but the roll just didn’t go his way.

Finally, before Hardaway capped off his run, Snell attacks the rim against the smaller Brunson but can’t hit the runner. Clint Capela, however, grabs the offensive rebound and draws the foul and free throws:

With Capela getting to the line, you could argue that Snell missing that shot didn’t matter, but Capela failed to hit either of his free throws. Hardaway proceeds to get to the rim and, all of a sudden, the ball-game has changed and the Hawks’ once double-digit lead has been erased.

When Brunson hit that buzzer-beater at the end of the third, the Hawks still sat in a decent spot with a nine point lead but Hardaway rendered that lead effectively useless in a such a short period of time. I really don’t think anyone was really to blame for this run, as easy as it would be to try search for a guilty culprit. Hardaway got going, he hit tough shots and the Hawks couldn’t hit on their few possessions to start the fourth quarter.

It was just unfortunate for the Hawks, and another double-digit lead wiped clean away.

That said, again, I thought the Hawks initially responded well — Huerter and Collins helped steady the ship scoring on the ensuing possessions after the timeout to get the Hawks immediately back on track.

Arguably, you could say this game swung in the Mavs’ favor when they finally started to knock down three-pointers. Through three quarters, the Mavs shot 7-of-26 from three. In the fourth quarter alone the Mavs shot 7-of-9 from three, and there was a particular stretch where the Mavericks went off to reclaim the lead, hitting three threes.

To start, Reddish gets stuck on a Dorian Finney-Smith screen, allowing Hardaway to rise for an easier three-point look — despite Collins’ late contest — to continue his hot fourth quarter:

The next three comes as Doncic handles the ball, Brunson sets the screen, Young switches onto Doncic and the Slovenian international rises into the three:

This possession confuses me... Is there any reason why Reddish can’t still stick with Doncic and any reason why Young can’t just go back to Brunson? It feels like they should be able to get back to their man here, but it just doesn’t happen.

Heading down the floor, Doncic handles as the Hawks try to set up. Brunson heads to the corner and Huerter and Young appear to switch but Young doesn’t get himself to the corner quickly enough and the ball zips to the corner and the shot from Brunson goes up before Young can really do anything to effectively contest:

In Young’s defense, I’m not entirely sure why Huerter needs to leave Brunson in the first place but when he does, Young needs to get out there quicker. Regardless, the Mavericks run their lead up to six points, capping off an 11-0.

So, another fourth quarter where the opposition goes on a run that changes the game, only this time the Hawks didn’t trail by 13/14/15 points and have to chase the game — it’s just six points, three of which were immediately reclaimed by Young at the free throw line.

The two sides then traded baskets, culminating in a one-point game heading into the final minute of the game.

The Hawks ran with Snell down the stretch of this game over Reddish, and he does a good job defending Brunson on the drive here, contesting the missed shot at the rim and the Hawks grab the rebound with 46 seconds remaining and a chance to re-take the lead:

The next Hawks possession wasn’t particularly going anywhere as Young passes it off to Huerter. Huerter attacks off of the dribble but misses the push-shot at the rim:

I don’t think there’s a ton wrong with this shot here. There wasn’t really anything happening here on this offensive possession and you like to see Huerter assert himself in a spot like this. Again, nothing else was happening and the clock was winding down, he got a decent shot and it didn’t go down.

Trailing by one point, there’s enough time for the Hawks to have another go should they get the stop and the rebound. Doncic handles, guarded by Collins, before Young comes to double the ball. Doncic quickly bounces the ball to Brunson for the open three-pointer but fails to convert and the Hawks secure the rebound and call a timeout:

This was a risky double by Young, who does not need to help here. Leaving Brunson — who scored 11 points in the fourth quarter — open here was a low-percentage move. Had Brunson hit that three — to put the Mavs up four — the game is over right there and then. Fortunately, Young’s blushes are spared and the Hawks have a chance to win on the road, only needing a two.

Out of the timeout, Young takes the contact from Willie Cauley-Stein, ending up on the floor, as the Hawks inbound to Danilo Gallinari, who drives but can’t hit the running shot, and time expires:

Much was made of that final possession, let’s start with the shot the Hawks got with Gallinari: it wasn’t an awful shot given the circumstances. I’ve seen worse shots hit to win games.

The BIG talking point, however, was not the shot but Young getting run-over by Cauley-Stein and the officials electing not to call a foul on the play. Young was irate in the immediate aftermath but it would not change the outcome of the game: the Mavericks had won.

Postgame, Pierce discussed the Hawks’ overall game as well as eluding to the Young incident in his opening statement.

