The Atlanta Hawks returned to action in game number six of their road trip on Tuesday night in Phoenix but could not topple the Suns in what would have been an upset victory, falling short in the desert 117-110.
Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 22 points while Trae Young added 19 points and 13 assists.
For the Suns, Devin Booker scored 21 points, Dario Saric added 20 points off of the bench.
After a disappointing outing on Sunday night against the Denver Nuggets, Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns showed some similarities to that game, more so in the first half. The Hawks were strong in the first quarter, overturning a double-digit deficit before the Suns restored that double-digit lead heading into halftime. It did look as though in the third quarter, that the Hawks would slip away to a superior team and that would be that.
But no, indeed, the Hawks rallied and cut a 15-point third quarter lead to four points as they entered the fourth quarter. The Suns would push that lead back up to seven/eight points but, again, the Hawks came back.
Their first missed opportunity in the fourth quarter lay in the form of two missed three-pointers when they trailed 100-96 with seven minutes remaining.
The first one comes from Danilo Gallinari, found in the corner by Bogdanovic after Deandre Ayton falls asleep on the drive but Gallinari misses the wide-open three in the corner:
A pretty open shot here for Gallinari, who missed another wide open three from the same spot.
The next three-point attempt came on the Hawks’ next offensive possession as this time it’s Tony Snell in the corner who cannot convert to bring the Hawks within one possession:
A little less clear-cut than Gallinari’s three but, combined, the Hawks missed an opportunity early here to really get into the Suns’ lead.
That said, the Hawks did indeed manage to tie this game with a pair of Trae Young free throws with 3:31 remaining in the game. So, let’s pick it up from there and see how this game unfolded in that final stretch.
The Suns took a timeout after Young’s free throws, and out of it Chris Paul gets to his patented jump shot going to his right off of the screen:
The Hawks themselves take a timeout (use it or lose it, with 3:20 remaining) and out of it, the Hawks tie the game again as Young’s hesitation drive draws the defense and allows Young to find Capela for the alley-oop layup:
The Hawks finally come up with a stop as Booker misses the jumper over Young:
The Suns had been making shots over Young throughout the night (Mikal Bridges in particular) but this was a great contest from Young.
This gives the Hawks the chance to take their first lead of the night at an extremely crucial time. Gallinari finds himself with an extra defender on the left block and the Hawks move the ball to the corner to Kevin Huerter, who fakes the defender to free himself for an open shot but misses the three-pointer:
Huerter had shot 3-of-5 from three up to that point, the shot had been falling but this was just an unlucky break for the Hawks.
The Suns punish the Hawks as Ayton hits the tough hook shot over Clint Capela in the post:
That’s a tough shot made by Ayton there, credit to him.
The Hawks are unable to provide an immediate response as Jae Crowder knocks the ball away from Young for the turnover:
Crowder is then credited for a turnover himself and the Hawks come the other way with Bogdanovic, who drives inside, sheds Chris Paul on the stop but cannot hit the turnaround shot:
Bogdanovic had hit significantly tougher shots during the game, this was one of the easier ones on the night.
The Suns proceed to take a timeout at this juncture, and coming out of it, Paul inbounds the ball to Bridges, whose quick spin catches the Hawks’ defense out and Gallinari just doesn’t have the speed or the ability to defend the rim and Bridges finishes with the dunk:
With Ayton at the top of the three-point line, it keeps Capela away from the rim, so it’s a perfectly run play by the Suns, who know they can put Gallinari in situations like that and have success.
Trailing by two possessions again, the Hawks respond in a big way as Bogdan Bogdanovic hits a huge three-pointer in isolation on the wing, contested by Booker to cut the lead back to one point:
The Suns reply, however, as Booker comes off of the Ayton screen going to his left, gets to the rim and while his layup is missed at the rim, Ayton is on-hand to clean up and score the second chance points as Capela had to contest the shot from Booker, leaving Ayton alone:
The Hawks return with Young, who drives inside but his reverse layup goes tragically wrong (no block here) and Ayton simply collects the shot:
Underrated part of this play was Booker denying a pass to Capela.
The Suns set up in the half court with Booker. The Hawks send a second body in Huerter and Booker quickly zips the ball to Chris Paul, who quickly zips inside, draws Gallinari over to him and kicks it out to the corner to Jae Crowder who hits the three and is fouled by Gallinari in the process to essentially end the game:
The Suns seemed to go out of their way to target Gallinari defensively...as they should. Perhaps John Collins would have fared better but alas, the Hawks big man was not available for the second half having suffered an ankle sprain in the first half. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
The Hawks can be satisfied that they pushed one of the best teams in the NBA as far as they did — especially after trailing by 15 points in the third quarter on the road — but there’ll be a general feeling that, perhaps, they could have stolen one last night because they certainly had the opportunities to take the lead very late on, if nothing else.
Postgame, Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan discussed what separated the Suns from the Hawks down the stretch.
