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Hawks unable to overcome chess match in loss to Mavericks

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A third straight home loss for the Hawks.

Dallas Mavericks v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks continued their homestand at State Farm Arena on Wednesday night in a matchup against the Dallas Mavericks, but the team could not return to its winning ways as the Mavs triumphed 122-116, snapping their six-game losing streak.

John Collins tied a career-high with 35 points while grabbing 12 rebounds, with Trae Young and Kevin Huerter adding 21 point apiece (Huerter tying a career-best 10 assists on the evening too).

For the Mavs, Luka Doncic led the way with 27 points and 14 assists while Kristaps Porzingis added 24 points.

As always, if you need to catch up on how the game unfolded as a whole, you can do so here.

We’re going to jump ahead to the third quarter today, where the Hawks’ good work in the first half was quickly undone as the Mavericks went on an 8-0 run to take the lead back from the Hawks in the very early stages of the third quarter.

The Mavs, as they did in the first half, looked to extend pressure on Trae Young at almost every opportunity when the ball was in his hands — be it in the half court or even full court, forcing others to have to make plays.

An example from the third quarter of a successful instance for the Mavericks in executing this:

Coming out the halftime break, it seemed as though the Mavericks had very much the upper hand in terms of tactics as they not only overturned their own six point deficit but created a small margin themselves, the Hawks and Young struggling to figure out how to overcome the doubles sent to Young. The space was there somewhere but their lineup wasn’t finding it.

When Danilo Gallinari checked back into the game after a strong first half, the game changed and swung back in the Hawks’ favor. With Gallinari on the floor, the spacing the Hawks needed was there, with Gallinari proving to be the ideal big in this scenario.

His ability to stretch the floor in addition to the other shooters the Hawks had on the floor was key, hitting the three-pointer here:

Gallinari was also showing a little something on the move last night, and when Young is doubled and elegantly sends the ball Gallinari’s way, he draws the foul on the move, getting himself to the free throw line:

While the play this time didn’t go towards Gallinari, you can see the space he is filling and the open space being created after Young is doubled and your roller (this time Collins) gets inside after the screen:

Collins is capable of making a pass to the corner in these spots, where he would’ve had another option too.

It looked the Hawks had figured it out: with Gallinari on the floor with Young, your one big that sets the screens and rolls (be it Collins or Clint Capela), one of Kevin Huerter or Tony Snell (who both had it going from distance last night) and whatever you need to fill the lineup — that seemed to be where any success was going to lie, but Gallinari in particular was key to it.

That Collins basket tied the game at 76-76, but the momentum you felt was very much with the Hawks. Then, Trae Young exited the game for Rajon Rondo.

Again, there is a certain point where Young has to sit: he cannot play the entire second half.

In his absence, the game changed.

Firstly, having seen the success that Gallinari was having, I likely would have married Young’s and Gallinari’s minutes from that point onward: when Young left, I think the Hawks would’ve been better off taking Gallinari out too and reinserting them together.

The problem, however, may have come beforehand because Capela picked up two quick fouls towards the end of the third quarter, including his fourth personal foul, prompting the Hawks to remove him from the game in order to prevent a fifth foul and forcing Collins to return from his 40 seconds of rest (he played 23 minutes and 20 seconds in the second half).

I believe this thoroughly messed up the Hawks’ big rotation from this point onwards and this may have been one of the reasons Gallinari was left out on the floor when perhaps he would’ve been best served resting with Young (with Gallinari eventually running out of gas).

Now, for the matters on the court with the ball...

In short, Rondo was awful in this game. The one thing Rondo has been lauded for has been his ability to ‘get the Hawks set’ offensively, but he displayed very little of this last night as the Hawks’ offense crashed with Young on the bench.

Rondo begins his stint with whatever this was en-route to a turnover:

Another turnover is immediately committed as Rondo is unable to successfully connect with Collins on the cut:

On the defensive end, Rondo had little interest in helping near the rim, choosing instead to watch as the sizzling Tim Hardaway Jr. scores at the rim:

The Mavs would enter the fourth quarter with a now five-point lead and shades of the Lakers game once again came for the Hawks as the Mavs went on a 7-0 run at the beginning of the fourth quarter to put a margin between the Hawks.

