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Hawks blitzed in first half in loss to Spurs

A very rough showing for the Hawks...

San Antonio Spurs v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks took to the floor on Friday night at State Farm Arena, welcoming the yearly visit of the San Antonio Spurs. However, the Hawks could not find success as they did last season, falling 125-114.

That final scoreline flatters the Hawks, who trailed by as many as 42 points in the second half but a 42-15 fourth quarter got the score line back to something somewhat respectable by the final buzzer but in reality it was not close for a very, very long period of this game.

The Spurs got off to a good start and a 36 point first quarter but it was the second quarter that proved pivotal, as the Spurs outscored the Hawks 42-19, running out to 77 first half points and a 29 point lead at halftime.

The Hawks were trailing by just three points by the time the Spurs hit their first field goals of the second quarter, these arriving with Trae Young on the bench. Two Patty Mills three-pointers quickly put separation between the two sides, and these were key to getting the Spurs started.

The first one, there’s not a ton too. Brandon Goodwin is recovering somewhat but this is more about Mills’ ability to just knockdown shots:

The second one is more is unfortunate as Goodwin gets caught on the body (body more so than the screen) of Jakob Poeltl, allowing Mills the opportunity to let it fly, hitting the three and prompting Lloyd Pierce to call a timeout, his side now down nine points compared to the three they were trailing by just a couple of possessions ago:

The Spurs hit six three-pointers in the second quarter, this next one coming from Derrick White:

Rudy Gay did a great job here basically taking two players out of the equation with the screen but, for that reason, Kevin Huerter probably should be the one to help and switch to White in this scenario.

Goodwin struggled with his Patty Mills matchup, as Mills attacks the close out with Goodwin recovering after creating some issues with his dig, Mills zips by Goodwin and hits the floater:

After a few free throws to push the lead just a little higher, this next play was where things really began to get out of hand as Derrick White comes off of the screen and hits another three to put the Spurs up by 15 points:

By the end of the second quarter, it felt like the Spurs just couldn’t miss (shooting 8-of-10 in the final five minutes) and they quickly ran the lead up to 20 points before even running that to 29 points at the half, the Spurs shooting 70% from the field in the second quarter.

The Hawks also had issues stopping, well, everyone, but in particular they had issues slowing down DeMar DeRozan, who scored 22 of his 23 points in the first half.

Cam Reddish was the one tasked with guarding the veteran DeRozan and it was tough going for the second year wing.

He initially stands off well against DeRozan here but on the spin, DeRozan is able to duck his way past Reddish for the layup, plus the hit:

Again, Reddish is beaten on the drive, forcing Clint Capela to rotate and leaving Poeltl open for the easy basket on the find from DeRozan:

Pick-and-rolls with DeRozan can be deadly, especially if you’re not willing to step up on him because DeRozan is so lethal in mid-range.

Capela was the first victim as DeRozan gets an easy look at the jumper coming off of the screen with Capela sitting back:

DeRozan again comes off of the screen here — a very good screen that completely removes Solomon Hill from the play — and while Onyeka Okongwu is there to prevent a similarly open jumper, he bites on the fake and DeRozan leans in, misses but follows his miss for the basket:

Sometimes you just can’t stop it from happening, as Okongwu does a good job to step-up and contest but DeRozan hits the shot anyways:

This final basket for DeRozan and the first half would about sum it up, hitting the heavily contested fadeaway jumper:

Not sure what else you can do in that situation...

What will disappoint the Hawks in that first half was San Antonio’s percentages at the rim, shooting 10-of-13 at the rim itself in the first half which is above league average:

Allowing 10-of-13 at the rim in the first half isn’t ideal and not the best reflection of the defense to say the least (and we’ve looked at some of these instances already) — not strictly in terms of rim protection itself, this also lends to breakdown off of the dribble, possibly forcing the rim protector to help, leading to an opportunity elsewhere.

Whether they were easy or tough shots, the Spurs just seemed to hit whatever they wanted.

“They were hitting a lot of shots, a lot of mid-range, a lot of tough shots they were hitting too and I think that got them going,” said Young of the Spurs. “Once you hit those tough shots, those easy ones start to fall a lot easier. Kind of just the way the ball bounced a little bit too.”

Something the Hawks really failed to take advantage of in the second quarter was the fact they were in the bonus with 8:40 remaining the second quarter yet shot 2-of-6 from the free throw line. Not that it would’ve solved their defensive issues but it could have at least served as a chance to grab a few easy points.

