The Atlanta Hawks fell short in their comeback attempt in Orlando as the Magic took home a 135-124 victory on Wednesday night at the Amway Center.
De’Andre Hunter led six Hawks in double-figures with 25 points, with Trae Young adding 19 points and a season-high 16 assists (with only James Harden totalling more assists in a game this season with 17).
For the Magic, eight players scored in double-digits, led by Franz Wagner’s 24 points. Bol Bol added 21 points.
There’s obviously one point of conversation when it comes to this game and that would be the Orlando Magic hanging 50 on the Hawks in the first quarter, marking a franchise-record and tying an NBA-high for points in any quarter so far this season.
The Hawks mounted a fightback from a deficit that was large as 29 points, largely behind De’Andre Hunter’s 20 second quarter points, marking a 40 point quarter for the Hawks. The visitors did cut the lead to single digits on a few occasions, most notably towards the very end of the third quarter when the Hawks brought the lead to eight points before a big swing came in the form of a Terrence Ross three to end the quarter and a Mo Bamba three to begin the fourth quarter, pushing the Magic’s lead back to 14. The two sides largely traded baskets after that and the Magic saw this one out, taking the wire-to-wire victory for their fourth straight win.
The Hawks’ play over the next three quarters after the disastrous first one was actually pretty good when you look at it — they outscored the Magic by 17 points, shot 52.9% from the field, shot 41% on threes (making 12 of them...there’s been games where the Hawks haven’t even hit double-digit threes and other games where they’ve started off well from three in the first and the rest of the game is a dud from outside), shot 18-of-20 from the line, and dished 26 assists with just six turnovers.
They did put together three quarters of solid basketball, it’s just that the first quarter was so absolutely horrid that it almost doesn’t even matter what the Hawks did after that point and the level of play would negate anything the Hawks achieved after that first quarter.
Let’s take a look at that first quarter and try work out how things went so wrong for the Hawks.
Initially it was the offense that was the issue early on as the Hawks fell behind 14-4, so let’s look at what didn’t work on the offensive end for the visitors.
The way the offense went, it was difficult for Young to get into the middle but there were a few opportunities for Clint Capela, which the Magic were much more comfortable to defend, contesting Capela’s hook on this possession:
Later in the quarter, Capela is thrown a lob and is contested well by Mo Wagner at the rim to force another miss:
Young played the entire first quarter and shot 2-of-6 from the field but just struggled to get inside at times with the Magic defense doing well to cut him off and forcing a pass. But when Young did get inside, it just didn’t work as well as he probably expected, attempting to draw a foul on this possession but when it’s not called it just looks like a bad shot:
Without the screen bringing an extra defender to him, Young slips by and this time he does get a good look at a floater, just happened to miss this one:
The Hawks did get some good looks that just didn’t fall, like this shot from AJ Griffin as he fakes the defender off of him on the perimeter and into a good mid-ranger:
This play also highlights a couple of other issues the Hawks ran into. You can see how tough it was for Young to get inside when he’s got two/three defenders back-pedalling/ready to help/ready to step up, whether it’s on drives or pick-and-rolls. It also showcases the length and size Orlando had at their disposal, between Markelle Fultz (who was excellent last night), Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Mo Wagner, Bol Bol and Mo Bamba all combining to give the Hawks and Young problems on the offensive end.
“They were trapping him,” said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan of Young via Bally Sports. “We knew that they were starting to be more aggressive trapping. Trae got the ball out of the double-teams and got guys shots. That’s the defense they’ve been playing lately with their 5-man — a lot more trapping, getting the ball out of guards hands and getting more aggressive and trying to disrupt, and Trae was able to get the ball out and guys had good looks and knocked down those shots.”
Young excelled in the Hawks’ last meeting here a few weeks ago, scoring an efficient 30 points and he had this to say after that game when it came to Orlando’s defense.
“They’re doing a lot more switching this year but they have a lot of tall guys, so trying to use my speed to get around them or just my agility to make the move a little bit just to keep them off balance I think is important because they have a lot of guys with length over there who can alter shots so it’s important to keep them off balance.”
Whatever it was that worked in the last meeting did not work this time, and the Magic looked to be in better spots to help and rotate and when Young willingly got off the ball (something Hawks head coach Nate McMillan has talked about when games like this transpire), the Magic knew that with the Hawks’ missing personnel they could afford to relax on some of the Hawks’ other supporting cast members.
