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Hawks squander opportunities in road loss to Pacers

A difficult night for the Hawks in Indiana to close out their time on the road in the regular season.

Atlanta Hawks v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks took to the floor for the second time in as many nights as they tackled the Indiana Pacers at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse on Thursday night, the hosts also on the second night of a back-to-back.

Coming off of the emotional high after topping the Phoenix Suns, the Hawks were unable to follow that up, falling short in Indiana 133-126.

Trae Young scored 30 points to go along with 10 assists while Bogdan Bogdanovic added 28 points. For the Pacers — without Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, Jeremy Lamb and TJ Warren — Caris LeVert scored 31 points to go along with 12 assists, with Domantas Sabonis adding 30 points.

Offense was not the issue for the Hawks last night — 126 points on 51% and 40% from three on 40 attempts last night. Defensively, the Hawks were quite poor as the Pacers shot 62% from the field and found themselves down double digits in the first quarter, before another poor showing defensively in the second quarter saw the Hawks down by as many as 17 points in the first half.

When the Hawks did fall behind by 17 points, they cut the lead to 12 points and had a number of chances to cut the lead to either 10 or nine points, maybe even more had the Hawks took their chances.

The first opportunity comes as Bogdan Bogdanovic comes off of the screen and takes the free throw line jumper, one of Bogdanovic’s few misses last night:

After the Hawks get a stop, they get another good look at another basket as Gallinari gets a great look at a three-pointer:

After another stop, Tony Snell receives the ball above the break, fakes his way into an open shot but even he can not connect:

A number of good chances there for the Hawks to cut the lead. The Bogdanovic shot was a little tougher but Gallinari and Snell definitely had good chances. The Pacers ended up taking a 14 point lead into the break, which quickly became 18 points in the early stages of the third quarter.

The Hawks looked very poor defensively and this didn’t look like it was going to change. Young, however, kicked things up a notch in the third quarter as he scored 17 points in the third quarter alone as the Hawks did finally piece some stops together to close within six points with three minutes to go in the third, looking set to take the fight to the fourth quarter.

However, the Pacers scored 19 points in the final three minutes to assume command again as LeVert and Sabonis struck.

To start, LeVert blows by Snell and gets to the rim and scores the basket, plus the foul:

Add to this a technical foul free throw for a delay of game, giving LeVert four points on the play.

With the lead now double digits again, LeVert and Young would then trade baskets before Sabonis breaks that trend with a three-pointer:

A blunder from Onyeka Okongwu here, who doesn’t need to dive in and away from Sabonis like this.

Bogdanovic and Young cut the lead to eight points but TJ McConnell — who tied a career-best with 19 points — probes inside to the other side of the rim and finds himself able to get an uncontested look at the rim for the basket:

I don’t really blame Young here, Okongwu should be challenging this.

After a rare missed floater in the third quarter from Young, the Pacers come with LeVert and Sabonis, with Okongwu getting caught again as Sabonis this time scores on the roll:

With nine seconds left in the corner, the Hawks bring the ball up the floor with Young chased by McConnell who pokes the ball away from behind for the steal and Kelan Martin scores at the buzzer to put the Pacers back up by 14 points:

This was a horrid end to the third quarter for the Hawks. Not only did this cap off 19 conceded points in three minutes, but the six point deficit the Hawks had worked hard to grind back to just moments earlier was completely shattered and back to where it was to begin the half: trailing by 14 points. Basically, the work Young and the Hawks did in the third quarter to get back into the game was basically undone heading into the fourth.

That said, they certainly showed some urgency to begin the fourth quarter as the Hawks began the fourth quarter on a 15-2 run to come within a point of the Pacers with 8:33 remaining as John Collins — who struggled with foul trouble in the first half — spearheaded the Hawks’ run, enjoying a great second half, scoring 18 of his 25 points in the second half, and 12 in the fourth quarter.

The Hawks had chances to tie and take the lead in this one but, again, found themselves short.

Gallinari was the first to get a crack, missing the three-pointer over Sabonis here on the wing:

After a Pacers turnover, the Hawks collect the loose ball and push in transition, with Lou Williams fanning out to the corner where he receives the ball and takes an immediate, fall-away three in the corner:

A tough shot here from Williams, who doesn’t need to rush this and a fake would surely send Doug McDermott flying and would’ve perhaps allowed Williams to check the wind in the corner before hoisting a three.

On the pick-and-roll, McConnell anticipates the pass from Williams to Gallinari and scores in the other direction, putting the Pacers up by six points and leads to a Hawks timeout:

The Hawks would, again, get within one point where they squandered their biggest chance to take the lead as Young’s oop for Clint Capela is fumbled by Capela, missing an easy bunny at the rim:

This was the Hawks’ best chance by far to take the lead and when it got away, you wondered how much the Hawks may regret that one. In the end, they certainly did.

Even despite a Pacers basket, the Hawks get a decent look at a three that would have tied the game as Bogdanovic comes off of the screen for a three-pointer but misses:

After the Hawks get another stop, they have another chance to tie the game, this time with Young but the Hawks’ star point guard can’t convert on a contested, deep three-point attempt:

LeVert puts some separation between the two sides as he, despite Kevin Huerter’s hounding defense, hits the contested jump shot, plus the foul:

Just a wild basket from LeVert, that’s a fantastic make — one of many for LeVert last night.

