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Hawks rally but unable to prevail in South Beach

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A couple of good comeback efforts for the Hawks here but they were unable to get over the hump

Atlanta Hawks v Miami Heat Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks began the first of two consecutive meetings with Southeast Division rivals Miami Heat on Sunday night but despite the absence of Jimmy Butler for the hosts (missing with right knee soreness), the Heat prevailed over the Hawks 109-99.

John Collins scored 19 points in the third quarter en route to 34 points and 10 rebounds while Clint Capela added 20 points and 14 rebounds.

For the Heat — now winners of six in a row — Kendrick Nunn led the way with 24 points while Bam Adebayo added 16 points and 13 rebounds.

The Hawks fell behind by double-digits early in the second quarter and by as many as 14 points in the first half. The Heat doubled Trae Young from the get-go, forcing him to give the ball up. This was working out fine in the early exchanges but eventually the Hawks stopped hitting their shots as they felt the effects of the Heat’s — at times — stinging defense.

The Heat are possibly the most creative/out there when it comes to defensive schemes and ran a bunch of different looks defensively, some of these really bothering the Hawks. Between that, the limiting of Young and Miami’s 13 first half second chance points, the Heat ran their lead to that number of 14.

Trailing by 10 points to begin the second half, the John Collins show began.

Collins scored 19 points in the third quarter as he found his momentum, the Heat struggling somewhat out of the gate in the second half and the Hawks — slowly but surely — carved their way into the Miami lead, even taking a one point lead in the third quarter before the Heat entered the fourth quarter with a one point lead themselves.

After re-taking the lead on a Danilo Gallinari jumper, the Heat made their first run of the fourth quarter — an 8-0 run spearheaded by Tyler Herro and Andre Iguodala to give the Heat a seven point lead.

At this stage, you might be forgiven for thinking ‘same old Hawks in the fourth quarter’ once the Heat — an established playoff team, one who went to the Finals last season — created that separation. But the Hawks, again, responded and got themselves back into this game. Critically for the Hawks, they found themselves in the bonus with over five minutes remaining in the game and Young was able to get himself to the free throw line, shooting 7-for-7 at the line to get the Hawks some free points — huge, given how Young struggled on the night.

The upshot of it all was the Hawks and Heat were tied at 95 apiece with 3:38 remaining in the game, the Heat calling for time after a three-point make by Collins. Of course, we (collectively) know what happened from that point on: the Heat went on to score 14 points to end the game, the Hawks just four.

So, let’s look at where this game got away from the Hawks down the stretch.

The Hawks actually drew first blood on the defensive end, as Herro — on the hand-off from Adebayo — floats the ball to the Hawks, with Kevin Huerter picking up the remnants for the steal:

If I had to guess, I imagine perhaps Herro thought Adebayo would be able to get further in front than he did, so from that point of view, Collins deserves some credit for disrupting things here (and this was a theme all night, Collins was flying around at times).

Something the Heat really did effectively down the stretch here was prevent penetration as they got into a zone defense. However, this left them vulnerable from range on the swing. Between Huerter’s short burst and Capela causing a little trouble for Iguodala with the screen, Young gets an open look at an, albeit, deep three-point attempt which is missed:

A shot everyone knows Young can hit, but it’s also a very deep on shot with time still on the clock to work something else.

After a shooting foul from Young sends Herro to the line for two (successful) free throws, the Hawks return again. The Hawks had an off-night on alley-oop attempts and this was another one. The Heat’s high line meant that Huerter had an easy cut to the rim with Collins behind the line too. Young’s lob, however, finds neither of them and the Heat come away with the ball in transition. From there, the Heat reply with a three courtesy of Nunn in a big five-point swing for the Heat:

I don’t think Huerter and Collins got in each other’s way here, I think Young’s lob just ended up being in the middle of the two. An unfortunate one for the Hawks in a massive swing in this game, arguably the biggest one. At this juncture, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce calls for timeout.