Jalen Johnson showcases this somewhat as the Magic don’t feel pressured to close him down in the corner and he can’t convert on the three:
Not the most urgent of contests on this next play but when it’s Jarrett Culver shooting the three it doesn’t need to be:
And, look, there were things that the Magic defended well and this next play is another example of that as the Magic do well to defend the double-screen up to — with Cole Anthony doing well to get back in front of Young — and the Magic contest Bogdan Bogdanovic’s three which is missed:
It also proved to be somewhat of a microcosm a bit of a subpar night for Bogdanovic, 3-of-9 from beyond the arc.
In the end, the Hawks shot 8-of-20 from the field and 0-of-6 from three in the first quarter but when you concede 50 points your issues more so point defensively.
Seven turnovers in the quarter for the Hawks did not help matters, the Magic scoring 14 points off of those turnovers.
Young’s intended pass zips off Capela’s leg and it breaks to Orlando and Fultz does well to guide the ball to Mo Wagner, who has the easy task of finishing at the rim with no one home for the Hawks:
Fultz would do fantastically in transition again as he intercepts Young’s baseline pass and pushes in transition. Fultz’s movement kept Capela guessing and twisting before Fultz kicks the ball out to Franz Wagner, who hits the three despite the contest of AJ Griffin:
Fultz was brilliant in the first quarter and this play of his own in transition off of another Atlanta turnover was fantastic as he takes it right to Bogdanovic and finishes at the rim:
This I think could have been avoided if Culver had played the two-man game with Griffin, which I think he should’ve done but hindsight is 20-20...
The Magic’s size also played into their hands nicely on this occasion last night — size and strength in the case of Banchero, who goes through Jalen Johnson to score the basket, plus the foul, sending Banchero to the free throw line where 12 of Orlando’s points would come from in the first quarter alone:
Banchero perhaps fortunate not to be done for an offensive foul with the elbow making contact with Johnson’s face but it was one of two fouls Johnson would be called for in the first quarter, along with Hunter and Bogdanovic as the Hawks committed 10 fouls in the first.
The Magic were able to get things going outside the arc too, be it with their ball movement or defensive lapses from Atlanta.
Difficult to say for sure who should take responsibility for this three for Orlando — is it Capela for not going with his man in Mo Wagner? Is it Young for not switching and turning his back on Wagner pointing out a defensive rotation? Either way, Mo Wagner is left with an three-pointer which is hit:
This next play probably made the highlights but not for the shot itself as Bol Bol handles out front on Young before finding Franz Wagner for three:
There’s no need for Hunter to help on Bol here — both Griffin but more so Johnson are behind ready to rotate/step in (as Johnson already has) and this leaves Wagner on his own. It’s possible that perhaps Johnson should have given a shout to Hunter that he had his back — an area where the Hawks sorely miss John Collins’ voice on defense, not to mention his ability (this was the game, of course, where he injured here two weeks ago).
In transition again, the Hawks just don’t get set and the Magic work this possession well with Banchero finding Franz Wagner for an open three:
Then, of course, there’s Terrence Ross who can get hot in a hurry. He hits this first three as Culver gets pinned by Mo Wagner (with what surely can’t be a legal impediment) and Bogdanovic can’t prevent the three:
But Ross’ second three of the quarter is far less excusable, as the Hawks completely switch off when Ross passes it out to Wagner and relocates. The ball is returned again to him and he hits the three:
This is particularly poor from Atlanta. If there’s one person on this Orlando team you do not leave open for three it’s Terrence Ross.
The Magic also used their length to create a few baskets for themselves, both on offensive rebounds and put-backs, like with Bol Bol here:
And Mo Bamba attacking the rim:
A combination of events that led to the Magic’s 50 points. The Magic worked their offense well, shooting 64% from the field, 60% from three, but were given a large helping hand by Atlanta’s turnovers and lack of attention to detail in their execution.
It was extremely poor from the Hawks’ side of things how that first quarter unfolded — difficult to watch an 8-20 team just utterly embarrass a side with playoff aspirations, injuries or not. I do think the Hawks played well once this first quarter was finished but it was just far too late. Sure, they brought it to single-digits in the second half but never brought it below to a point where they actually ended up threatening.
Credit to Orlando though: a young team with a monster lead that ends up shrinking away to single-digits with plenty of time left...it would have been easy for them to succumb to Atlanta’s persistence but they continued to make plays and held on for a double-digit victory in the end.
