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Hawks let down by execution in loss to Cavaliers

A horrid end to the game and a horrid result

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks were unable to chain a second consecutive victory on Tuesday night, falling short on the road to the Cleveland Cavaliers 112-111.

Trae Young scored 28 points and dished out 12 assists while Kevin Huerter scored 22 points, hitting four three-pointers.

For the Cavaliers, Collin Sexton scored 29 points despite his foul trouble in the second half. Darius Garland added 17 points.

Whoo boy, where to begin because this was a wild game.

The Hawks were decent favorites heading into last night’s game and should have quickly established a double-digit lead in the first quarter but missed a bunch of easy shots at the rim/in the paint, failing to push home their advantage with Clint Capela and John Collins over Dean Wade and Jarrett Allen:

The Hawks were honestly quite poor in the first quarter and it was the Cavaliers who established a double-digit lead themselves in the early exchanges in the second quarter but the turning point in that first quarter was Collins — who was running riot in the first six minutes — running into early foul trouble. Whenever he and Capela were absent from the floor, the Hawks suffered, and it was no coincidence that when those two returned to the floor, the Hawks began to turn things around and cut into the Cavaliers’ lead.

The first turning point of this game was when Collins took a blow to the head on a rebound underneath the basket, subsequently being held out of the second half for precautionary reasons under concussion evaluation. In 13 minutes, Collins had scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field. His absence for the remainder of the game was hugely notable, not just in terms of his production and what he brings but also because it forced the Hawks to have to lean on their rotation more in the second half (which is something Lloyd Pierce doesn’t always prefer to do) and the Hawks’ bench (with the exception of Skylar Mays in the second half) was really, really poor last night.

The Hawks eventually took back the lead in this game in the third quarter, holding it for most of the second half and in the fourth quarter — despite Dylan Windler having a career-night — the Hawks held a six point lead after Young finds Tony Snell — starting in place of the injured Cam Reddish last night — for three, leading to a Cleveland timeout with 4:57 remaining in the game with the Hawks leading 107-101.

After Sexton splits a pair of free throws, Young begins his struggles down the stretch, electing to take a contested three-pointer instead that is missed:

After an offensive foul by Sexton on the other end, the Hawks come back with Young who oops it to Clint Capela, who misses another shot at the rim, unable to guide the alley-oop home:

This would have put the Hawks up by seven points, not that this would have safeguarded them from the events that would happen but it would’ve been a big basket nevertheless. Alas...

Off of the drive, Darius Garland draws Capela before attempting the runner which misses, but Jarrett Allen is there to clean up to cut the lead to three:

Young turning his back on the ball here really costs the Hawks. If he’s facing the ball, he can at least help once Garland is past Snell, perhaps then Capela is able to secure a defensive rebound ahead of Allen. With Capela forced to come out and contest Garland, Allen is free to finish the second opportunity.

However, Young is on-hand to restore the Hawks’ five point lead, rejecting the Capela screen to finish with the left-hand:

After a missed Garland layup and two missed free throws from Capela, the Cavs slice into the lead with a three-pointer as the Hawks collapse in the paint, their rotations not sharp enough to prevent Sexton hitting the open three:

Young and Capela do connect on an alley-oop to maintain their lead, this time Young gets into the paint before throwing the lob to Capela:

The next turning point of the fourth quarter came on the defensive end as Solomon Hill is called for the blocking foul on the drive:

Wanting the charge call so that the Cavs — who were in the bonus for over half of the fourth quarter — wouldn’t go to the free throw line, the Hawks challenged this call but lost the challenge, losing a timeout in the process, leaving them with just one timeout for the final 1:51 of the game.

