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Hawks unable to contain Kennard explosion as second half lead slips against Clippers

The Hawks’ eight game winning streak comes to an end in Los Angeles.

Atlanta Hawks v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks’ eight-game winning streak was snapped in Los Angeles as the Clippers rallied from a 22 point deficit in the second half to beat the Hawks 119-110 on Monday night at Staples Center.

For the Hawks, Trae Young led the way with 28 points while John Collins added 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting.

For the Clippers, Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points, Terance Mann added 21 points...

Hard to start with this one...

The Hawks, it looked like, were going to struggle if the opening six minutes of the first quarter was anything to go by. The Clippers were defending the rim well, the Hawks were struggling somewhat on offense but were able to turn that around and overturn a double-digit deficit in the first quarter to take the lead before the Clippers ended the quarter on top.

The Hawks then kicked things into another gear as they were convincingly better than the Clippers in the second quarter, the Hawks’ second unit (with the odd starter or two sprinkled in) doing a fantastic job in the first half, helped by the returning De’Andre Hunter who came off of the bench in his first appearance since January 29th.

The Hawks’ starters were convincingly stronger than the Clippers’ starting unit in the third quarter as the Hawks built themselves a 21 point lead with 6:30 in the third quarter. It’s at this point that Clippers head coach Ty Lue yanked all five of his starters out of a timeout, it’s here — while not immediately — where the game began to shift.

The Hawks’ highest lead stood at 22 points (88-66) with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the game was probably over. However, the two guys that completely turned the game on its head (both to end the third quarter and in the fourth quarter) for the Clippers were Luke Kennard and Terance Mann.

We’ll focus more on Kennard, who didn’t even feature for the Clippers in the game up until Lue yanked his starters.

Kennard was instrumental is pulling the Clippers back within fighting range by the end of the third quarter. Starting off, he makes a difficult shot going to his right with the contest coming from Solomon Hill:

For the first of Kennard’s three-pointers, Rajon Rondo — who was the worst second unit player for the Hawks who played more than five minutes — loses track of Kennard, who receives the ball and hits the three-pointer:

Mann’s damage to the Hawks in the latter stages of the third quarter came more so at the free throw line, and he was helped out here as Rondo fouls Mann while in the bonus off of the three-point miss by Danilo Gallinari:

After Mann hits one of two free throws on a later play — coming off of a flagrant foul by Gallinari — the Clippers get themselves another basket on the board with Patrick Patterson to reduce the lead to 12 points. Kennard then brings the Clippers within single digits as he brings the ball up the floor and his defender, Hill, is far too lax in putting pressure on the ball-handler, allowing Kennard to pull-up into a three-pointer:

To end the third quarter, Rondo’s floater at the end of the shotclock is missed before Kennard hits the half-court heave to bring the Clippers to eight points heading into the fourth quarter:

A 16-2 run for the Clippers in that final 4:15 as the Hawks could not hit a shot. While the second unit was strong in the first half, they sorely let down the Hawks to end the third quarter.

In a surprise to no one after the way the third quarter ended, Young started the fourth quarter as the Hawks attempted to re-engage and get back on the right foot. The Hawks maintained their lead until the 4:35 mark in the fourth quarter.

To tie the game, Mann gets the step on Collins near the rim off of the feed from Paul George and finishes at the rim to tie the game at 103-103:

After Collins immediately responds on the other end, the Clippers are quick to tie the game once again as Kennard shakes Young and hits the long-range jumper:

Offensively, I thought the Hawks settled quite a bit in the second half — Young in particular, who went away from his floater that had been falling in the first half (Young shooting 3-of-9 in the second half compared to 6-of-11 in the first half) — and Young settles somewhat on this possession too on the deep three-pointer as the defense turns their back. He does, however, drain the 32 footer on this occasion:

After two free throws from Kawhi Leonard brings the Clippers within a point again, the Hawks get a look inside from Tony Snell. However, Kennard is there to block Snell and take the ball away. Kennard then finds Mann in the weakside corner for the three to give the Clippers the lead:

The Hawks call for timeout, their 22-point lead now officially wiped as the Clippers take a lead of their own. Out of the timeout, the Hawks get a great look at a basket with Bogdan Bogdanovic on a three-point attempt:

Good ball movement from the Hawks on that possession but a disappointing end as Bogdanovic airballs that three.