Hawks head coach Nate McMillan was left to reflect on the Hawks’ dismal first quarter.
“It shouldn’t have happened,” said McMillan postgame via Bally Sports. “Urgency, energy, scrappy play is something you have to bring every single night to the floor. You can’t wait until you’re busted in the mouth before you respond. We knew this team — or should have known — was going to play better. We’ve just beaten them twice, they’re playing better basketball and they were going to come out with that type of urgency and we did not come out and match that urgency, that energy in the first quarter and you give up 50 points and down 28 in the first... Not ready to go.”
The sentiment that the Hawks were not ready for this contest was one that McMillan would reiterate.
“You’ve got to be ready to go,” said McMillan. “That’s just expected. I thought we fought back, we ended up winning the next two quarters and tying the fourth quarter. They had momentum and a rhythm and too steep of a climb to overcome. That is expected, it’s not ‘get them (ready),’ that’s expected.”
“No excuse for that,” McMillan added. “Preparation is part mentally, physically — preparing yourself for a game in December. This is not October or November where teams are still trying to play themselves into rhythm. Teams have rhythms now, guys are in shape. This team has won their last three games, they’re playing good basketball — we talked about all that. To not come out with that sense of urgency, there’s no excuse for that.”
Whether the Hawks underestimated their opponent based on their record, it’s impossible to say but giving up 50 points, no matter who the opponent, is unacceptable — something the Hawks know full-well.
“Giving up 50 points in one quarter is kind of ridiculous,” said Onyeka Okongwu via Dick Scanlon of the AP. “But that’s the NBA. We’re all here for a reason. Everybody can play, and you’ve got to be ready from the start. We just got ourselves in a big hole and couldn’t get out of it.”
Okongwu was one of the few Hawks who did enjoy a pretty good game — 15 points 4-of-8 shooting, 7-of-8 from the line to go with 11 rebounds in just under 26 minutes. The Hawks may need Okongwu’s activity again in a hurry with Clint Capela forced to leave this game with calf tightness during the fourth quarter. McMillan was extremely vague postgame on Capela, which doesn’t scream confidence but I imagine everyone will know more on Capela’s status soon.
Another Hawk that did enjoy a strong game was De’Andre Hunter, who scored a team-high 25 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field, 4-of-9 from three and 9-of-10 from the free throw line. Hunter almost single handedly dragged the Hawks back into contention in this one with 20 of his 25 points coming in the second quarter.
“We had to try find something,” said McMillan when asked about Hunter. “In that first quarter, offensively, we weren’t making shots — was definitely taking the ball out of the net most of that first quarter and De’Andre found the hot hand, knew that we needed to be aggressive and he was able to knock down some shots and get us back into the game. But it’s one guy. Everyone has to be connected out there, play connected basketball on both ends of the floor. But Dre was a guy we found a rhythm with, we found a matchup and he was able to knock down some shots.”
Since his return from injury, Hunter has shot 8-of-18 from deep in his three games back — 44%. A good return on Hunter’s three-point shooting so far, now up to 37% on the season.
There really weren’t many positives from this game outside of Hunter, Okongwu and Young hitting 16 assists. AJ Griffin played well, 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, Capela was 8-of-10 from the field (the two misses we looked at in the first quarter were, ironically, his only missed shots of the game), Bogdanovic was fine...it all just came too late after that horror-show of a first quarter and anything the Hawks did well is just offset by how bad that first quarter was.
The Hawks are now below .500 at 14-15 and have fallen to 9th in the Eastern Conference standings. It’s still very close there, but every single team above them currently has won their last game and made a game on the Hawks. Of the teams above them in the standings, the Knicks are on a five-game win streak, the Nets on a four-game streak, the Sixers on a three-game streak and Miami are getting closer to putting something together having won their last two games.
The Hawks are OK but are losing ground to the likes of the Cavs and Nets for those higher seeds and with Atlanta 3-7 in their last 10 games and with possibly more injury concerns, their promising start is unravelling quickly.
Safe to say that the Hawks’ next contest against the Charlotte Hornets (7-21, bottom in the Eastern Conference and losers of six consecutive games) on the road on Friday night is a must-win. The hosts will be boosted by the return of LaMelo Ball on Wednesday and the Hawks have laid duds in Charlotte in the recent past, albeit with a different coach at the helm for Charlotte.
Until next time...