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Hawks sunk by Bulls mid-range in loss to Chicago

Another game decided at the buzzer but this time not in the Hawks’ favor

Chicago Bulls v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks fell short in their attempts to notch a third consecutive victory, falling at the buzzer 110-108 to the Chicago Bulls at State Farm Arena on Wednesday night.

Trae Young poured out 36 points while Onyeka Okongwu registered a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds to go with five blocks. For the Bulls, DeMar DeRozan led the way with 28 points, with running mates Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic adding 22 and 20 points respectively.

It was difficult to envision the Hawks playing as poorly as they did on offense as they did in parts in the second quarter as the Bulls ran to a double-digit lead and a lead that stretched as wide as 18 points, but thanks to a decent end to the first half — helped by DeRozan’s blocking foul and subsequent technical foul — the hosts entered the halftime break trailing by just 10 points. Frankly, it was more than the Hawks deserved at the break.

That said, the second half saw a much improved effort from the hosts, and the Hawks cut into the lead in the third and made their run in the fourth, the play of AJ Griffin a huge reason behind the Hawks storming into their first lead of the game — Griffin hitting three three-pointers — a lead that reached as many as eight points.

Similar to the Hawks’ last game against the Bulls, this would go to the wire, so, let’s look at the stretch plays, starting with Trae Young giving the Hawks a four point lead with just under three minutes remaining with this layup:

Tough layup from Young here to escape Ayo Dosunmu and finish with the left.

The next basket from the Bulls would start a trend that would carry-on for the rest of the game, as DeRozan hits the mid-range jumper over the contest of Onyeka Okongwu:

You can kind of see it here, but Okongwu’s contests sometimes leave a little to be desired because he doesn’t always raise his arms to meet the point of release and this isn’t exclusive to this play but a more general observation — sometimes Okongwu doesn’t get a contest up at all which can be frustrating. On this play, however, I think it was an adequate contest.

This time Dejounte Murray goes isolation, drives on DeRozan, stops, and leans in to score at the rim:

The Bulls would respond with another jumpshot, this time with Patrick Williams faking Bogdan Bogdanovic off his feet, freeing up an open shot which is sunk:

Murray ends this next possession with another isolation play but this time he can’t hit over DeRozan:

The Bulls tie the game with another jumper, this time it’s Zach LaVine coming off the Vucevic screen before rising into the game-tying shot:

Again, it’s over Okongwu who contests more ‘out’ than ‘up.’ I don’t think these are bad contests, for what it’s worth — just not as good as they could be.

The Hawks would again fall short on their following offensive trip, this time it’s Young towards the end of the shotclock as he can’t shake DeRozan this time and settles side-stepping jumpshot:

The Bulls retake the lead, and it’s the combination of Vucevic and LaVine — the screen from Vucevic frees LaVine of Murray, and LaVine hits over Okongwu again:

A bit of a tougher contest this time for Okongwu with LaVine being a little further away this time but emphasizes again the more outwards nature of his contests.

Coming out of a timeout, the Hawks find a reply through Okongwu as Young gets inside and draws the defense before finding Okongwu for the flush:

Young did well here because if the intent from De’Andre Hunter was to create a switch/make contact with the screen he did a terrible job of doing so.

However, this tie was short-lived as DeRozan — again faced by Okongwu — rises into a long two-pointer and hits over the contest:

If you pause and look where Okongwu’s arm is compared to DeRozan’s release, it’s quite remarkable — more so on DeRozan’s side of things and how he’s able to do this. This was a better contest from Okongwu because even though he’s not close to the point of release he would be obscuring DeRozan’s vision somewhat with this particular challenge given where his hand is.

The Hawks respond immediately and when Young gets by Dosunmu at mid-court, the Bulls’ defense is in trouble because now Vucevic has to prioritize Young, allowing Okongwu to slip in behind and Young finds him to tie the game with four seconds left, preserving the Hawks’ timeout:

This is much easier to say in hindsight, but LaVine should have gone with Okongwu. LaVine’s man in transition appears to be Murray, who I think it’s absolutely fine to leave him completely open from behind the arc in a situation like this to go with the rolling Okongwu, where the help is absolutely needed. This play happened very quickly, so it’s understandable why he didn’t.