Huerter got some good looks from three last night, two of which were basically down the hatch before bouncing out. He was unlucky, and that theme would continue as he — thanks to the Heat’s zone — gets a good look at a three-pointer but cannot convert:

In response, the Heat come with Herro, who Huerter does well to chase and disrupt, before Herro — having left his feet — finds Nunn, who lobs it Adebayo for the layup:

The Hawks were unlucky here because this ended up being a broken play of sorts once Herro left his feet. I can’t quite tell if Huerter actually deflected whatever it was that left Herro’s hands but if he did, and it conveniently ended up in Nunn’s hands, that’s extra unfortunate.

Now in a precarious situation down seven, the Hawks get a decent look inside with a floater for Young but, like most of his shots last night, it doesn’t go down:

Hindsight is 20-20 but you’d have to say Capela looked very much set for an easy lob here. The floater wasn’t a bad shot but, again, in hindsight, perhaps Capela would have served as a better option. I don’t think it really mattered at this this stage, in the grand scheme of the game, but alas...

To effectively end the game, the Hawks try to pressure the Heat as Collins extends on Herro, leaving Goran Dragic in the corner for the three-pointer to cap off a 10-0 Heat run and effectively end the game with 1:10 remaining in the game:

A disappointing end for the Hawks but, in reality, this is the difference between a team that has been to the playoffs (and beyond) and a team that hasn’t. Even in the absence of Jimmy Butler, the Heat (as a team) got the job done down the stretch.

They ultimately made shots when it counted and the Hawks did not. The Hawks got some good looks, as we saw, and that play where Young’s unsuccessful lob/the Nunn three was the turning point but they failed to convert their opportunities.

In the final quarter, the Hawks 35% (6-of-17) from the field and 12% from three (1-of-8). The Heat, in contrast, shot 45% from three on 5-of-11 from distance.

“The summary of the night was we didn’t make shots,” said Pierce postgame on the difference down the stretch. “This team gives up the most threes in the NBA, we had our guys shooting it. We some poor shooting nights from three guys that we need shooting the basketball. It really came back to us down the stretch, we had some looks. Crucial turnover at one point by Trae on the lob against the zone but it really came down to making those shots. We didn’t shoot well in a game they were going to give us open looks and they were going to give us open looks with the guys we need shooting the basketball.”

“We had one big turnover but if you can’t make shots, we can draw something different to get the same guy a shot, it’s not going to change much,” added Pierce. “I thought we were doing some good stuff to get back into the game, Trae gets fouled three straight times to get us in the bonus to the free throw line and we capitalize there ... the extended pressure took time off of the clock but it didn’t kill our possession. We’ve got to be composed and run the possession. I think that lob at the end that Trae was trying to throw to John was an example of knowing we can still run our set and getting to it.”

It’s been a theme this season for the Hawks, their struggles in the fourth quarter, and while this wasn’t nearly as bad as other fourth quarters that have transpired this season, it was another result the Hawks weren’t looking for.

“I hate to say it, the same story,” said Collins of the Hawks down the stretch. “We put ourselves in a position to win and we just don’t finish, we don’t close out. We didn’t execute, we didn’t get the stops we needed, didn’t get the defensive rebounds to close out possessions and hit shots. It’s tough to do anything when none of those things are happening. No excuse, we’ve got to do better.”

Though the Hawks were tied inside the final five minutes, they had to play catchup on two occasions throughout this game. While the Hawks fell short inside the final few minutes, Young, while taking responsibility for his lack of shot-making down the stretch, understood there’s more to winning a game than its conclusion.

“It’s a lot more to the game than the last four minutes, it’s a whole game,” said Young. “I know we like to look at the last four minutes and we should, that’s winning time, that’s when it matters most but there’s a lot of things we can clean up throughout the whole game. In the final four minutes, I’ve got to do a better job of making shots and leading our team down the stretch. I’ll be better at that.”

Young scored 15 points on 3-of-14 shooting from the field and 2-of-8 from three. Opportunities were limited for Young in this one due to the way the Heat defended him but when he did get a chance, Young rushed himself into shots that weren’t always open — easy shots came anything but for Young last night.