“I thought our guys played extremely well, competed,” opened Pierce. “They got hot in the fourth quarter obviously in the fourth quarter. We tried to run them off the three-point line and our effort on our close-outs wasn’t good enough, we were there for contests. But I give our guys credit. We were down six, call a timeout with five minutes to go and have a shot to win it at the end. Really unfortunate that the game ended that way. Trae sets a great screen, should’ve been a foul, we should have had the basketball after a free throw on the side. Just disappointed in the way that game ended but I thought our guys competed from start to finish and really proud of their effort.”

Pierce then elaborated on the explanation he was given from the officials regarding Young’s screen.

“I got an answer that said ‘I spared Trae. It should have been an illegal screen.’ It was a perfect screen,” Pierce said. “Willie Cauley-Stein ran Trae over, that’s a foul. That’s why Trae’s on the floor, it blows up our play. It’s unfortunate. I thought our guys really competed. Trae was fouled, he falls on the floor, gets hit on the nose. He set a great screen, I give him credit, he set a great screen. We’re trying to execute and he did.”

Speaking on the incident, Young wasn’t offered an explanation himself from the officials.

“He didn’t say nothing to me after the game,” said Young. “He was just trying to get me away from him.”

“I don’t know what he felt,” Young went on to say about the decision. “We made eye contact when I was on the ground and I think that was what really me mad was he saw the whole thing and we even looked at each other. That’s what made me really frustrated. Just me being competitive in the heat of the moment and trying to win. Costly play.”

ESPN’s Tim McMahon asked crew chief Josh Tiven about the play, leading to this release.

Young revealed postgame the play was for him to receive the ball before basically explaining why he wouldn’t just flop to get a call when the ball was going to be in his hands.

“The play was for me to get the ball,” said Young. “I’m not going to run away from the ball with four seconds left when we’re trying to win a game. I’m not going to fall just to fall at the end. That’s the most frustrating part of it, not really having the opportunity to make the play at the end is really frustrating. It happens. We just have to move on and bounce-back.”

Huerter — who was inbounding the ball on the final possession — probably offered the most thorough explanation of the play. Huerter had a small window to lob to John Collins but didn’t feel Collins was truly free.

“It’s a play we’ve used a couple of times before,” began Huerter on his view of the final possession. “My first look was John on that back-screen, Trae got ran over, I didn’t think he got enough distance from Cauley-Stein, especially with Hardaway back-side, wanted to make sure we got a shot. So my next look after John would’ve been Trae and Trae’s on the ground, and my third option is Gallo and then coming back to the ball. Obviously you look at the result, it’s not what we wanted. In hindsight, probably could have looked at John but like I said, we had four seconds left we didn’t have time to still get a shot and it didn’t feel like he got the separation and obviously we’ll live with the results.”

Collins himself believed he was open but admitted he couldn’t see if there was back-side help.

“I thought I was (open),” said Collins when asked if he felt he was open for a potential lob to end the game. “Obviously my head was turned during the window that I was potentially open looking at Kevin, didn’t know if there was a weak-side guy behind me. I didn’t see what happened with Trae and his screen, so, a lot going on. I did feel like I was open but tough break.”

It’s so easy to analyze this play over and over and over and it’s hard to really say what way this should have gone. In the moment, getting once chance to look at it, the officials probably made the right decision with a no-call. Huerter was perhaps right to be cautious given the clock situation and the fact the Hawks had no timeouts to spare. The Gallinari shot wasn’t awful in the end (though, the catch, Pierce conceded was a little higher than it would be in a normal, describing the play as a broken one after Young hit the ground).

In reality, a game is never lost on one single possession.

The Mavericks outscored the Hawks 37-27 in the fourth quarter, shooting 68% from the field and 7-of-9 from three in the final quarter. Multiple Hawks cited Hardaway Jr. getting hot (scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter, including that 7-0 personal run to begin) as a factor behind the Mavs’ fourth quarter swing.

“Tim just got hot. He got super hot early in that (fourth),” said Young of how the Mavericks got back into the game. “We’ve had a tough time stopping him these past couple of years. He always finds a rhythm and can really get going. He had (seven) quick points and brought the lead back down to close single digits. At that point, it’s a hand-toss from there. That was what really got them back into the game and obviously they have really good guards that can control and make plays too.”

“Guys get hot,” added Huerter of the Mavs’ 37 point fourth quarter. “That was our downfall, we didn’t get stops when we needed to. Even our stops, they were more missed shots on their end than they were stops. They got hot, obviously Hardaway got hot, (they) hit bunch of threes on possessions where we thought we got good close-outs and Brunson obviously got going. Those guys made plays. Obviously you can’t give up 37 points in a big-game like that.”