The Bulls take a timeout and from it DeRozan airballs a shot over Hunter, the ball hits the chest of John Collins — just subbed in for Young — and is gathered by Dosunmu who gets the shot away to beat the buzzer and win the game:

A very weird and freaky kind of finish. The airball from DeRozan, Collins not being able to secure the rebound and then Dosunmu being in place to gather the ball and get the shot away... A tough one for the Hawks.

Bogdanovic losing Dosunmu — who was the inbounder — obviously wasn’t ideal either (neither was Murray getting caught ball-watching as Dosunmu darts past him) but it’s just an unusual instance with Collins.

Young praised Collins after the Orlando win, saying Collins had some of the best hands in the NBA. For whatever reason, this one just got away from him. Hugely unfortunate — though Collins had a rebound escape him in the first half too — it typified Collins’ night, frustrated by foul trouble. Getting dog-piled afterwards was just insult to injury.

The Hawks I think were unfortunate to a degree that, with the exception of the game-winning basket, all of Chicago’s baskets in this stretch were just jumpshots and while I think Okongwu’s contests on jumpshots leave something to be desired in terms of an upward contest, they’re not exactly open jumpshots for Chicago — Okongwu was pretty much right there.

If you were to re-roll that scenario again — basically nothing but jumpshots for Chicago to end the game — you’d be fairly confident that at least one of those would be missed. But credit to the Bulls, they sank them all — a story for most of their fourth quarter:

This is the Bulls’ makes in the fourth quarter — that’s a lot of jumpshots.

The Hawks wanted to trap DeRozan (and you could see their attempts to do so I thought more in the first half) but the Bulls found a workaround, as Hawks head coach Nate McMillan explained after the game.

“They got the ball in the hands of DeRozan and we know what he’s capable of doing and he delivered tonight,” said McMillan of the Bulls’ mid-range jumpshots. “We wanted to try get some traps on him and he did a good job of getting in the middle of the floor and making it more difficult to trap when you’ve got shooters on either side of him. They did a good job of executing and they got the matchups that they wanted and they won the matchup.”

“I felt like it was good defense,” added Onyeka Okongwu of the mid-range jumpers. “DeRozan, that what he does. Mid-range maestro.”

Some of the Hawks’ isolation offense in the fourth wasn’t great but I thought they had done just enough to win this game or at least send it to overtime before you factor in a Chicago jumpshot or two being missed but that miss didn’t come (and when it did the Bulls still managed to benefit from it — ironic that an airball was the best thing that could have happened for the Bulls on a missed shot but alas).

While Nate McMillan credited the fightback, he was left wanting when it came to the Hawks’ late game execution.

“It’s a tough loss,” said McMillan. “We did a good job fighting our back into the game. I think we had a six point lead late in the game and couldn’t hold on to it. You’ve got to make plays, you’ve got to get stops and then you’ve got to make baskets. Same plays, same type of game that we won against them a week ago, goes down to the last possession... They out-scrap us for the offensive rebound and was able to put the ball in. We’ve got to make plays, we’ve got to get stops and then we’ve got to execute.”

Almost easy to forget that not much longer than a week ago the Hawks were on the other end of a buzzer-beater in overtime, thanks to AJ Griffin. Last night it was Atlanta’s turn to be on the other side.

“It’s tough, you always want to be on the other side where you’re celebrating but it’s a game of inches,” said Trae Young. “They got the rebound with a second left and they put it up. Give them credit for hustling for it. They just made one more play than we did.”

“It’s always painful to lose in general but game-winners like that hurts a little more,” added Onyeka Okongwu.

The Hawks played a much better second half, shooting just under 49% from the field in the second half following a 36% first half, but allowing the Bulls to shoot 57.5% from the field in the first half was far from ideal to recover from.