“Our video guys have a monitor, it’s usually about a 10 to 12 second delay. It was pretty unanimous from the guys back there that it was a charge,” said Pierce of the Hawks’ challenge. “I watched it after, Solo watched it after. It’s really hard to dispute that he was there. He took the contact on the pass. There are always more angles than what we see but from the angle we saw it was clear enough to take the challenge and you need to take that challenge. It’s free throws for them and it’s a possession for us if we take it away. Those are the decisions you have to make but it was pretty unanimous from our guys.”

After Garland splits the pair of free throws, Young comes off of the screen and launches the three-pointer but cannot connect:

After an impressive runner off of glass by Sexton to cut the lead to one, Young comes off of the screen, gets inside but can’t hit the leaning floater:

Having grabbed the offensive rebound off of his miss, Young tries to do it all himself, his leaning scoop shot is missed and the Cavs grab the rebound:

All of a sudden, the Hawks hold just a one point lead with 35 seconds remaining in the game and the Cavs now have a chance to take the lead, but the Hawks are handed an immediate reprieve as Huerter procures his fourth steal of the night, poking the ball free from Garland:

Young brings the ball up the floor, receives the screen near the right sideline before the Cavs spring the trap and, somehow, the Hawks are able to call a timeout before he’s called for stepping out of bounds:

Cleveland head coach JB Bickerstaff was very unimpressed at the time of this happening, and you can imagine why. Alas, the Hawks use their final timeout but saved the possession and the certain turnover, and have a chance to draw something up to relieve some of the pressure the Cavs has exerted onto them down the stretch.

Out of the timeout, Huerter throws the ball into the backcourt for Young, who comes off of the Gallinari screen before missing another floater:

“Just trying to get some gaps, try and create some separation to get downhill,” said Pierce of the Hawks’ final offensive possession. “I thought we had a couple of open guys. Trae gets a look. Normally he can get a little further, a little deeper. He’s got Jarrett Allen (guarding him) so I understand the hesitation but didn’t really get a clean look ... it’s just trying to create some gaps for our best player to get a shot at the end.”

Off of that miss, the Cavs push with Sexton, elect not to use their timeout, the Hawks load on the ball-handler out front, Sexton passes to Lamar Stevens, who drives to the rim and scores with 4.1 seconds remaining:

There’s quite a bit to break down here. Firstly, Hill probably doesn’t need to pressure the ball-handler like that with Snell right there (a mistake Hill took full responsibility for postgame). Secondly, Young has been better on defense this season but that was uproariously poor defense, basically matadoring Stevens on by. Lastly, Danilo Gallinari’s help defense was equally poor as he basically stands still/stops as Stevens gets to the rim.

The obvious — and fair — question of ‘where is Clint Capela?’ was addressed postgame by Pierce, who was worried about the Cavaliers fouling Capela and sending him to the free throw line, where had missed two free throws in the fourth quarter.

“Up one at the end, knowing that if they trap Trae we’re going to have a free throw shooter than can get the basketball,” said Pierce of his decision to have Gallinari in over Capela at the end. “We were fearful of them fouling Clint on an offensive possession with under 10 seconds to go. If he’s in the screen or involved in the catch, just needing someone else to be on the floor to secure the basketball. He’s a guy that will secure it but I’m sure that would have led to a foul right away.”

A complete horror play, and now the Hawks trail with no timeouts to advance the ball and, ultimately, they don’t get a shot to end as the Cavaliers break their 10-game losing streak.

The Hawks were left to reflect on a really, really poor loss.

“Disappointed,” opened Pierce postgame, who himself returned from a three-game absence between the birth of his second child last week and Covid protocols on Sunday. “Thought we needed one more play, they made one more than we did. A couple of possessions down the stretch, couldn’t get the ball to go down. Really needed one more defensive effort down the stretch, a lapse on the multiple effort trying to scramble in transition. Our guys competed, played some tremendous basketball. Tough loss.”

The Hawks didn’t lose this game on one possession (as we’ve just looked at), however, on the possession that the Cavaliers won the game on, there was a lot to be said, with Pierce attributing the Hawks’ lack of organization in transition and an overplay from Solomon Hill as reasons as to why it unfolded as it did.