“I couldn’t get some shots to fall,” added Young of the Hawks’ struggles down the stretch. “A lot of it falls on me, I couldn’t get a lot shots to fall tonight. Just needed a couple more to fall for us to stay in the game late. They had a lot of shots that fell late in the game to stretch the lead out.”

I think there may have been a feeling among a few that Young tried to do a little too much down the stretch but when posed this question, Pierce believed it was a general matter.

“I think we all were (trying too hard to make things happen),” said Pierce when asked if Young was trying to make too many things happen down the stretch. “They were in the extended pressure, they’re taking us out of the sets. We have one simple set that really got us going, we got clean looks, we hit a couple of baskets to get back into it.

“With 12 seconds on the clock it’s still enough time to really get organized. It’s part of his growth of getting into that set and still allowing the big to come up and set that pick-and-roll because they’re going to help and give us the three. We just got to maintain that same composure when we get after that extended pressure and we get the ball into halfcourt. It really doesn’t matter if Trae is handling or Kevin is handling, we just need that big to come up and set the screen and we’re going to get a swing-swing or swing-and-swing-back three and that’s what we were getting all night. We just didn’t capitalize on the shots.”

I think Pierce is referring to the deep three that Young took with about 10 seconds left on the clock, when there was a chance to maybe work the clock a little more (could be wrong on that), and Young himself referenced that he had to do a better job of leading the team: setting up the team would fall under that bracket.

With Young scuffling a bit, Collins stepped up to the mark, scoring 34 points on 13-of-21 from the field, 2-of-3 from three and 6-of-7 from the free throw line.

“I felt I was hot and I started to get into my rhythm stuff, going right to it, trying to play without a conscience in a sense and continue to feed the beast,” said Collins postgame.

Miami’s zone played to Collins’ strengths at times but he also went at the Heat at the rim too. He was the key to the Hawks getting back in this game in the first place, those 19 third quarter points proving absolutely key as the Hawks outscored the Heat 33-24 in the third.

“He was able to find some of the spots in the zone, right in the middle of it and he got a couple of those mid-range shots to go down,” said Pierce of Collins. “He was spaced out on a few of our plays and he was able to knock down a some of the threes and drive from some of the closeouts as well. He was the guy who found those soft spots in the zone and he was able to capitalize on it.”

Collins absolutely stepped up the plate as Young struggled but few others did. Capela scored 20 points but could have easily had closer to 30 with some of the opportunities he missed at the rim at times last night. Outside of that, the Hawks needed others to step up and they were left wanting.

Huerter and Tony Snell did lift the Hawks in the first quarter (scoring the Hawks’ first 15 points of the game) but they fell away after that. Huerter really struggled from three, shooting 1-of-9 from beyond the arc. He saw plenty of good looks but none would sink for him on a night where they were sorely needed.

In some ways, Huerter is one of the players Pierce leans on the most, especially with three of the team’s top four wings sidelined with injury. He played 40 minutes on Sunday — often playing the most minutes down the stretch of last season too — and played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter. Though that isn’t too unusual of an occurrence for Huerter, it highlights his importance and what he brings and you do wonder if fatigue played a role towards the end of the game.

In addition to those struggles, the Hawks’ bench was utterly crushed. Of course, the bench been struggling for a long time now with the Hawks’ current injuries ripping through their rotation but when the entire bench is outscored 14-9 by Precious Achiuwa alone, there’s going to be many, many issues.

Yes, nine bench points, with Gallinari accounting for six of them as he shot 2-of-10 from the field and 0-of-7 from three. Skylar Mays and Onyeka Okongwu only saw brief time in the first half while Rajon Rondo continues to frustrate many with his subpar play on the court.