“I thought we were flat when we came out,” said McMillan of the second half turnaround. “We gave up 61 points in that first half and we were playing at a slow pace. We wanted to force the pace, makes or misses — we weren’t getting a lot of stops that first quarter or first half — but even on makes we wanted to push the tempo and we were just slow the whole first half. We finally came out, was aggressive the second half and was able to get back into the game and eventually take the lead.”

“We played with more urgency in the second half,” added Okongwu. “First half was more ‘last day of school’ — giving up fastbreaks, layups, dunks. Not a lot of defense being played but second half we buckled down.”

McMillan felt that not a lot needed to be said to his side postgame in terms of a message; that the loss would speak for itself

“We’ve got to make the plays, it’s as simple as that,” said McMillan on his postgame message to the team. “Sometimes you don’t have to say anything, the game will speak for you. We didn’t make the plays tonight at the end to win this game.”

Trae Young echoed a similar sentiment of the Hawks’ first half and the message at halftime.

“Nothing was really said at halftime, we all knew what we needed to do,” said Young of the halftime message. “Come out and play better and be more aggressive. We just had more energy in that second half and just played a lot harder and we fought our way back into it. Two points short.”

Speaking of, a lot will be said this morning of John Collins. He was again mentioned by name in trade rumour reports yesterday by national media and it was already a tough game for Collins last night before the events of the final play. Despite that last rebound escaping Collins’ clutches, Trae Young voiced his support of Collins postgame, adding that if the Hawks had played better in the first half they wouldn’t have needed to be in such a situation.

“He’s competitor, he doesn’t like to lose,” said Young of John Collins. “He’s hard on himself already. He knows we’ve got his back. This isn’t all on him. It’s one play in the game. It’s a long game. If we took care of business in the first couple of quarters we wouldn’t even have to be there. It’s not all on him. He missed that last rebound but that’s one possession of the game and we played a lot more than just one possession.”

The last possession was tough and so were the jumpers the Bulls continuously made down the stretch, and I agree with Young’s assessment of the first half being key to this game.

The Hawks should be more disappointed in their start to this game than the execution down the stretch, allowing the Bulls to almost score at will in their building on the second night of a back-to-back having taken victory in Miami on Tuesday. You can’t allow a team to shoot 57.5% in the first half on the second night of a back-to-back on the road and allow an 18 point lead at home in the first half. Not to mention of course the Hawks’ own offense was particularly rough in the first half.

With the Hawks’ last game coming on Monday at home, rest advantage was on the Hawks’ side and it was an advantage that wasn’t captilized upon, nor was the loss of Alex Caruso mid-game after a collision with De’Andre Hunter, Caruso subsequently ruled out along with Lonzo Ball, Goran Dragic and Derrick Jones Jr.

“That start, that wasn’t what we were looking for,” said McMillan. “They played last night, they were short with their roster so the thing was to put as much pressure on them as possible, defensively picking them up and offensively pushing the ball on them.”

Very little of that occurred in the first half, and it’s hard to imagine what the Hawks’ first half might have looked like without Trae Young finding some form from downtown, particularly in the first quarter where he scored 16 points and hit four threes. There were times where Young had the ball in his hands too long but with how the second quarter unfolded you could argue he could be forgiven somewhat. Young scored 29 of his 36 points in the first half before going on to hit a season-best seven three-pointers.

“No, I was just in rhythm,” said Young on if anything felt different with his shot tonight. “First couple of shots went in. Been working and trying to get my rhythm, been doing the same routine and just keep going. It’s what happens. I’ve got to be better at shooting better from the field but it was good to see my threes go in.”

Young made sure to drink from the well that finally yielded water beyond the arc, shooting 7-of-14 (a season-high in attempts) from deep. From the inside the arc, as he admitted himself, it could’ve been better — 2-of-10 shooting, 9-of-24 overall from the field

Young wasn’t the only one who struggled to make shots at times.