“It’s in transition, there’s really no organization in transition,” said Pierce of the Stevens dunk. “You don’t have a man in transition. Solo was caught out of position and randomly ran at the basketball and we’re a man down when you do that because it’s up the floor. We needed someone to step in and it’s a scramble drill at that point. It’s a breakout, they’re down, we’ve got enough guys back but we didn’t get organized or communicate. We didn’t need to go and trap the basketball up the floor and we needed someone to cover for that mistake at the end.”

Solomon Hill held his hands up and admitted his fault on the play.

“I take the blame for that one,” said Hill of the Stevens dunk. “The guy that was going was Collin Sexton, wanted to bring some pressure to him. He made the right play. He got off the ball and Lamar Stevens drove the ball without any resistance. Came down and made the right play, got them a nice little dunk. I think I take this one personally just for the fact that I thought I took the charge, I rewatched the play, I thought I took a clean charge. Make whatever call that the refs wanted to make, and we lose a timeout. That puts us in a situation where, at the end of the game, when we have the ball and the opportunity to draw something up for Trae, we don’t have that timeout ... the last two minutes, as you can tell by my plus/minus (-23), I take full responsibility for.”

“I never want to leave anybody on an island by themselves,” Hill would go on to say of the play. “I think the nearest man was Gallo guarding somebody in the corner. He (Sexton) was a hot man tonight. He had 29, nobody else had more than 20, so just to speed him up. I didn’t want him to come down and do something comfortable. I take full responsibility because maybe I could’ve communicated more, let Tony (Snell) know I was there. After he came off, he tried to switch off to Stevens but it was too late. That’s on me, I think I kind of went rogue on that play and it cost us the game.”

When setting up in transition, it’s nothing to do with matchups, it’s not so much to do with schemes, it’s how the players themselves assemble themselves, how they hustle and so on. So, for those who will want to pick holes in Pierce’s comments about the disorganization in transition and how that’s his job, Huerter discussed the dynamic of transition defense in a late-game situation eloquently postgame.

“At that point of the game, there’s no rules. Nothing was supposed to happen,” said Huerter when asked what was supposed to happen on the Stevens dunk. “When you’re in transition, you’ve got to talk, you’ve got to communicate, you need to pick people up. On that back-side, we didn’t have numbers, we came back and didn’t communicate. We had guys on the team that are loaded on the side of the ball. I was pinned by Allen but I’m trying to move out to get to the corner and he (Stevens) drives uncontested down the center of the paint. On that play, it was a lack of communication. At that point of the game, there’s no rules, there’s no matchups, there’s no ‘you get back and find your own man’ you get the closest guy. There’s 10 seconds left in the game, you’ve got to make a play.”

Young’s account of the Stevens dunk was... a little less satisfactory.

“I had two people on my side, knew if I slid over they’d throw it to that corner guy,” said Young of the play. “I didn’t want to foul Lamar either. Just a bang-bang play, such a quick play. They scored, we didn’t have any timeouts and we had to go from there.”

Doesn’t quite line up with what happened on the play but alas...

Speaking of Young... That fourth quarter was truly a struggle. Young shot 3-of-9 from the field and 0-of-3 from three (1-of-6 from the field in the final five minutes and 0-of-4 in the last 94 seconds) and clearly tried to be the hero down the stretch, the consequences clear to see. With the ball basically sticking in his hands, the Hawks lived and died based on his success and it was the latter last night. As much as he played a big part in the loss for the Hawks down the stretch, he also could have also singlehandedly won the game for the Hawks down the stretch had he hit those shots, but he didn’t, and many of them were not great shots (as we’ve seen).

With news of Young’s All-Star snub (which Young said ‘confused him’ on Tuesday) coming just before the games tipped off — something Young would’ve surely been aware of — it felt like that could have played a factor down the stretch into some of the decisions that went into the volume and quality of Young’s shots as he tried to take over this game down the stretch.