From the Hawks’ side offensively generally speaking, they weren’t great but not catastrophically awful either (though, shooting 32% in the second quarter did not help). San Antonio definitely made life tough in the second half for them but the defense was the issue for the Hawks on this night, as you would imagine when conceding 77 points in a half.

The second half was largely a formality, with the white flag being waved mid-way through the third quarter with Lloyd Pierce casting an eye on tonight’s fixture against the Indiana Pacers as he inserted the end of the bench guys like Nathan Knight and Skylar Mays.

Postgame, Pierce was left encouraged with that unit’s work in the fourth quarter while acknowledging his starters just didn’t have it last night, before talking about the similarities between the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s Dallas game, how it carried over into last night’s game and how it could not carry into tonight’s game — taking the time to give credit to Mays and Goodwin along the way.

“I thought it was really encouraging to see the second unit like we had tonight do they what they did tonight,” said Pierce in his opening statement. “We were having the conversation earlier as coaches about the San Antonio way, the style of play. One of the things Pop’s been able to do in years past many times is you see a Patty Mills-led second unit come in when his starters were poor, or if they were playing well and just keep him out there and let him finish games. He’s been able to to do that and he’s been able to empower guys.

“Our starters weren’t very good, they weren’t good at all, not very good, they weren’t good at all. Our second unit did a good job making the night somewhat decent. It’s good to see Skylar — who hasn’t played NBA basketball — do what he did tonight, it was good to see BG (Brandon Goodwin) get a little bit of rhythm and just throw some guys out there and play with some energy and some passion. That’s what we need, we need to get our starters to find what we had for three quarters in Dallas and lost in the fourth quarter defensively and what carried over tonight. We get to play again against a team tomorrow that’s physical, that’s energetic, that’s tough. We have to find that same type of approach to a game against Indiana that we haven’t had for four quarters with our starters.”

The Spurs hadn’t played since Tuesday and entered this fixture — and the start of the Spurs’ ‘rodeo’ road-trip but Pierce didn’t want this to be an excuse for his side, giving credit to the Spurs before, again, referencing the fourth quarter in Dallas and his starting unit’s showing.

“Credit to them, it’s not an excuse for us, credit to them,” said Pierce. “They played tremendous basketball, all of their guys, starting with DeRozan, played tremendous basketball. They were confident, they were encouraged, they were energetic, the ball was moving and popping and it was hard for us. They didn’t feel us. It was consistent with what happened in the fourth quarter in Dallas and it was consistent with our starting unit. We have to get off to a better start defensively and bring a different approach defensively. We had a great day of practice but no carryover.”

“They have to feel us, it’s really that simple,” Pierce went on to say of the second quarter. “We watched the edit at halftime and it looked similar to the fourth quarter in Dallas. You can be there and guys can still shoot. This is the NBA. You have to disrupt, you have to change what they’re doing, you have to make them feel you and that’s really the bottom line right now.”

As was the case in the Dallas game regarding the fourth quarter, there was a general acknowledgment from the players that the Hawks weren’t there defensively last night.

“We just didn’t have a lot of energy, even just to start the game,” said Goodwin postgame. “I think it’s one of those things where we had to break out of our shell and our comfort zone and lock in on what coach wanted us to do defensively. I think it was all just energy. We weren’t talking much, when a shot didn’t go in or when they scored we got down on ourselves. We never got to that point where we were going to leave it all out on the floor.”

“We’ve got to be better defensively all four quarters,” added Young. “It’s not just one quarter, we’ve got to be better defensively all four quarters. We do that, we’ll be a lot better.”

The Hawks just didn’t look up for this game and, as Pierce eluded to, the starters did not play well. John Collins shot 3-of-11 for nine points, Cam Reddish shot 2-of-8 for six points and Kevin Huerter shot 2-of-8 for five points.

Young had a great first quarter to keep the Hawks within touching distance — scoring 17 points — but by the time he checked back into this game in the second quarter and play resumed, the Hawks were already trailing by 10 points and the spiral only beginning.

Young finished with 25 points in 23 minutes, and the only other Hawks starter to hit double figures was Capela with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

With nearly the entire second half serving as garbage time, it was a great opportunity for the end of bench guys — as well as Okongwu — to get an extended run on the court. Mays made the most of it, scoring 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting and 4-of-5 from three in just under 17 minutes as he enjoyed his best night as an NBA professional.