Bogdanovic shot 4-of-12 from the field but was 3-of-6 from three, negating the poorer field goal percentage somewhat. De’Andre Hunter was 4-of-10 from the field and 0-of-4 from three, while Dejounte Murray was 0-of-3 from three but did shoot 41% (7-of-17) from the field as he notched a double-double of 15 points and 10 assists.

McMillan really cut his rotation in the second half of this one to just seven players — the starting five plus Bogdanovic and Griffin.

Griffin’s spark in the fourth quarter shifted the momentum for the Hawks, his three-pointers not only providing the Hawks a huge boost in terms of the scoreline but also brought the house down — they were real momentum plays.

I’m sure there’ll be some comments that will highlight Griffin exiting the game in the fourth as a turning point but I think the decision to bring on Hunter for his defense for DeRozan and LaVine is fine. In hindsight, Okongwu ended up being more of the focal point on defense in those pick-and-rolls contesting the mid-rangers than Hunter but I don’t think there was a scenario where McMillan was not going to bring on Hunter, and Bogdanovic was going to stay on the floor having hit two threes himself in the fourth, and Young, Murray and Okongwu were always going to finish it out. I would’ve been interested to see more Griffin but at the same time someone has to not be on the floor, and under McMillan it’s always likely to be the rookie compared to the others — you’re really asking if Griffin was going to finish the game ahead of Hunter or Bogdanovic. I just don’t think that’s going to be much of a debate on the sideline.

Speaking of Okongwu, he started the game this time and produced 18 points on 8-of-14 from the field, 11 rebounds (including five offensive boards) and five blocks on the game too, tying a career-high, in 40 minutes of action. The hustle stats also read well for Okongwu: seven screen assists leading to 18 points and 22 contested shots.

Nikola Vucevic is a tough matchup at center — not only is he a massive body but also a skilled offensive big — and Okongwu acquitted himself well, with quite a few of Vucevic’s 20 points coming in mismatch situations rather than when Okongwu was guarding him.

“I just like the challenge going up against players of tiers like that,” said Okongwu. “Vooch is an All-Star type of player and I live for matchups like that just to showcase I can stick with dudes like that.”

With Clint Capela still sidelined and Collins still restricted, the Hawks need as much shot-blocking as they can get and Okongwu provided a lot of value on that end — something that the Hawks will hope Okongwu continues.

“O has been getting better every year,” said Young of Okongwu. “Vooch is a really good big-man. Tonight he got it going but the way O played on both ends just competing, scoring, getting some blocks — he was doing really good for us tonight. We need him to keep going and hopefully we can get CC back pretty soon too.”

All-in-all, I think the Bulls were probably just about worth their win last night, mostly for how they came out in this game on the second night of a back-to-back on the road.

The Hawks were poor in the first half, and I think overall they wore more poor in the first half than they were impressive in the second half. Atlanta deserves credit for getting out of an 18 point hole and taking an eight point lead in the fourth quarter — their second half was strong but there’s a reason McMillan brings up the ‘48 minute game’ cliché and this will only feed into that (although, it is amazing McMillan didn’t actually mention it in his postgame comments). The counter-argument to that is the Hawks didn’t need a 48 minute performance to at least send this overtime, and I think that’s fair on this occasion. Collins probably should have claimed that rebound, yes, but I don’t think he was helped either when the loose-ball ended up in the hands of Dosunmu, who rushed by everyone to get into the paint to claim the loose ball — that’s on Bogdanovic (who was guarding Dosunmu) and Murray who was caught ball-watching DeRozan’s shot.

But like Young said, a better first half and they’re not in this situation and it’s always more than just one possession. Credit to the Bulls purely on just how many jumpshots they sank down the stretch to win — you don’t see it too often, and this time it was both LaVine and DeRozan.

The Hawks (16-16) are back in action on Friday when they’ll take on the Detroit Pistons (8-26 and currently on a four-game losing streak after a heavy road loss in Philly on Wednesday).

Until next time...