With the Hawks now down eight after a Dorian Finney-Smith three pointer, they’re in a short clock situation after the jump ball. That said, I’m sure there was a better option than this, as Rondo drives and misses horribly at the rim:

I’m not saying that the reason the Hawks ended up trailing the Mavericks is entirely Rondo’s fault, but if he’s not getting others involved or running the offense as he was brought in to do, he adds very little else on the floor for the Hawks.

His offensive rating on the game was 95.8 and his defensive rating was 139, and that is as representative of his night more than anything else.

Honestly, the Hawks would’ve been better off just allowing Huerter to run proceedings in Young’s absence, or to insert Brandon Goodwin for some rotation minutes. Alas, Travis Schlenk and the front office decided to spend $15 million (over two years) to sign Rondo, so Rondo is going to play: for better or for worse, and last night it was certainly for the worse.

When Young checked back in, once again, the Hawks had to try and overturn the Mavericks’ lead, which soon ran up to 14 points with five minutes to go. The Hawks decided to extend the pressure themselves, which wasn’t the first time that we (collectively) have seen them do this when they’re really up against it in the fourth quarter. It happened last season too and just as they did then, the Hawks managed to eat into the Mavs’ lead and make this game a little uncomfortable for Dallas.

The Hawks cut the lead to three points but couldn’t produce a stop when it mattered most, as Doncic drives inside, misses but Porzingis is on-hand to tip in the offensive rebound, putting the Mavericks up five with 30 seconds to go:

“You’re talking about (it) being our ball with 30 seconds left, down three, it’s a lot different down five,” said Huerter postgame, identifying this particular play as a huge moment in the game.

Solomon Hill was the one guarding Doncic here because Cam Reddish — who had the matchup of guarding Doncic — was bad enough offensively (shooting 1-of-8 last night) that he essentially got himself removed from the game. With Capela switched on Hardaway Jr. on the perimeter, there was little chance of shot-blocking here and Capela was unable to get back to prevent the tip-in. The Mavericks allowed the Hawks to go for two-point baskets and iced the game at the line.

Similar to the Lakers game, a poor end to the third and start to the fourth quarter left the Hawks with too much to do, too tall of a mountain to climb. Postgame, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce also cited that stretch as a key to the game escaping the Hawks.

“Tough game,” opened Pierce postgame. “They did a good job, credit to them, of taking Trae out of action early and really when they needed to, denying him the basketball and forcing other guys to make plays. I thought Kevin and John really did a good job of stepping up. (We) just scrambled a lot with their denials and the two guys hitting Trae to keep him out of the action. I thought we had a really poor end of third, start of the fourth quarter stretch which really was the separation tonight.”

“We had two turnovers to start (that stretch) ... we started off with two turnovers,” Pierce elaborated. “We let Tim Hardaway, who was hot, we went under on a screen and he comes off and hits a three and right after that they’re in the bonus and we gave a silly foul which put him to the free throw line. That was the stretch: no shots on offense and a hot-guy was able to keep going down that sequence.”

Young shot 8-of-18 from the field and had nine assists on the game, but it seemed as though the high-percentage shots he was creating in the first half — lobs to Collins and Capela — were a little more absent in the second half.

Pierce discussed the Mavericks’ handling of Young in-depth.

“We have a couple of built-in counters,” said Pierce of how the Hawks can get Young better looks when he’s guarded like that. “One of the times we got him on the back-side and he was able to come off and get a lob to the big, we set a little pin-down for him. Bottom line is that he’s going to have to work differently. There’s going to have to require some movement from him. When they do that there’s one defender down because that guys is tracked on him. John got a couple of lobs, Clint got a couple of lobs as a result of them not helping off of him. He’s just got to be a guy that’s willing to work. We have a couple of counters that are built-in but it’s going to require a tremendous amount of work and it’s going to require a tremendous amount of spacing and execution to get him the basketball on the second-side. That’s what I was eluding to earlier: he’s got to become a really good second-side player when teams are denying him and there’s a couple of things that we’re doing. It’s just more work, it’s different work.”

Young himself was surprised at the Mavericks’ approach to guarding him.