The Clippers’ bench got them back into the game but the starters brought them home, as they made key baskets down the stretch. Marcus Morris Sr. begins to put some distance between the Clippers and the Hawks as Kennard finds Morris in the corner for three, putting the Clippers up by five points:

At the top of the key, Collins makes a move on Leonard, but Leonard’s length is more than equal to Collins’ shot, which is blocked and Collins take the personal foul:

To essentially end the game, Leonard makes Collins pay again, this time hitting a tough, contested three-pointer as the shot clock winds down:

An eight-point deficit with just under a minute and a half remaining was going to be tough to overturn, and while Young cut the lead to six points, Leonard pushed the lead to nine with another three-pointer which is, again contested and at the end of the clock:

The game ended with that score, capping off a 37-20 fourth quarter in favor of the Clippers (with Leonard and Mann scoring 11 fourth quarter points and Kennard scoring 20 quick points on a perfect 8-of-8 shooting) as the Hawks were unable to bring home what was certainly a sure victory with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter up 22.

“It’s tough to really say today,” said Collins on what changed the game. “I feel like it was a game with a snowball effect ... just giving them confidence. I don’t think we took care of business the way we needed to tonight.”

A disappointing end to the eight-game winning streak. Postgame, Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan believed his side got a little too far ahead of themselves.

“I thought we just started celebrating,” said McMillan postgame of the end of the third quarter. “We were playing good basketball, started to celebrate in that third quarter. They made some adjustments, they went small. We lost our focus and didn’t finish this game. It’s a 48 minute game, we were doing some good things defensively. They went with a small lineup to speed the game up and what they wanted to happen, happened. They started to attack us offensively. We gave up 71 points in the second half, 34 in that third quarter, 37 in the fourth. We just lost our composure. Early celebration, they finished the game.”

While Young believed the Hawks weren’t quite celebrating, he did believe the Hawks were having fun out on the court before things went south and how the need to maintain their focus.

“Guys are playing hard, guys are talking on the bench,” said Young. “Not necessarily celebrating but giving each other energy. When it’s working, it’s all good. When we start losing, then it’s bad. So we’ve got to figure out a way to stay locked in but still have that same energy and still having fun out there. It’s basketball at the end of the day. If you’re not having fun, no point in playing.”

“Not necessarily comfortable,” added Collins when asked if the Hawks got a little comfortable. with their lead “I don’t think we valued our lead. We definitely weren’t comfortable, we definitely weren’t playing the right way. I don’t think we valued each possession the correct way to maintain.”

In an odd turn of events, it wasn’t blockbuster names like Leonard and George that undid the Hawks in the third quarter. It was the likes of Kennard and Mann, supported by Amir Coffey.

“They were just hitting shots, they hit some tough shots,” said Young of the end of the third quarter swing. “Even that last shot (by Kennard) going into the fourth was a big momentum swing for them. Everybody out there are pros, everybody can go score and make plays. Everybody is up here for a reason. We’ve got respect everybody and understand somebody can come in and get hot like that, like they did.”

“They came in and they wanted to win, they competed their asses off,” added Collins of the second unit led by Kennard and Mann. “You give any team confidence, any player in this league confidence or allow them to gain some confidence it becomes tough to stop them. Everybody is in this league for a reason, everybody is a professional. Just about understanding who’s in front of you and playing your matchup as best as you can.”

Once the second unit cut the Hawks lead, the starters did eventually return in the fourth quarter and the Clippers — a team most believe to be a title contending team — showed the mettle that such expectations befit. The Hawks were left to rue on their inability to close this game out, a departure from the team people have seen over the last eight games.

“We’ve done a great job recently of closing out games,” said Young. “You’re not going to be perfect all season but it felt like we had a good chance to close this one out. We’ve been on the other end for a couple of games during our streak. We’ve just got to figure out how to tighten up and not let it happen again.”

If you had offered a split of the two L.A. games to the Hawks before the trip began, I’m sure the Hawks — and many others — would’ve accepted that. However, with the Lakers game unfolding as it did and the Hawks holding a commanding lead in the second half, the loss last night is a stinging one, particularly for Collins who couldn’t hide his (understandable) disappointment.

