Trae Young led the Hawks in scoring with 23 points while John Collins added 19 points.
For the Knicks, Julius Randle blitzed his previous season-high of 30 points en-route to 44 points last night. RJ Barrett added 21 points.
Let’s get into this one, shall we?
Things didn’t look fantastic to start, the Knicks scoring 39 points in the first quarter to lead by double-digits, giving the Hawks an uphill battle. The Hawks responded really well in the second quarter to get back into the game, and there were multiple factors as to how the Hawks got back into the game.
Their activity, first and foremost, ramped up and they put together some stops on the defensive end, but on the offensive end the Hawks found themselves in the bonus with 7:15 remaining in the second quarter.
One of the things the Hawks have done well on a number of times this season is get into the bonus with six/seven/eight minutes remaining in quarters. However, the Hawks haven’t always taken advantage of this advantage time in the bonus but in the second quarter last night the Hawks made that advantage count, shooting 16-of-17 from the free throw line.
This was spread nicely across the entire team too: Young shot six free throws, Cam Reddish shot four, Danilo Gallinari shot three while both Skylar Mays and Clint Capela got to the line twice.
The third quarter looked good for the Hawks too but the momentum swung quickly for the Knicks after it looked to be with Atlanta, the Knicks going on a 15-2 to run to overturn what was a seven point Atlanta lead to take a lead into the fourth quarter.
The two sides traded baskets for much of the fourth quarter, which obviously didn’t work for the Hawks since they were the ones trailing the entire fourth quarter. They did erase an eight point Knicks lead in the fourth after an Immanuel Quickley three-pointer to begin the fourth quarter but were unable to get back in front.
Let’s pick things up down the stretch in the fourth quarter, starting with this three-pointer by Kevin Huerter — who had been struggling all night with his shot — as he fakes and steps to his right to hit the open three to cut the Knicks lead down to two points:
A two point game with just under four minutes to go: plenty of time to get things right but plenty of time to get things wrong too.
We’ll talk about Randle later, but here he hits the deep pull-up three with Capela on him:
Coming out of the resulting timeout, the Hawks try to run a lob to Capela with Young but it’s broken up by Nerlens Noel:
The Hawks get another chance to bring the lead back after a Derrick Rose turnover, Huerter swings the ball to Reddish who is short on his contested three-pointer:
The Knicks come the other way with Randle, who uses the Quickley screen going right before finding RJ Barrett in the weakside corner. Barrett’s defender, Cam Reddish, loses his footing (a bit of a theme last night) as he tries to get out to the corner to contest the three, fails, and Barrett sinks the big three-pointer:
Credit to Huerter who had to rotate here and still get a decent contest on the shot.
After a Reddish layup cuts the lead to six points, the Knicks — after the rebound is tipped out by the Hawks — inbound the ball to Randle, who hits the rainbow shot:
Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce described this shot as “backbreaking” postgame, one of the big moments of the final quarter...
After Reddish hits a corner three that basically saves the game for the Hawks in the moment, they find themselves on the edge again as the Hawks try to spring a trap Rose near the sideline. Rose finds the open Quickley, whose dribble past Reddish takes him out of the play before Quickley finds Noel for the layup to put the Knicks back up by seven points with just over a minute remaining:
Capela wasn’t in a hurry to get back and help with Noel at the rim but to be fair I’m not sure if he’s getting there in time if he did.
A missed three from Huerter basically finishes the game off for the Hawks before Nerlens Noel’s putback dunk puts the exclamation mark on the game for the Knicks. A few free throws runs Randle’s total to 44 (including 17 points in the first quarter) and the Hawks fall to the Knicks by double-digits.
“Credit to them,” opened Pierce postgame. “Obviously Julius Randle had an amazing game from start to finish, shooting the basketball, hits the big shot on the baseline out-of-bounds, he hit every big three. Our guys competed. We were constantly trying to find those big play moments on our side and we got dinged by a guy making play-after-play all night. We’re a step closer but not there.”
When asked what gets the Hawks ‘there,’ Pierce referenced the ‘moments’ the Hawks were missing down the stretch.
“I used Julius Randle’s shot at the end in the corner with 4.5 (as an example) — those moments are moments,” said Pierce. “He’s had that moment at the start of the game, 17 first quarter points ... we did enough and did what we needed to get back and take a lead, have a good lead. But then it’s fourth quarter basketball and those moments have to transfer over to us and we had some looks, we had some opportunities and those didn’t go for us. The big three in the corner, the corner long-two, those are moments, those are opportunities they capitalized on and we didn’t. We’re a step closer, we put ourselves in a position after being in as big a hole as we were in to come back and really get some momentum in that third quarter and it’s just the game now, you’re fighting until the end. We need to have those moments.”
“A lot of guys hit tough shots, they hit very timely clutch shots,” added Collins of the fourth quarter. “Offensively, I don’t think our rhythm was there as much in the fourth quarter, sometimes it’s hit or miss. Defensively we’ve got to try do a better job. We burned the candle at both ends and we came out with an ‘L.’
