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Hawks limp to defeat against Pistons amid additional injury questions

A tough night in Detroit.

Atlanta Hawks v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks returned to action on Monday night as they took to the road to tackle the Detroit Pistons. Having beaten the Milwaukee Bucks on the first night of their back-to-back, the Hawks were unable to top the Pistons, falling 100-86.

Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 17 points while Kevin Huerter added 15 points. For the Pistons, Jerami Grant and Frank Jackson both scored 18 points.

The Hawks looked a little flat from the offset, the visitors having played on Sunday night before travelling to Detroit, while the hosts last played on Saturday. The Pistons ran to an early seven point lead towards the end of the first quarter, and were it not for Bogdanovic who scored 11 first quarter points (including six straight points when the Hawks fell 24-17), the Hawks would’ve fallen behind by double-digits early.

The Hawks eventually did fall behind double-digits, with the Pistons’ bench injecting some life. Isaiah Stewart was someone whose box score might not wow you he had a big impact on this game off the bench. The Hawks continued to struggle from outside the arc, trailing by as many as 14 points in the first half before entering the half down 11.

The Hawks initially looked as though they were getting back into the swing of things in the third quarter with back-to-back dunks from Huerter (yup, you read that correctly) to cut the lead to six points before a 7-0 Pistons run brought the lead back up to 13 points.

The Hawks, honestly, showed little signs that they could perhaps mount a comeback and the two sides largely exchanged baskets in the fourth quarter. The Pistons play much harder than their 18-42 record would suggest and they were absolutely worth their win last night. The Hawks, in contrast, looked tired and couldn’t match the Pistons’ output — if anything, a little similar to what the Bucks did at times during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game when the Hawks pulled away then.

The Hawks played two very strong games on the weekend against playoff teams in the form Heat and Bucks but the trap game potential was always a possibility in this spot with the Pistons closer towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

“You worry about it because it’s a back-to-back,” said Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan postgame. “Tonight they did what I expected them to do, to be very aggressive, crawling into us defensively, making us work. We had to work for everything that we got. They were physical, they knew we were short-handed with players. They started with pressure and continued that pressure for 48 minutes. I don’t think it was our players letdown, I don’t think it was that at all. I think Detroit just played aggressive, physical basketball on the defensive end of the floor. We really didn’t get anything easy against them.”

With defeat inevitable as the fourth quarter drew to a close, the Hawks suffered more injury setbacks.

Huerter appeared to take a hit on his left shoulder before going to the locker room before Brandon Goodwin suffered a left ankle injury, requiring a wheelchair to leave the court.

Huerter has played in every game this season and, with Young out, both he and Goodwin — who made his return to the starting lineup last night — are crucial players right now.

McMillan gave a brief update postgame on Huerter on Goodwin.

“I think he’s going to be OK,” said McMillan of Huerter. “He was in the locker-room walking around. I think he’s going to be OK, I think he just got a stinger there. BG (Brandon Goodwin) I haven’t gotten any report on BG right now. Those two guys will get updates here real soon.”

Since then, the Hawks have posted this update:

With the Hawks back in action on Wednesday, it remains to be seen if one or both Huerter and Goodwin will miss time, but it comes at a difficult time when the Hawks are already missing Young, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Lou Williams (out with flu-like symptoms on Monday) and Tony Snell.

“It’s just, like, shocking,” said Collins of the Hawks’ fourth quarter injuries last night. “You don’t like to see your teammates get hurt, back-to-back, while you’re in the midst of battle, it’s a lot to take in, a lot of process. It makes it hard for us to focus on the game when one of your soldiers, your warriors goes down. That’s kind of my feeling tonight.”

What added insult to injury as the fact the Hawks were chasing a game that, realistically, was already far beyond them — down 14 with over three minutes left — and as soon as the Hawks took timeout with Goodwin writhing in pain on the floor, McMillan immediately emptied his bench.

“Tonight with Kevin getting a stinger and then seeing BG go down, there was only four minutes (to go), the game was pretty much over, it was like ‘Get our guys out,’” said McMillan.

If you’re curious to see the play that Goodwin went down on, here it is:

“It’s tiring, it truly is,” said Collins of the Hawks’ injury cycle. “Every time you look up, one of your guys, one of your soldiers, something’s wrong. I know it’s mainly the season and the scheduling and a lot of things that are routine for us. That’s probably been the hardest part of the year, as well as myself having to go through some (injuries). It’s not easy.”

“I really don’t know what to say,” Collins went on to say. “We definitely do our part. We lift, we do preventative work, we do all that good stuff. I really feel like it’s because of our schedule, how close our games are together. Playing the highest level of basketball in the world and we’re not giving our bodies the proper time to recover and get back to full shape as we normally would during the season. It creates for a lot of injury prone scenarios that we’re seeing now.”

Collins looked exhausted himself speaking postgame, a combination of the season’s grueling schedule, the Hawks’ back-to-back and, I would imagine, deflated with the Hawks’ injury luck.