“They hit a lot of tough shots,” said Collins of the fourth quarter. “Obviously our defense wavered a little bit to our faults. We competed at the end of the day. We just got to do a better job executing. Tim got a little too hot, gave them some energy and sparked them into their fourth quarter momentum. We have to do a better job of stopping the hot guy and sticking to the game-plan, especially in the fourth quarter.”

It’s a great shame the fourth quarter unfolded as it did because the Hawks played — aside from the end of the first quarter — three great quarters. Obviously Hardaway got hot but Brunson was allowed to get going too as he enjoyed his matchup against Young.

Looking elsewhere, it’s no secret the Hawks are wounded right now (missing De’Andre Hunter, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn) and their bench didn’t really lift them as much as the Mavericks’ bench, Dallas outscoring Atlanta 51-23.

The Hawks ran their bench unit to end the first quarter did not go well, and perhaps unsurprisingly Pierce elected not to go back to it a ton. Pierce leaned heavily on Young to make up for the lack of point guard play, playing a regulation season-high of 42 minutes (or, according to NBA dot com this morning, 41:60 — that’s not how time works, you know!). He also leaned heavily on Snell and Gallinari, who played 15 and 18 minutes in the second half alone, while Collins, Huerter and Young all played 20+ second half minutes.

A visual representation might be easier here...

Capela’s foul trouble didn’t help his second half production, and Pierce mentioned postgame that, basically, this wasn’t a great matchup for him with Dallas playing as they do with, usually, one big on the floor and that big usually trails/shoots threes.

Gallinari shot 2-of-12 from the field but watching the game, he had much more of an impact than the boxscore would suggest, similar to the first Dallas game.

There were a bunch of positives from this game though.

The Hawks’ overall effort and level of play was still very strong: they played a very good game, and a very entertaining game. Defensively — aside from the fourth quarter — the Hawks were very impressive. Pierce commented on how the Hawks needed ‘one more’ close-out (more so in the fourth quarter) but I thought they were strong. I actually thought on those possessions Young either guarded or got switched onto Doncic, Young did as well as you could have asked for. Also really liked seeing Snell defensively too, thought he had some great moments and in addition to him making some shots, he earned those minutes down the stretch (in addition to Reddish struggling with some fouls).

Collins, once again, feasted in this matchup scoring 33 points on 13-of-18 shooting.

“He just scored in a variety of ways, his activity is always tough,” said Pierce of Collins. “They play small-ball sometimes, their rim protection struggles at times and he was able to get behind the defense with some of the lobs if they’re paying a lot of attention to Trae. Obviously anytime he’s making some baskets it’s a bonus on for us as well on the perimeter so we can space the floor with the hits and the double teams. But he was also effective scoring on the block as well. One was over Cauley-Stein and another over their smalls. He scores in a variety of ways, he’s an efficient player. There’s no surprise for JC.”

“I don’t think it’s more so the personnel more so than the way teams play me, probably feel like that has more to do with it than personnel per se,” said Collins of why he matches up well against Dallas.

Collins was the best player on the floor on Wednesday, he was fantastic. Over his last 10 games, Collins is averaging 20 points per game on 56% shooting from the field, 46.5% from three on over four attempts. Aside from the three-point percentage being a little higher than you’d probably think would be sustainable, Collins is averaging close to what he averaged last season after a somewhat slow start — Collins has been fantastic for a while now.

Huerter also enjoyed a really strong game, not just in terms of scoring — 23 points, a season-high — but defensively too, he was very active, very present. He also made timely, crucial plays when Young was doubled, including a huge three-pointer in the fourth quarter. If you’ve been reading my work for a while, you’d know I’m very high on Huerter as a player and everyone is seeing what I have for the last two-and-a-bit seasons now — he is playing very well right now, not just in terms of shooting/scoring.

That’s really about it for this game — a tough loss but the Hawks played very well, aside from a few costly stints in the fourth quarter. Obviously, the last possession will leave a bitter taste in people’s mouths but games are never truly lost on one possession — the Mavericks caught fire in the fourth, they made tough baskets, they made more threes in the fourth quarter alone than they had in the entire game leading up to the fourth quarter. Hardaway Jr. gets buckets (and Brunson probably got a little hotter than he should have but alas)...

The Hawks (11-13) are back in action on Friday at State Farm Arena as they take on the San Antonio Spurs.

Always an interesting fixture.

Until next time...