I honestly felt pretty bad for Huerter towards the end of the first quarter in a lineup with himself, Rondo, Hill, Okongwu and Gallinari — Huerter is basically the go-to guy there since, effectively, no one else can create for themselves or they turn the ball over trying. No one else can create separation, there’s hardly any pick-and-roll opportunity to make something happen, between Okongwu not entirely knowing where to be at times and Gallinari more of an outside presence than an inside one. It’s an unfair spot to land Huerter in and it just doesn’t make sense to me why Brandon Goodwin — someone who can handle the ball, can get downhill and make things happen and make shots but also defend — isn’t called upon to relieve some of the pressure off of Huerter here. Then again, there are 15 million reasons why Goodwin is not...

Further up the court, Bruno Fernando might even be an improvement in these spots, in these short few minutes in the first half — he may not offer a ton but he’s a big body who can set some good screens and that’s more than what Okongwu is bringing right now (who slips a little more but is still lost offensively). I understand why Okongwu needs to at least get some minutes but the Hawks are trying to win games and he’s not necessarily helping right now. I do think Okongwu will be OK long term and it’s always important to remember that rookies (especially bigs) usually are not good.

That said, I did like this flash of instinct of anticipation Okongwu displayed in his short time on the court on the pass here:

Quite unfortunate that it directly led to a three but that’s just bad luck. It was nice to see from Okongwu though.

The Hawks’ bench, for the game, was outscored 42-9, and with Gallinari’s struggles, between him, Young and Huerter they combined for 2-of-24 from behind the arc. As a team, the Hawks shot 8-of-35 from three.

“You won’t see that too often,” said Young of the combined struggles of himself, Huerter and Gallinari from three. “I got to start shooting a little bit better but our team is just a couple of shots away from winning a couple games. Got to be better and we will be.”

“Shooters are going to shoot and you want your shooter confident and to keep shooting,” added Collins on the shooting struggles (the struggles specifically mentioned to Collins were of Young, Huerter and Gallinari). “We understand it’s going to be an uphill battle if your guys who usually have it going don’t. We have to figure out in others places but you don’t like to see that.”

A winnable game for the Hawks in this spot but it really isn’t as bad of a loss as I think some are making it out to be. The Heat are a tough opponent for the Hawks (and this has been the case for many years) no matter who is playing. In the past, the Hawks have lost worse games to the Heat without their stars (see: 2016) but they still had Adebayo last night, they got creative defensively as they do and leaned on a degree of luck in many ways as the Hawks missed good three-point opportunities that their zone opens up.

As Pierce said, the Heat give up the most threes in attempts to opponents in the league. It’s a make-or-miss league: a cliché that has always remained true. The Hawks didn’t make shots, therefore they lost the game. The Heat did. They shot 6-of-26 from three heading into the last quarter (worse than the Hawks’ 7-of-27): they hit shots when it mattered. That really was the story of this one both in the final few minutes and for the game itself. It was as simple as that.


Ahead of the Hawks’ (14-20) rematch on Tuesday (taking place again in Miami), Pierce was pleased with the Hawks’ effort on Sunday but keyed in on defensive rebounding as an area of improvement needed ahead of Tuesday’s game, in addition to turnovers.

“I thought our effort was great all night,” said Pierce postgame, speaking ahead of the second game. “I think where we got punished was on the glass. Bam and Precious combined for nine offensive rebounds and 20 second chance points (for the Heat). Obviously we’re doing a pretty good job if we’re getting them to miss, we have to finish it with the rebounds. Those nine offensive rebounds and 20 second chance points were crucial because they got some kick-out threes and they got some ‘and-1’ fouls as a result of that. I think our pressure was great, I think our ability to take away some of their shots and shooters was good. We gave up a couple in the pick-and-roll early but I thought we cleaned up some of that action late. We’ve got to keep them off of the glass, we can’t turn the ball over in crucial times — our number of 17 was too high. Just being solid executing a little better down the stretch and keeping them off of the glass.”

I’m sure the same will be said from the Heat’s point of view, as they actually conceded 25 second chance points themselves to the Hawks.

The matchup with the Heat is always an interesting one and it will be interesting to see how the Hawks respond.

Until next time...