Sure, he connected with Capela on a couple of occasions and you want the ball in your star players hands but at some point there are other teammates out there to at least give it up to, even if they don’t end up taking a shot. Huerter had a fantastic game of 22 points in a game where he was hitting shots inside and out and he got one shot attempt in the fourth quarter (which he made, as well as two free throws).

There’s been plenty a fourth quarter in which Young has performed well in, but this was not one of them. I think he tried to do a little too much on his own and, against Cleveland, it didn’t work out.

For the game, Young shot 9-of-27 from the field, 1-of-7 from three and uncharacteristically missed four free throws as he shot 9-of-13 from the line. Huerter scored 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field and 4-of-8 from three, to go along with four steals.

Of course, aside from the nature of how this game ended with that Stevens dunk, the Hawks were left to ponder on another fourth quarter lead they let go and another game against the Cavaliers that they probably should have won.

“It’s a hard look in the mirror. That’s who we’ve been,” said Hill of the Hawks’ continued fourth quarter struggles. “I think we stopped playing at the pace we want to play. I still don’t believe that we’re the best execution team when it comes to the fourth quarter, so there was no need to slow the game down. We built our lead and we built the comeback being aggressive. Kevin was in the passing lanes early today that led to a lot of our fast break and opportunities for us. When we slow the game down — I don’t think that we’re there yet — with a more comfortable lead or slowing the game down under two minutes would be a preference but there’s no excuse for that.

“I would say if we were able to close out games, we wouldn’t be in this position or we wouldn’t be the team we are today, and it’s still a young group. We’re learning and we don’t want to make any excuses, so I’m going to tip my hat off to the Cleveland Cavaliers and their ability to play great against us, maybe not so against the rest of the league, but they bring a great game against us. Every team has that, every team has on team that has their number.”

“Obvious frustration, we didn’t make the plays we needed to down the stretch,” added Huerter. “Didn’t execute offensively, obviously we didn’t have shots go in for us at the end of the game, but we weren’t generating much movement offensively. Defensively, obviously that last possession of the game, it’s a breakdown on the most important play of the game. That’s frustrating. Before that, we didn’t get stops, had a couple of bad fouls and stuff didn’t go our way. We keep doing it to ourselves so there’s obvious frustration.”

As bad as this loss was — and it was very, very bad — this was a game the Hawks could have won if any one of these things didn’t happen (and these are only a few of the bigger ones):

  • If Young hits any of his missed shots down the stretch
  • If Young doesn’t uncharacteristically miss four free throws
  • If the Hawks execute in transition defense on the final play
  • If the Hawks don’t shoot well below league average at the rim (they missed a lot of good opportunities, Capela in particular had an uncharacteristic night himself in front of the rim):

The Hawks also more than likely pull this one out if Collins isn’t forced to leave the game at halftime.

“John Collins is pivotal to what we want to do here,” said Solomon Hill. “Some of those guys are key to our playmaking. Pick-and-roll with JC and Ice is probably one of the best plays in basketball and to lose that and to lose a guy of that calibre who got us started was definitely tough. But I’ll sit here again and say we make no excuses, that’s a game we’ve got to win.”

There was a lot that went into this loss — and had any one of them not occurred, the outcome is likely different (go ahead though, blame Lloyd Pierce) — so it’s not entirely on Young by any means, but he has to be held accountable for his play down the stretch last night. Young also admitted postgame that he needed to do a better job of making shots towards the end of the game.

“I got to make more shots at the end of the game, got to do a better job at doing that,” said Young.

A horrid loss and a game the Hawks allowed to get away.

The Hawks (13-18) are back in action Wednesday when they’ll take on the Boston Celtics at State Farm Arena in what is a must-win game — coming off a loss of this nature — in anything but an easy game.

Until next time...