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Fourth quarter woes return for Hawks in first two games of series vs. Sixers

NBA: Playoffs-Atlanta Hawks at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks will come back to State Farm Arena with the series tied 1-1 against the Philadelphia 76ers. With some renewed energy and a 40-point performance from Joel Embiid, the 76ers controlled most of the game on Tuesday, winning 118-102 after the Hawks stole homecourt in the first game.

Similar to what the 76ers were doing in game one, the Hawks tried to find multiple ways to get back into the game. They made several runs, and at one point they had the lead for a short period. This was nothing compared to Sunday, where the Hawks had as big as a 26-point lead. In both games so far, they’ve have had to play from two different sides of the spectrum.

The one common denominator? The fourth quarter, something that has haunted the Hawks before earlier in the season.

Before March 1, the Hawks had a fourth quarter net rating of -8.6. There were games where they had the lead heading into the fourth quarter, but the opposing team prevailed at the end. Whether it was the offense going cold, the defense not getting enough stops, or a little of both, the Hawks were just not able to finish when it mattered.

The same thing is happening to start this series.

Despite winning Game 1, the Hawks fell flat during the final minutes. The lead was big as 17 points with 4:42 remaining in the game, and after Doc Rivers called a timeout, things started to go downhill for the road team. It wasn’t just that the they were missing shots down the stretch, but their defense was poor as well. The 76ers outscored the Hawks 25-12 in the final 4:31 of Sunday’s game. For the Hawks, they scored at the 3:32 mark in the fourth quarter, and didn’t score again until there were just 41 seconds remaining.

It was evident that the they were not prepared when the 76ers began to trap and send full court pressure, which was the main reason that they were able to get back into the game late.

In just a matter of less than three minutes, the Hawks had committed four turnovers, two of which were on Trae Young.

If it wasn’t for a timely three from Bogdan Bogdanovic and an unorthodox lob pass from Young to John Collins, the Hawks may have seen themselves down 0-1 to start the series.

In the fourth quarter alone on Sunday, they posted a -48.3 net rating.

In game two, the Hawks didn’t have a big lead and were fighting from behind for the majority of the contest. It wasn’t until the 2:41 mark in the third quarter where the Hawks finally had a lead, and then Shake Milton (the newest Hawks killer) hit a three to put the 76ers back into the lead. With Embiid having a stellar night, and Tobias Harris and Seth Curry having better games, the Hawks were lucky to start the fourth quarter only down seven.

Let the meltdown commence.

The 76ers bench failed to score in the first half (the Hawks bench scored 32 points in first half), but came alive in the fourth quarter to extend their lead. The trio of Milton, Dwight Howard, and George Hill went on an 18-5 run by themselves as the Hawks struggled to defend the three-point line and inside the paint. To make matters worse, the Hawks offense was sluggish and inefficient during the run.

In back-to-back offensive possessions, Danilo Gallinari took two bad shots that led to the 76ers scoring on the other end of the court.

Gallinari takes too long to make a decision on if he wants to shoot it or not, and Harris times his shot to block it. The 76ers go down the court and score two points.

Gallinari is looking for the foul on this play, but doesn't get call. The 76ers go down the court once again and score.

Once Nate McMillan decided to put the starters back in, it was too big of the lead for the Hawks to overcome.

In this fourth quarter, they posted a -36.0 net rating. That means in both Game 1 and 2 combined, the Hawks are averaging a -42.1 net rating in the fourth quarter. To understand the significance of this, the Hawks won game one and lost game two against the New York Knicks in the first round as well, but only posted an average -8.5 net rating in the final quarter.

It’s indeed a very small sample size, but that’s insanely worse than what they were doing at the beginning of the season.

Since March 1, the Hawks had a +11.8 net rating in the fourth quarter, which was the best in the league. Coach McMillan had the team playing better basketball down the stretch of games, getting quality shots, and playing team defense.

In this series, it looks like the Hawks are reverting back to their old ways. Of course there has to be credit given to the 76ers for making adjustments, but there’s also no excuse to give up a 17-point lead with four minutes left in a game. In game two, the Hawks veterans have to play smarter and more disciplined if they don’t want the game to get out of hand before the starters come back in.

The 76ers also didn't trap and full-court pressure as much as they did at the end of game one (probably because they weren't coming from behind), but the Hawks have to be prepared if it happens again.

Fighting past demons is the last thing this team should want to do, especially after losing De’Andre Hunter for the rest of the season, who is one of the their best perimeter defenders and was giving a boost on offense, too.

Luckily for the Hawks they return home to play on Friday, where they’ve won 13 in a row and 21 of their last 23 games. Home cooking won't solve everything, but things could turn around with the crowd on their side.