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Slow start fourth quarter key in Hawks loss to Cavaliers

The Hawks lost control of this one in a hurry.

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks fell short in Cleveland on Monday night in a 114-102 defeat to the Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Donovan Mitchell (29) and Darius Garland (26) combined for 55 points between them as Cleveland’s backcourt propelled them to victory, while the Hawks — playing without De’Andre Hunter due to a non COVID illness — were led by Trae Young’s 25 points and 10 assists. Onyeka Okongwu added 18 and 10 off the bench.

The Hawks spent a lot of this game playing catchup after the Cavaliers outscored the visitors 38-26 in the first quarter but catchup they did, thanks to the second unit in the second quarter and then the starting unit in the third quarter to give the Hawks a five point lead. While the Cavaliers overturned their slow start to the second half and parlayed that five point Atlanta lead into a five point lead of their own towards the end of the third — entering the fourth with a three point lead — the Hawks were very much in the hunt for a road win here.

The fourth quarter of this game had other ideas, however, as the Cavaliers quickly built the lead to nine points before nudging that to double-digits and leaving the Hawks with an uphill task to take this victory — a challenge that proved too much.

So, let’s look at that run to start the fourth quarter and have a chat about it.

Jarrett Allen gets the scoring under way as he ducks to the rim as the Hawks look to trap Darius Garland and while the rotation from John Collins is good, Allen’s size and length helps him finish at the rim:

The Hawks’ first offensive trip of the fourth quarter begins with a turnover as Okongwu’s drive is picked off by Mitchell:

A missed three from Mitchell later and the Hawks try again on offense with Dejounte Murray, who gets two looks on this possession coming off the Okongwu screen but Murray’s floater — and his offensive stick-back — are both missed:

Decent work by Isaac Okoro to contest the first Murray shot as Allen back-pedals to help force the first miss.

Okoro then made his mark on the offensive end as he gets in behind the Hawks’ defense — looking as though they’re in a zone for a moment — and while the attempted lob for Okoro is short, Okoro comes up with the ball and makes the tough basket at the rim:

The Hawks finally get on the board in the fourth quarter with a quick knock-ahead from Murray to Aaron Holiday for a corner three to reduce the lead to five:

But the Hawks couldn’t follow this up with a consecutive basket as Murray can’t convert on his turnaround jumpshot:

Good defense again from Okoro here to prevent Murray getting inside and forcing him into a tough shot.

The Cavaliers add to their lead with Lamar Stevens, who is left open in the corner and hits the three-pointer after the defense swarms to Mitchell after the pick-and-roll:

Stevens is left open for a reason here, having made just three three-pointers all season prior to this three.

Murray again tries to get back on the scoresheet but his layup at the rim is blocked by Evan Mobley, fuelling the Cavaliers’ fastbreak and Lamar Stevens is the beneficiary in transition as he easily gets by the poor defensive effort of Justin Holiday to push the Cavs’ lead to nine points and leading to a Hawks timeout:

Young would replace Holiday after this timeout but Mitchell again gets his hand on the dribble to come up with another steal and Cedi Osman scores in transition to give the Cavs an 11 point lead:

A few times this season the Hawks haven’t been able to start the fourth quarter in the right way and they fall behind and leave themselves with too high a mountain to climb. The gap in talent on the court at this stage of the game at times is clear, and similar to teams like the Bucks, the Cavs have their better players on the court (Garland was subbed on with 9:25 remaining in the fourth along with Mitchell already being on the court) early in the fourth while the Hawks wait a little longer at times to get Young/Clint Capela etc. back in with Murray, and the gap in talent really shows at times at a crucial part of the game, especially if Murray is struggling shooting the ball.

It proved too much of a hurdle to clear for the Hawks last night, and while the brought the lead back under double-digits they never were able to mount a real challenge down the stretch before the Cavaliers pulled away again for good to give the home side a 12 point victory in the end.

What also did not help the Hawks were the 10 second half turnovers, seven of them coming in the fourth quarter alone (leading to six Cavalier points).

“We just didn’t get stops,” said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan postgame. “You’ve got to get stops when you fight to get yourself back into the game and we didn’t get stops. They made timely baskets. I thought in the second half we had way too many turnovers, you just can’t turn the ball over 17 times against a really good team and we gave up 23 points off of those turnovers. Down the stretch, certainly the last five, six minutes of the game, you’ve got to get stops and in our case we’ve got to make baskets and we didn’t do that.”

The Cavaliers shot 60% from the floor on just 70 shots (the third lowest number of field goal attempts from a team in the entire NBA this season), 52% from three on 19 attempts (15 fewer attempts than the Hawks’ 34 attempts but with just one less make than the visitors) while committing 19 turnovers themselves.

“You’ve got to give credit to them, they made plays all night,” said Trae Young. “At the same time we put ourselves in a hole late in the game with some turnovers and not executing down the stretch on the offensive end. On the defensive end I thought we let them have whatever they wanted all night, whether it was getting their teammates involved or being able to get to their spots and score. I don’t think we did a good job of taking away one thing, I feel like those guys, who can do both, you’ve got to take away one thing. I think we could’ve been better and we’ll be better next time we play them.”

The nature of how Hawks’ turnovers came — whether it was the Hawks or the Cavaliers’ defense — did not matter to McMillan, who was insistent that the number of turnovers the Hawks produced last night was simply too many.

“They were turnovers,” said McMillan. “Regardless, they were turnovers. You just can’t have 17 turnovers, we’re a better team than that. Tonight, 17 is too many. I think we had eight or nine in the second half and you can’t shoot yourself in the foot that many times.”