While Bogdanovic would hit a clutch three to bring the Hawks back within three, LeVert would have one more make in his locker as he comes off of the screen, turns the corner and hits the fadeaway jumper:

Kevin Huerter did a great job defensively to stick with LeVert on the screen but he falls away and it’s an easy jumper for LeVert considering how late in the game it is.

A missed three from Gallinari out of the timeout puts the finishing touch on a disappointing loss for the Hawks, who could/should’ve emerged from this game with a victory but poor defense as well as missed opportunities at various stages in throughout game — both to cut the lead, to help extend the Pacers’ lead and then finally to take the lead — sealed the deal on a game that, if the Hawks won, would’ve all but sealed their status as a 4/5 seed in the East.

Postgame, Hawks interim head coach Nate McMillan keyed in on the Pacers’ speed as an area where they presented issues for the Hawks last night defensively (you could see this from LeVert) and the Pacers’ 70 paint points.

“Their speed,” said McMillan of the challenges the Pacers posed for the Hawks defensively. “We knew coming in that they were playing smaller, they’re playing faster. First unit is now a really fast unit and the second unit has always been fast. They’re putting a lot of speed out there, they’re running off of made baskets and keeping pressure on your defense. They’re pretty much playing with three, four guards out on the floor at all times. We just didn’t do a good job of getting back and controlling the ball. 70 points in the paint, that’s a bad number to give up that many points in the paint. They were living in our paint all night long.”

Domantas Sabonis posed massive problems inside the for the Hawks in what was a rare scenario for Capela where he was comprehensively beaten in his matchup. Sabonis is a fantastic player, an All-Star this season and last night he shot 12-of-14 from the field. When he was out of the game, the Pacers suffered. When the Hawks reeled off their 15-2 run to begin the fourth, they did so with Sabonis on the bench and that wasn’t a coincidence — he adds a lot on both ends of the floor.

Again, the Hawks were able to make that run not only because of Sabonis’ absence but John Collins’ presence but his work in the fourth quarter couldn’t totally make up for the Hawks’ lack of defense in the first three quarters, where Hawks conceded 36, 36 and 38 points respectively.

“The fourth quarter we were able to get some stops,” said McMillan when asked about Collins. “I think we had four stops in a row, so it wasn’t just John, it was us defensively getting stops and that’s normally a team effort. You got to score, John was putting the ball in the basket, we were able to win the fourth quarter (30-23) but that came from getting stops. We didn’t get stops the first three quarters.”

With the Pacers being shorthanded and missing key personnel like Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, TJ Warren, the Hawks didn’t come out of the gates as they should have and pressed their advantage. They looked slow, and in parts I thought that the Pacers were playing angry, playing as though their season was about to end (amidst all of their struggles this season on the court and recent off-court issues regarding coaching coming to light), playing to get into the playoffs whereas it felt like the Hawks were playing like a team who knew they were going to the playoffs — certainly in the first half, a first half where the Hawks didn’t look like themselves.

“We didn’t come out with the intensity and energy we needed to,” said Collins postgame. “When you start off like that, doesn’t matter who you play, NBA teams are going to pick up on that like blood in a water with a shark. They’re going to smell that and attack it because everybody is thirsty for wins.”

“We just have to come out ready from the start,” Collins added. “Coach is a big person with emphasis on all 48 minutes. Usually it’s the end of the game, today it was the start of the game for us.”

Thursday’s loss marked the Hawks’ final road game of the regular season, finishing 16-20 in total on the road. A number of games come to mind that the Hawks definitely should’ve won, that could have easily have been a positive record on the road but 16-20 isn’t too shabby either, especially when you have a 21-11 record at home as the Hawks currently do, with plenty of opportunity to add to that coming up.

In terms of the bigger picture, the Hawks are still looking solid for a top five finish in the East and now have three days off (!!) before their next contest against the Washington Wizards, their final four games taking place at State Farm Arena.

“I thought they outworked us tonight,” said McMillan on the message to his side postgame. “They were the aggressors. Defensively, they came out and really pressured us, disrupted us early in the game. Then they established their tempo, they won the battle of establishing the tempo. I thought we needed to not only establish the tempo but we needed to control the tempo and we didn’t do that tonight. They established their tempo, they controlled the tempo and they played their game tonight. That was the message. We’ve got games coming up next week, it’s going to be a scrap against Washington next week. They’re going to be coming in with the same intensity and we’ve got to be better.”

“Everybody’s spirits is up,” added Young on the message postgame. “We understand we did a lot better in that second half, mistakes we could’ve cleaned up in that first half, if we had done that we would’ve been OK. It’s frustrating any time you lose but we’re still in a good spot and keep everybody’s heads up.”

The Hawks (37-31) are back in action on Monday for the first of their two games at State Farm Arena against the Washington Wizards (31-36), who are jostling for positioning within the play-in tournament themselves and 7-3 in their last 10 games. Those will not be easy games by any stretch of the imagination.

The Hawks are not home and dry just yet.

Until next time...