The Hawks went on score 42 points in the fourth quarter, closing this game to a margin that, really, the Hawks had no right to be within but it was a testament to how those who got the opportunity played.

“I think that group at the end of the game just went out there and competed,” said Mays of the fourth quarter. “We got in our full court defense and we were trying to trap, trying to get more possessions and we just competed at a high level and took on that challenge.”

“It started with Sky,” said Goodwin of the fourth quarter lift. “A guy that just came in, didn’t care what the score was and he was picking up the ball full court, making shots, getting other guys shots, getting in the paint. He had a really nice dump-off, kind of got us going. Obviously it shouldn’t be a guy making shots for us to get going, we should come in what that energy to start off, but I think he gave us a really good start to the third and fourth.”

Even in blowouts, the senior members of the rotation are usually happy for those end of the bench guys who don’t get a ton of opportunities when they come in and perform and play well.

“Always great to see those guys do well,” said Young when asked about the end of the bench unit. “I love seeing my teammates do good. Loved seeing Sky be aggressive when he got his moment and got to continue tell everybody to be aggressive. Sky did a great job tonight.”

For Mays himself, it’s about doing what he can with what is given to him, although, preferably in a victory.

“Just as a competitor you always want to be out there to do what you can to help the team,” said Mays. “Coach has a great plan for us. We’re playing well, we need to string some wins together but my approach to this is to come in and try to do my part everyday, come to work everyday with my guys and do what I can when I do get time.”

“Getting my career-high, obviously you want to have a win next to it but I’m proud of myself for this one,” Mays went on to say of his night. “I’ve been trying to go to work everyday and stay positive and stay true to my role on this team and I got an opportunity today and I took advantage of it but I’d be a little more happy if we were able to win today.”

Let’s not beat around the bush: this was a really poor showing for the Hawks, especially given how well they played in Dallas in three quarters, then for things fall apart, talk about defense afterwards and then to concede 77 first half points... That’s tough.

But this is the NBA and life moves quickly and the Hawks face a tough opponent tonight in the form of the Pacers, where Pierce is looking for a response from his starters, who will be as he put it, “well rested.”

“It’s the NBA, that’s the good and bad of the NBA,” said Pierce on the schedule’s quick turnaround. “We have a lot of games coming, I think we have 11 more in about 18 days before the break. We’re going to playing often and you have to have a short term memory, as Solo just said in the locker room. The guys that started for us and have played heavy minutes didn’t play heavy minutes tonight, so they’re well rested, they should be ready to go tomorrow. They understand we dropped one, we laid an egg defensively with our effort, with our energy.

“That’s my job, to put them in position with the game plan, to have the right guys on the floor. I thought we had the right guys and they didn’t deliver tonight. We come back to tomorrow and we try and find a way to deliver. We know we have some energy on the bench and maybe we find a spark like we did in someone like Skylar tonight, we get that with Nathan (Knight) early in the season. I’ve got to take a look at our roster and see what’s out there but tonight it was a collective effort. All of our guys really struggled to contain what they were doing, they didn’t feel us and that’s on the entire group.”

Pierce referenced that the Hawks would need to match the Pacers — energetic, tough, physical. I would not be at all surprised if we (collectively) saw Mays get a run in the rotation today, especially if things don’t start well.

The Hawks are undermanned at the moment and need some sort of injection if last night’s showing was anything to go by: it might be worth giving Mays a run for a few minutes to end the first quarter — maybe alongside Huerter so Mays isn’t the only one handling the ball — and see if he can add a little something, because the Hawks have been lacking towards the end of the first quarter in these last two games especially when Young has gone to the bench. Now, the bench initially did a better job compared to Wednesday to start the second quarter when Young was on the bench but that obviously fell away quickly but the end of the first quarter did not go well.

Yeah, not a ton else to say in this spot. It was a poor performance from the Hawks and everyone knows it. A useful reminder that knee-jerk reactions never help anyone, the Hawks are missing a lot of meaningful contributors right now and the ‘fire Lloyd Pierce’ takes are, at least in my view, nonsense.

The Hawks (11-14) are back in action on Saturday at State Farm Arena against the Indiana Pacers (13-13) and in need of a big response.

Until next time...