“They made a lot of big shots, Julius made a lot of big shots for them,” said Young. “They just made a lot of big plays down the stretch and that’s kind of what got them over the hump. We were going back and forth, we just couldn’t get a stop and Julius made some big plays down the stretch.”
Let’s talk about Randle, who scored a season-high 44 points (14 more than his season-high prior to last night and one off of his career-high of 45 points) on 14-of-22 shooting from the field and 7-of-13 from three.
Randle was a huge factor in the meeting between these two at State Farm Arena on January 4th. On that night, Randle shot 0-of-5 from three and 11-of-14 from two — the one relief for the Hawks that night from Randle was that he couldn’t hit a three-pointer. Last season with the Knicks, Randle shot 27% from three and 31% for his career.
It shouldn’t anger anyone in the slightest that the Hawks would want to test Randle from the outside again and invite him to shoot some of those shots.
If your counter-argument is that Randle is shooting over 40% now from three on the season, prior to this season his best shooting season came in 18-19 where he shot 34% from three — you could be forgiven for expecting him to regress from the outside.
It’s also not like Randle was given six feet of space to shoot these either. Collins is right here to contest on the perimeter on this make:
This time, it’s Capela who is draped on Randle in the corner, right there to contest the three-point attempt, which Randle drains:
During the game, Capela ended up guarding Randle while Collins/Gallinari took on the likes of Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson.
“He started the game with confidence so I wanted to take the challenge to start guarding him after I saw that he was getting that confidence,” said Capela of Randle. “In the NBA, when a player’s got that confidence during the game, it’s hard to stop the player. You just do your best to make his work harder and that’s pretty much all you can do.”
We looked at a fourth quarter three already made by Randle with Capela contesting him, and, again, it’s not like Randle was left alone all night long. Gallinari closes out to contest here and Randle still has to knock it down, and he does, to his credit:
Not a perfect contest, but it’s to highlight that Randle wasn’t just left all on his own to shoot these.
Of course, there were a few that slipped through the cracks, such as this laxness from Onyeke Okongwu:
This next three was probably the most open the Hawks allowed, and it wasn’t even by design as Capela and Reddish are unable to close out after the body of RJ Barrett created separation:
This play — having just come off of the heels of another Randle three — led to a timeout.
There was a lot of anger postgame surrounding Randle’s three-point shooting night (eclipsing his previous career three-point mark of five, now seven) and I don’t understand why: the Hawks didn’t give him a ton of free ones, they contested the majority of them. He just hit them and he deserves credit for that.
Randle is having a fantastic season and he commands a lot of respect offensively and it’s opening opportunities for others, especially with Randle’s improvement as a facilitator. On the drive, the Hawks crowd Randle with Capela and Collins, leaving Reddish to put a body on Gibson. Randle passes to the perimeter to Reggie Bullock for the three-pointer:
There were some clamoring for the Hawks to double Randle... They send two bodies to him here to crowd him near the rim and Reddish gives multiple efforts to stay with Gibson before flying out to contest Bullock’s three... what more is there to do here?
Immanuel Quickley hit a number of deep threes last night in addition, as the Knicks hit a season-high 17 threes. Guys hit shots, Randle hit a bunch of tough ones. Multiple Hawks (and you’ve seen the quotes above) cited how the Knicks made tough shots, how Randle made tough shots and they did, they happened to make more down the stretch than the Hawks did.
If you look at the Knicks’ shot chart last night, they didn’t get a lot done efficiently at the rim...they just literally hit everything else, they hit their jumpers.
The Knicks entered the night 6th in the NBA in the percentage of their points scored in the paint (46%).— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) February 16, 2021
NY scored 27.6% of their points in the paint tonight.
Despite how poor this loss may appear to some, Pierce appeared satisfied that the Hawks executed on some of the items of discussion that have been referenced of late in terms of need of improvement.
“It’s a step closer of what we wanted to do,” said Pierce. “We missed a couple of plays early in the third quarter that was tremendous basketball, and so I say we’re a step closer because we did some of the stuff we talked about this morning, the ‘one-mores’ on the passes, moving their defense, breaking down their defense and trying to capitalize on it. We’re getting there and we have to buy into it and I thought we had energy off of that. We didn’t separate the way we needed to.”
The Hawks have now lost four in a row and seven of their last eight, and now fall further out of the playoff picture, falling to 11th as Miami’s and Toronto’s recovery finally takes reflection in the standings.
“Stay together,” said Pierce of the postgame message. “That’s always going to be the message. With the wins it’s a ‘we’ mentality, with the losses it’s a ‘we’ mentality. Understanding that the losses can create anything, frustration, pent up frustration. It’s really still about staying together. That’s the message. I keep telling the guys ‘You’re playing good basketball, you’re playing good basketball. How do we put 48 minutes together of good basketball? How do we create moments like Julius Randle had tonight so that we can celebrate in that good basketball?’ A lot of contributions from a lot of guys tonight. Skylar came in and gave us great minutes, Gallo came in and gave us great minutes, Solo gave us great minutes. We need other guys to step up as they did and we need our guys to continue to play in the capacity we know they’re capable of Trae and John and Kevin and Cam and Clint.”