“The way we lost this one tonight hurts a little deep,” said Collins. “You always find positives out of every loss, out of every game. This one is real tough.”

When a loss of this nature — not so much against the opponent but more so the nature of it — there’s a few different ways a team can go about the next game: some teams embark on a revenge game and others can let a bad result lead to another.

“I don’t think the guys in this locker-room will let something like this carryover,” said Young. “We understand you’re not going to win every game in this league. Guys in there are frustrated, mad that we lost but understand that we have a game in two days. I don’t think it’s something that can linger over just because the guys we’ve got in there and the way we’re playing and the confidence we have in each other.”

“We’ll watch tape tomorrow at practice and allow them to see what we look like,” said McMillan of ensuring this result doesn’t carryover into Wednesday’s game. “This is something we have to fix. They’ve been doing a good job here in the last eight games finishing games, playing 48 minutes, being calm and we talked about being clear about what we need to do. Even though we gave up a big third quarter, we still had an eight point lead going into the fourth quarter. What you need to do is finish, which is what they have been doing in our last few games and tonight we didn’t do that. You look at the tape, you try to build and get better when you win or lose and that’s what we’ll tell them tomorrow.”

The Hawks, fortunately, play the Sacramento Kings in their next game, giving them an excellent opportunity to put the disappointment of this game behind them and get back in the winning column. Of course, it’s also a classic trap-game situation too.

The Hawks did many things right last night (more so in the first half), so there are positives to take away but the big positive take away from this game was the return of De’Andre Hunter.

Hunter scored eight points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field in 20 minutes. Hunter looked pretty decent on his return, though limited somewhat, but seemed to be moving well, played some good defense last night and featured in crunch time too, immediately highlighting his importance.

“You just want to get him out there and let him play,” said McMillan of Hunter’s return. “He hasn’t played in a couple of months. We end up playing him 20 minutes and putting him in a situation he hadn’t been in because they were playing small-ball and they were aggressive attacking our first and second unit, we had to try to adjust. He played a little bit more of the four with John being out there. Gallo wasn’t available that fourth quarter due to an injury. We were trying to run some sets and he was just not familiar with some of the sets that we had in. He was good, I thought he was OK. You want to get him out there, let him get a sweat and get in some type of rhythm and we’ll just continue to build off of that in the next game.”

In terms of when Hunter returns to the starting lineup, it’s not clear when this will take place, if it will take place during the road trip — it all depends on the Hawks’ timeline with regards his minutes restriction but 20 minutes immediately off of the bat is a good start.

However, it was revealed postgame by McMillan that Danilo Gallinari wasn’t available for most of the fourth quarter due to injury. As to what that injury is and its extent, McMillan wasn’t aware when speaking postgame and nothing has been announced since. It remains to be seen what Gallinari’s status is for Wednesday’s game.

As a rotation tidbit, it was interesting to see Hill out of the first half rotation before seeing five minutes in the second half. Obviously with Hunter’s return on the wing, it pushes Hill down the pecking order but as long as Hunter has a minutes restriction, for now at least, Hill’s place in the rotation — while on potentially fewer minutes — is potentially safe for now. When Cam Reddish returns to the equation? It’ll be interesting to see.

For the first time in 27 games, Kevin Huerter failed to hit a three-pointer, only attempting one three-pointer for the entire game. That’s a season-low in attempts and the last time Huerter attempted just one three-pointer in a game was December 4th 2019 — it’s been a while.

All in all, a tough loss for the Hawks given the circumstances — they probably should have seen this one through and emerged from L.A. with two victories. To the Clippers’ credit, Kennard and Mann were fantastic, with Leonard closing the game out. George, offensively, was largely absent, shooting 3-of-12 from the field.

However, the Hawks have the L.A. split and as long as they take this disappointment into Wednesday’s game in the right manner, that’ll help hugely for the Hawks on their long trip.

The Hawks (22-21) are back in action on Wednesday night in Sacramento against the languishing Kings (18-25) at Golden 1 Center.

One of, if not, the biggest opportunity on paper for the Hawks to collect a win on the West Coast.

Until next time...