“I know they’re a little fatigued, these guys have been going hard, logging a lot of minutes,” said McMillan. “I can see it in our bodies. It has been that type of year where you’re just holding your breath when someone hits the floor. For us, we just need to get some rest and try to heal up as soon as possible.”

Goodwin took to Twitter after the game and seemed to offer optimism that perhaps his ankle injury wasn’t as bad as first feared.

A crumb of solace last night for the Hawks was the fact both the Knicks and the Heat also dropped games last night but that will be of little comfort for the Hawks as they face Eastern Conference contenders in the form of the Sixers for two consecutive road games.

However, there were some bright spots from last night’s game.

Onyeka Okongwu played a solid game with some solid highlights but the top moment was the debut of Kris Dunn, who played not only his first game for the Hawks but his first game of basketball since January 29th 2020.

Dunn wasted no time flashing his defensive prowess and activity, and we’re going to look at some of that aggressiveness.

This was literally Dunn’s first involvement, showing activity, jumping in the passing lane, almost coming up with the steal before the ball goes out of bounds:

Here, Dunn is active on the screen but when he does fall behind, he’s able to poke the ball out of bounds and gives the Hawks a chance to reset:

Dunn flashes his one-on-one defense as he sticks in front of Killian Hayes despite the screen before blocking his shot:

Dunn’s help defense is strong, particularly his digs. Here, Dunn digs on Grant’s drive left as he switches hands, deflecting the ball and creating a jump-ball:

Again, Dunn showcases his defensive instincts as he anticipates the pass and leaps to deflect the pass out of bounds:

Dunn would create another jump-ball as he digs on the drive and ties up Hayes:

It really is astonishing how many defensive highlights Dunn created last night in one game alone.

For the game, Dunn was scoreless on 0-of-5 from the field in 13 minutes of action. Offensively, it was probably what you could’ve expected from Dunn but defensively, Dunn showed exactly what he can bring.

“It’s tough, it was a tough one to come into, we certainly needed him tonight,” said McMillan of Dunn’s debut. “Basically when you’re playing your first game, you want that guy to get out there and not put any pressure to do anything but play the game, get his feet wet, get a feel for being out on the floor. These are new teammates for him. He was limited as far as the minutes he could play but it was good to get him out there, get his feet wet and we’ll see how he comes out of this game and get him ready for the next one.”

“He’s a physical defender,” added McMillan of Dunn. “He had a couple of fouls called on him but that’s KD, that’s how he defends. The officials, they will adjust to his style of play out on the floor but having that big, physical defender up on the ball, that looked good for us.”

Last night’s game marked Dunn’s first since Jan. 29, 2020, the culmination of a long, long rehab process as Dunn has dealt with knee and ankle injuries.

“A lot of emotions,” said Dunn postgame. “I was nervous, anxious, excited, a lot of emotions going on. Felt good to be back out there. Wish we could have gotten the win, would’ve felt a lot better, but at the end of the day it’s been a long journey to get to this point and I’m just blessed to be back out there.”

Postgame, Dunn spoke at length about his 15-month rehab process, including three months of bedrest, and how his rehab process changed as COVID arrived and how that affected his rehab.

“That was right after my injury with Chicago,” said Dunn. “I didn’t have surgery right then and there. I was on a brace and with the process I had to be on bedrest. COVID hit, so the only thing I could do literally was stay at home. I couldn’t go to the gym because COVID was fresh when I got injury, everybody was staying at home, everybody was on lockdown. The only thing I could do was be on bedrest and I think that was the best treatment for my knee. I can’t treat myself I need to be treated at home. It was definitely tough.”

Dunn hasn’t always been able to be with the team on the road always but his teammates were delighted to see him return.

“It was really great,” said Collins of Dunn’s return. “We’re all super happy for him to make his return today. Everybody saw his effort, his energy, his intensity, what he brings on the defensive end. Obviously he has to get his wind and all that other good stuff back. We all love Kris.”

Dunn’s return was one of the only few things the Hawks could look upon well last night in a game that saw the Hawks tally a season-low in points (86), three-point makes (hitting just 4-of-27) and three-point percentage (14.8%), as well as the injury concerns for Huerter and Goodwin, which will obviously be the more pressing issue going forward more, much more than the Hawks losing one game in Detroit.

While Bogdanovic carried the Hawks early on, he couldn’t sustain it. From there, Danilo Gallinari was the only Hawk off of the bench to have scored through three quarters — it just wasn’t their night last night.

A word on the Pistons, they were very impressive. They played hard, with energy, they limited the Hawks from the outside, they made life difficult for Clint Capela offensively (6-of-16 from the field) inside. They deserved the victory.

The Hawks (34-28) are back in action on Wednesday as game number two of their three-game trip takes them to Philadelphia for the first of two consecutive games against the Sixers (40-21).

Two very difficult games for the Hawks but a win for them, at this stage, would be if they can get through without further injury.

Until next time...