“The way they guarded me kind of surprised me,” said Young. “I haven’t faced a defense like that in a long, long time. Just them trapping me as soon as I got the ball in just to get it out of my hands. I haven’t had that happen for a while, just them picking so far up ... it kind of worked in their favor. As soon as I got off of it, they were kind of denying me back ... that was a good learning lesson for us.”

“It’s the ultimate sign of respect,” Young went on to say. “That just shows the respect they have for me and they just know what I can do with the ball in my hands. My job is to bring two people with me and after that it’s 4-on-3. I just try to do my part and bring two people with me.”

Others stepped up last night as the Mavericks did what they did to try take Young out of the game.

Collins tied a career-high with 35 points on 16-of-21 shooting and 3-of-4 from three, and there were season highs for Huerter, Gallinari and Snell.

Pierce referenced this too postgame, but Collins being able to go off for 35 points was half of both John Collins being John Collins and a half of what the Mavericks gave up in trying to nullify Young last night.

However, Collins did this without getting to the free throw line for the second game in a row but vowed to maintain his aggression in attacking the rim.

“That’s been a recurring theme the last couple of games,” said Collins of scoring 35 despite not getting to the line. “I honestly feel like it’s because of how athletic I am, it’s hard for referees to judge what’s a foul, what’s not a foul when I go into the air. I try to just play through it. It (scoring 35 without getting to the line) says that my game is real, I can do it without getting to the line — all real buckets. Got to keep doing more of that.”

“I’m definitely attacking the rim,” Collins went on to say. “You guys see me attack the rim, how strongly I do. I feel like a lot of the times for defenders there is contact. Definitely trying to attract more fouls. I have no control over that. I can control me attacking the rim and whatnot but I can’t blow the whistle. Definitely going to continue to attack though.”

This was the fourth time Collins has hit 35 points in a game, he is seemingly stuck on that number as a career mark. Encouragingly, it’s the fourth 30 point game of the season for Collins, whose percentages and averages are only continuing to rise.

Huerter also stepped up in terms of facilitating, tying a career-best 10 assists as he notched his first double-double of the season.

“A game like this, where their sole job and sole purpose of their defense was to try take Trae out of the game. It was definitely a game I was able to showcase that (playmaking),” said Huerter on his playmaking.

When it comes to Gallinari, he looked as good as he has all season, despite shooting 4-of-11 from the field en-route to a season-high 19 points. He is still restricted to 20 minutes a game, which really hurt the Hawks in this spot when he was such a crucial aspect to potentially blowing this game open but Lloyd Pierce was satisfied with his progress.

“He’s coming along,” said Pierce of Gallinari. “He’s still on a 20-minute restriction which is hard to manage when you’re playing him. He’s productive when he’s out there: he’s going to get to the free throw line, he’s going to space the floor and he’s a high-percentage shooter. I think the ankle is getting stronger, hopefully those minutes go up. He just gives us that other scoring option, especially when they have bigs trying to guard him and he’s up the floor and they’re trying to play down the floor.”

Just because few others will talk it about, but Tony Snell was great last night too — definitely his strongest game of the season.

All in all, the Hawks probably should be a little disappointed to lose this game as they did. Dallas were marginally favored heading into last night’s affair but the Hawks just weren’t able to figure the Mavericks out and once they did find something with Young/Gallinari in the third, they couldn’t really get back to it in the fourth quarter. Of course, by then, the damage had been done when Rondo led the second-unit to a Mavericks lead that the Hawks could not overcome and had to try a different approach, one without Gallinari as he hit his minutes limit.

I think Collins put it best when talking about what lessons the Hawks needed to take from this game.

“I think the important thing to learn from this game is our ability to adapt,” said Collins. “I feel we had to figure out ways to adapt to different situations. They were trapping Trae and they stifled us a bit. I think the next thing is we continue to come out slow in the first quarter. That can’t happen. We want to set the tone early and come out strong.”

The ability to adapt... Indeed.


The Hawks (10-11) continue their homestand and it doesn’t get easier, as the Western Conference-leading Utah Jazz roll into Atlanta for Thursday’s matchup in a back-to-back situation. The Jazz last played on Tuesday night and will be favored on full rest as they arrive at State Farm Arena.

Until next time...