For the Cavaliers to win this game on that level of shooting on such a low field goal attempt number compared to the Hawks (who took 17 more shots than the Cavs) doesn’t reflect well on Atlanta. It’s tough for them defensively against this Cavaliers team with both Mitchell and Garland, and while the Hawks could hide Young on Lamar Stevens, they had no place to hide AJ Griffin defensively and the Cavs absolutely destroyed the rookie on the defensive end.

Griffin made his first NBA start in place of De’Andre Hunter, and Griffin was solid offensively, scoring 17 points on 7-of-11 from the field, 3-of-6 from three to go with three steals. Nate McMillan believed his rookie did a solid job on the court while acknowledging the defensive challenge he faced.

“He did a good job, he made some shots out there,” said McMillan of Griffin. “He was able to make some threes and be productive. The challenge was going to be for him on the defensive end of the floor, matching up with Mitchell which is a big challenge. I thought he played the way he’s been playing: with confidence. He’s going to make some mistakes but I thought they were aggressive mistakes and I thought he played OK.”

“He did great,” added Trae Young of Griffin. “You know he’s going to have a long career. Who knows, he may start a lot more games going forward in his career, he may be one of the best sixth men to ever play this game. You never know with AJ, he’s such a talented dude and kid. He’s just going to be special, he has a bright future, I’m happy for him today.”

The Hawks eliminated the Cavaliers in the Play-In tournament last season in this building and both teams added to their backcourt in the offseason with the respective acquisitions of Murray and Mitchell and it was the Cavaliers’ backcourt that emerged on top.

“You can put that guard core up against most in the league,” said McMillan of Mitchell and Garland. “They give it to you on both sides of the ball, they can score but they defend as well. They’re two all-stars, two guys that can make plays, they do a good job of playing off each other and they were solid tonight for the Cavs. A real tough challenge to be able to guard both of those guys in the backcourt.”

While Mitchell scored a game-high 29 points, Murray struggled as he shot 4-of-17 from the field for 11 points.

“You’re going to have some tough nights,” said McMillan of Murray. “They got some good defenders out there and they kept their good defenders on Trae and DJ. They did what we talk about doing all the time: just make you work, make you score over the top and try to keep you off the free throw line. It was a tough night, he didn’t really have a lot of clear looks out on the floor, their bigs did a good job being up on the pick-and-roll and not giving our guards space on the pick-and-roll actions. It was one of those nights.”

Meanwhile, Trae Young’s field goal percentages are beginning to swing back where they should after a tough start to the season shooting the ball, with Young shooting 10-of-22 last night and 45% over his last five games, despite shooting 30% from three over that period. Young is still shooting just under 40% from the field on the season but signs of life that Young’s percentages from the field are beginning to swing back to where everyone would have expected them (minus the three-point shooting, not helped by a 1-of-7 performance from Young last night).

Speaking of, the Hawks hit 11 three-pointers and while the Hawks shot 32% last night en route to those 11 threes, it is one of the better performances from downtown for the season for a team that ranks dead last in three-point makes, 29th in attempts and 27th in makes.

“It was better,” said Young of the three-point shooting. “Having AJ out there being a threat to score, being a threat to shoot, he’s definitely going to make a lot more threes for us. Obviously when we get Bogi back that’s more threes that’ll be out there. Just pushing through until we get Bogi and continue to work on it every day when we’re in the gym and guys just got to be confident when they get the ball to just shoot it.”

It does feel like a case of surviving until Bogdan Bogdanovic returns, or Young eventually finds his shot from behind the arc. Even two threes from Jalen Johnson and three from John Collins couldn’t help the Hawks last night.

Nate McMillan believes the shooting percentages will improve.

“I believe in our guys shooting the basketball and I believe the percentages are going to go up,” said McMillan of the three-point shooting. “We have to continue to attack and force the defense to collapse and move the ball, share the ball as we did tonight. Those shots, I expect that percentage to go up. Tonight, JC was knocking down shots as well as AJ and Jalen shot the ball with confidence tonight and was able to knock down a couple of threes.”

Collins spacing the floor and taking more threes seems to be something McMillan would like to see more of as he tries to involve Collins a little more on offense.

“I thought we did get him involved more,” said McMillan of Collins. “John is capable of scoring not just inside but outside. I think he’s a good three-point shooter, we can spread the floor with him and I would like him to take more attempts.”

A tough loss for the Hawks all-in-all.

Missing Hunter is a big miss in this spot because he would’ve obviously taken on Mitchell/Garland instead of Griffin, which would have made a huge difference on the defensive end. The Hawks’ offense stalling in the fourth (particularly with the second unit at the start) really hindered their chances and left them with a hill too steep to climb. Every time the Hawks are beaten on the floor to begin the fourth quarter I can’t help but look at how McMillan uses his rotation and runs his second unit to begin a really important stretch of the game but it’s always easier to focus on that in a loss and forget the times where the Hawks bench really played well in this stretch (against the Bucks for example).

All that said, the Hawks still had everything they needed to win this game: 17 more shot attempts and 15 more three-point attempts from three — that is plenty enough to do something with but Murray’s struggles were unfortunate, and while Okongwu had a great game off the bench the Holiday brothers shot 1-of-9 from the field, all while Cedi Osman scored 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting.

But the Hawks emerge from a tough nine-game schedule starting with the Pelicans at home on November 5th with a 5-4 record, with wins against the Sixers, the Bucks both at home and on the road and the Raptors — probably better than perhaps they might have expected overall. So, big picture, the Hawks come out of one of the tougher parts of their calendar positive, knowing they could have done even better in some spots (like the Jazz game and even in this spot last night).

The Hawks (10-7) are back in action on Wednesday against the free-scoring Sacramento Kings (9-6), who play in Memphis on Tuesday night before the flying into Atlanta for Wednesday’s game, where they will welcome back former Hawk Kevin Huerter.

Should be fun.

Until next time...