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Hawks injuries heightened, shooting woes highlighted in ugly loss to Knicks

‘Twas not a pretty contest for the visitors...

Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks were handed an ugly defeat at Madison Square Garden by the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, 113-89.

Trae Young led the Hawks with 19 points, Clint Capela added 13 points and 11 rebounds. For the Knicks, Julius Randle scored 34 points and grabbed 17 rebounds to go with five assists. Quentin Grimes added 23 points for NYK.

The Hawks entered this contest already on the back-foot, still missing De’Andre Hunter and John Collins, and were quickly dealt a further blow when Dejounte Murray landed on RJ Barrett’s foot and rolled his ankle, limiting him to just three minutes of action before being ruled out for the remainder of the game. The injury was a fitting microcosm for how the game would unfold from that point forward from Atlanta’s perspective — shit, to be blunt.

The only thing that went well for the Hawks was their 17-0 run in the second quarter to cut an 18-point deficit to just one point but even that essentially went up in flames as the Knicks reestablished their double-digit lead before the first half ended. When the third quarter rolled around, Julius Randle again flexed his superiority on the night with 19 third quarter points as the Knicks ran their lead to 20 points and beyond.

“I thought in that (second) quarter the zone was able to slow them down, we were able to get back into the game,” said Atlanta Hawks head coach Nate McMillan. “The third quarter they came out really aggressive and looking to attack before the zone could get set up.”

The matchup with Randle was just a nightmare for the Hawks, who have used Clint Capela to guard him in the past but with the Hawks needing size on Mitchell Robinson (who grabbed nine offensive rebounds anyways) Jalen Johnson had to guard Randle and between that and Randle turning back into the 2020-21 Randle that made All-NBA Second Team, it was a dominant night for him.

The Hawks’ frontcourt depth already suffered a hit but Johnson (who I thought was solid on the game when he did play, to be fair) hitting foul trouble only added to the Hawks’ woes in their rotation. Nate McMillan encouraged Johnson to push the foul concern to the side and just continue to play.

“Keep your head up, keep working” said McMillan of his message to Jalen Johnson. “I told him at the start of the third quarter, ‘Don’t worry about your fouls, just play the game. Try to show your hands.’ Randle is a tough matchup, he does a good job of drawing fouls, initiating contact and drawing fouls and he was able to do that a couple of times with Jalen. Keep your head up, continue to play and offensively, when you get your opportunity, shoot the ball. We can’t be hesitant out there when we get opportunities.”

The unexpected loss of Murray forced the Hawks to dig into their bench for longer than they would have expected to and while the Hawks in the recent past have had solid games from those who wouldn’t normally see an opportunity, last night was not one of those.

“That’s what it comes down to,” said McMillan when asked about ‘the next man up.’ “It really is next man up. It’s an opportunity for someone else to get out there and play and show how they can contribute and help. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. Not going to sit here and make excuses — it really is next man up for us. Hopefully DJ is not out for a long period of time and we can start to get some guys back. It really is next man up for us.”

Trent Forrest was inactive last night and this stage, I would consider converting his two-way contract into a guaranteed roster spot and install him as the secondary ball-handler off the bench (since either one of Young or Murray are basically out on the floor at all times and are obviously the primary ball-handler respectively when they’re out on the floor when the other is on the bench). I certainly expect Forrest to be active for the Hawks’ next game on Friday — his level of play I think will really help the bench because it was poor last night.

Speaking of, the bench shot the ball so poorly that the only Hawk from the bench to shoot above 40% from the field was Vit Krejci on 2-of-3 shooting. Both Holiday’s were 2-of-7 from the field, Jarrett Culver 1-of-5 from the field and Bogdan Bogdanovic 3-of-16 from the field and 0-of-10 from three as he continues to work back into a rhythm after a long layoff.

Some of those threes from Bogdanovic weren’t great shot attempts, and with the offensive numbers for the Hawks being as poor as they were it was perhaps of little surprise that there were a number of spots Trae Young tried to do it all on his own. Young shot 9-of-20 from the field and went another 0-of-4 from three as his perimeter shooting continues to struggle. Young’s field percentage is still creeping up from where it was earlier in the season but at 40.9% it’s still at a career-low right now, as is his 28.9% shooting from distance on 7.2 attempts per game.

Young was OK offensively I thought — shooting 45% from the field on the night wasn’t bad all things considered, especially when the Knicks were helping/swarming Young off of many drives because they knew they can just leave guys like Jarrett Culver alone, and there were some possessions where it looked as though Young was aware of that too. Defensively of course there were a few issues for Young as the Hawks worked the zone. You could make the argument that there were perhaps issues with Young’s choice of shoes on the night too...

Offensively, the Hawks’ struggles were clear from the offset and the first quarter averages weren’t too far off what the Hawks would average for the game as a whole, shooting 34.8% from the field and 1-of-9 from three for 11%. Atlanta did obviously finish with higher percentages for the game but they weren’t all that much higher, 37.6% from the field and 6-of-36 from three for 16.7% respectively.

Which brings us nicely to the Hawks’ three-point shooting...again.

6-of-36 from three is the worst shooting performance from the Hawks for their season and inside the top-10 for worst shooting percentage from three in a game in the entire NBA so far this season. Krejci hit his two three-pointers but the rest was ugly — 1-of-8 from AJ Griffin, 0-of-4 from Young, 0-of-10 from Bogdanovic, 1-of-5 from Aaron Holiday.

The Hawks had plenty of solid looks from three last night to convert to help make up some of their deficit, which McMillan also believed when he spoke postgame.

“You’ve got to make shots,” said McMillan. “I thought we had open looks for most of the night and we didn’t knock down shots, 6-for-36 from the three-point line. I thought we hesitated on a couple that led to turnovers. Losing DJ was definitely a major problem and challenge for us with De’Andre and John already being out. Tough challenge. Jalen gets into foul trouble and that almost took another man off the floor. When you’re not knocking down shots it’s going to be tough to continue to hold.”

Basketball has a lot of cliché’s and one that some people don’t enjoy because of its simplicity is ‘It’s a make or miss league.’

The Hawks — Young in particular — have used this expression often this year but this may have been the most extreme example of the cliché ringing true. Though, to be fair, you could make the argument that it wouldn’t have even mattered last night when it came to perimeter shooting — eight more made threes for the Hawks would only have tied the game (the Knicks winning by 24 points in the end) and even if the Knicks went scoreless for the entire fourth quarter the Hawks would have only tied their number of points of 89.

It’s one of those losses in the NBA where there truly is little point looking too deep into it or overreacting to this loss. They’re already down two starters heading in — two starters who they heavily rely on for defense — and lose a third within a few minutes of the game. After that, the Hawks couldn’t hit water when they fell out of a boat, and for that reason alone — as well as the injuries.

I really don’t think it’s worth reading too much into this game or overreacting to it. It was a terrible night for the Hawks and they played terribly as whole. Clint Capela I thought played well, Young was able to get some floaters to go but other than that a complete write-off for Atlanta.

The Knicks, conversely, had one of their better nights of the season, particularly from three where they shot 17-of-36 (New York, like the Atlanta, rank lowly in three-point percentage, tied 29th now with the Hawks) and Grimes scored a season-high 23 points to go with Randle’s monster game where he made as many threes as the Hawks did all night.

While I wouldn’t get too concerned with this game, the Hawks have now lost five of their last seven games and are just one game above .500 as they head on the road again on Friday night — a bad time for a dip in form when reports (from The Athletic) surrounding potential frictions within the team are still somewhat fresh.

The Hawks (13-12) are back in action on Friday night in Brooklyn to take on the Nets (14-12).

Until next time