“We’ve got to come out with more effort and energy,” said Collins on how the Hawks turn things around. “We need heart, we need to believe we can win, we need to have the belief that we can, we will do the things necessary to win, it really starts there. Talent wise or skill wise, you can compare us to whoever you want to on paper but we need to come out and play the right way. I think that’s where it starts, before the game, during, after, film, everything.”
Pierce referenced Skylar Mays, who — in the rotation minutes he received — was a positive (especially in the first half), scoring 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting on the game. It was that first quarter though where Mays really gave the Hawks something at a time they really needed a boost.
Here, Mays takes the ball towards the baseline and confidently takes the shot with Taj Gibson there to contest and Mays knocks it down:
Here, Mays rejects the screen, gets Derrick Rose at his hip — taking the contact — before banking a very difficult shot at the rim home despite Gibson’s presence:
With Young and Huerter off of the floor, it’s Mays who handles responsibility at point and he does so confidently here as he comes off the Okongwu screen and hits the contested jump shot:
These were huge baskets for the Hawks, who were already down by double-figures by the end of the first quarter and would’ve been even further away had Mays not come in and immediately contributed. You can’t expect him to come in and shoot 3-of-3 immediately but the Hawks sure needed it last night.
Something else that the Hawks didn’t have going in the favor, something the players could control but failed to capitalize on last night... This is the Hawks’ three-point shot chart from last night:
Watching the game last night, one of the things that stood out to me was that the Hawks were getting some good looks in that left corner consistently but couldn’t convert. Some of these were a little more clear-cut than others but the Hawks got looks there.
This was one of the few that came from the ball-side, as Young finds Mays in the corner for the three-point attempt:
Not an obvious chance, given the late contest but this kicked off the theme for the night.
With Young using the Collins screen going to his right this time, Solomon Hill is open in the left corner in a weakside situation this time. The pass is flung to him in the corner, again, there’s an onrushing contest but it’s not as tight as the one Mays saw. Hill is unable to convert this time:
In transition, Young pushes the pace, attracts the defense and finds Huerter in the weakside corner but is unable to convert:
After an offensive rebound on a three-point miss from Young, Huerter relocates to the left corner where Young finds him. Huerter, uncharacteristically, airballs the three-pointer:
Attacking to his left, Young finds Reddish in the strongside corner and Reddish is unable to hit the contested three:
Again, not all of those three-point attempts were open or clear but shooting 0-of-5 from the corner is notable, especially since it’s the one area behind the arc they shoot considerably above league average, shooting 47% on the season in that left corner:
Not to say the Hawks didn’t make anything happen from that left corner, Huerter utilizes the space in the weakside left corner with a fake on the closeout before kicking it to Collins for a three:
Going back to some big picture stuff... With this game being the seventh loss in eight games and the season slowly unravelling, it’s important to remember who the Hawks are missing and the value of those who are being missed and how it is affecting them.
De’Andre Hunter was arguably the best player for the Hawks this season — taking both sides of the ball into account — before his injury. He is a huge loss for the Hawks. Bogdan Bogdanovic bring shooting the Hawks are missing right now as well as a secondary playmaking option. With Kris Dunn still out and Rajon Rondo out, the Hawks’ overall depth is taking a serious hit and their bench is thin right now. They got good games out of Gallinari (offensively at least) and Mays last night but they’re basically running eight-man rotations and their starters are playing 30+ minutes — these factors matter and you can’t ignore them or pretend they don’t matter. The Hawks have missed key players for pretty much all season long and this means expectations have to change.
The counter-argument of ‘other teams have injuries’ — while true — doesn’t change the fact that who is missing for the Hawks right now are significant losses.
“You miss a key player, you are a different club,” said Pierce. “You’re going to have to have different guys step up and be effective in their way. Clint’s our anchor of the defense, ‘Dre is probably our most solid and consistent defender. You take that out, it’s the same deal when — I know all the metrics and analytics — Trae comes out, your offense isn’t as good. It’s not rocket science, he’s pretty damn good offensively so you’re going to miss that when he’s not on the floor, which is what we miss when ‘Dre isn’t on the floor on the defensive end and on the offensive end.
“You’re asking other guys to do something in a different capacity, in a greater capacity. You’re not asking them to be ‘Dre, but we need other guys to step up which is always the ‘next man up’ mentality. We will miss D’re that he’s not on the floor as we miss Rondo and his leadership when he’s not on the floor and Bogi and his leadership and shooting when he’s not on the floor. We’re just asking other guys to fill those roles in their capacity and play to the best of it.”
“You try not to think about it,” said Collins of missing players. “You have that ‘next man up’ mentality but you want to have a full team, you want to experience your team fully healthy, you want to see what the chemistry can be, that potential. Everyone wants to see what our true potential is with everyone healthy. This is the NBA, injuries happen, stuff happens. That’s the nature of the game but obviously I would definitely want my brothers with me to go to war with.”
All of this will naturally fall on deaf ears (well, for the most part because there are some who will see it all for what it is) but might as well try, right?
The Hawks (11-16) are back in action on Wednesday for the first of two games on the road in Boston against the Celtics (13-13 and on a two game losing patch).
Until next time...