“The things that you need to do late in a game like this: you need to get stops, they made big baskets down the stretch, they got offensive rebounds,” said McMillan postgame. “Offensively for us, when we had possession, we had worked our way back in the game but we had a couple of turnovers down the stretch and we missed a couple of open looks. That’s the difference between winning basketball games: you’ve got to get stops and you’ve have to make plays and put the ball in the basket down the stretch.”
McMillan has been pretty consistent on this (getting stops, making baskets) when the Hawks have lost close games, many of his answers are similar in that regard, even if the situation is different.
Bogdanovic was a little more specific in what he thought was the difference down the stretch, referencing the Suns’ experience and the Hawks’ inexperience together.
“Honestly, experience,” said Bogdanovic of the difference down the stretch. “At the end, they were up the whole game and when we came back to the last two minutes in a tie game, they knew what we were running and they knew how to play defense as well. We were kind of rushing a little bit, young team mistakes. Next game is in two games.”
“We are all pretty new here, in that term, not young in age,” elaborated Bogdanovic. “We’ve just played 27 games together and we have some guys that are hurt. That’s not an excuse, maybe that’s the reason they closed the game better. As a team they build around D-Book a couple of years ago and they kept a lot of players, they add CP and we know what he can do. Tough game for us but no excuse. When you look at yourself in the mirror that’s the honest answer.”
Bogdanovic was probably the best player offensively for the Hawks last night, certainly in terms of scoring. Bogdanovic scored 22 points on 8-of-18 from the field and 4-of-8 from behind the arc.
Bogdanovic has enjoyed a good road trip, averaging 14 points per game on 47% shooting from the field and 40% from three on 5.8 attempts per game, and was moved into the starting lineup during the trip too.
There was a stage in that third quarter too where Young was on the bench with four fouls, Collins out of the second half and, mostly, the second unit on the court. During this time, Bogdanovic basically became the Hawks’ go-to player and his contributions — as well as others — during that time were immense and a huge reason behind the Hawks making a game of this.
“I thought he was aggressive,” said McMillan of Bogdanovic. “We went down early, dug ourselves a whole in that first half giving up 64 points in the first half — defensively, wasn’t able to guard those guys. Second half, we got a rhythm. I thought the second unit, we put our second unit guys in early third quarter, Trae got in foul trouble, we got a rhythm. We started to get some stops and we fought our way back into the game, tie the ball-game but just wasn’t able to finish.”
Bogdanovic was very strong and when you throw in six assists into the mix too, Bogdanovic is finally finding momentum in a Hawks jersey.
Speaking of Collins — whose presence was sorely missed on both ends of the floor — McMillan said that Collins had tried to play on his turned ankle before the end of the first half but couldn’t offer a ton of information postgame on the status of Collins or severity of his ankle roll.
Here’s where Collins rolled his ankle, landing on Capela’s foot in the first quarter:
Something else that McMillan referenced in his postgame comments were the 64 points the Hawks conceded in the first half. The Suns hit eight of their 12 three-pointers in the first half but many of these came a little too easily, the Hawks just a little late on their rotations.
Here, Paul comes off of the Ayton screen, Collins gets a little drawn inside towards the ball, leaving Crowder open in the corner and Collins can’t fully recover and Crowder hits the corner three:
Next, the Suns catch the Hawks and Gallinari napping as they quickly inbound the ball to Cam Johnson, who doesn’t need an invitation to let it fly from beyond the arc and he hits the three:
In transition, no one properly picks up Johnson and the Suns have an easy task of finding him for three, despite Solomon Hill’s late but ineffective contest as his left-handed contest isn’t able to deter Johnson’s right-handed release:
It’s Gallinari who is all out of sorts in transition on this play...
Dario Saric scored 12 points in the second quarter, three of them coming here as Saric links up in the screen-and-fade. Onyeka Okongwu is a little too slow/hesitant on the closeout and Saric hits the three:
Three more came as the Hawks can’t defend the same play...it’s another screen-and-fade and even the bobble from Saric on the catch doesn’t give the Hawks enough time to get out there and prevent Saric from hitting the three-pointer:
The Hawks did a better job in the second half of taking the three away from the Suns. Sadly, one of the few they did allow was Crowder’s four-point play, which ended up sealing the game for the Suns.
Overall, this isn’t a bad loss for the Hawks — a much better showing than the one in Denver on Sunday. They showed more fight against a very good Suns team than many would have expected, and while they had a chance to steal this one it is their “best loss” on the road-trip... if you’re looking for a moral victory.
Young shooting 5-of-16 from the field (including some pretty poor shot selection) didn’t help but his passing, especially in the first half, was very good. Unrelated, but that’s one thing the Suns did extremely well: their passing was very snap, very quick — they make very nice reads and their first-touch passes were fun to watch.
For all the Hawks’ efforts, they’re now 2-4 on the road trip — that’s about what everyone would have expected heading in at this stage. In reality, the Hawks should really be 4-2 having dropped two winnable games in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Still, the Hawks have a chance to emerge .500 from this trip, 3-5 too which wouldn’t be too awful either.
Alas, the Hawks (23-24) are back in action on Friday night as they begin a tough back-to-back starting in San Antonio against the Spurs (23-21) in game number seven of their road-trip.
Until next time...