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Hawks crumble down the stretch in loss to Hornets

A tough loss against a direct rival for seeding

Atlanta Hawks v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks were unable to notch a win on the road in Charlotte against fellow Southeast Division competitors, the Hornets, at Spectrum Center on Wednesday night, falling 116-106.

De’Andre Hunter led the Hawks in scoring with 21 points and Clint Capela added 17 points and 15 rebounds. For the Hornets, LaMelo Ball scored 22 points and dished out 11 assists, while Montrezl Harrell added 20 points off the bench.

Fast-forward to the fourth quarter: John Collins is already absent for this game, Danilo Gallinari was ruled out during the game with a right bicep contusion and Trae Young had been absent for a period of time with a left knee contusion before returning to the game. In addition, Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic were struggling in a major way shooting the ball but, nevertheless, high quality production from Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter helped the Hawks be in a situation where they are tied in the fourth quarter with a very blessed 4:44 remaining after a made basket by Hunter.

How did this game get away from the Hawks?

P.J. Washington was instrumental for the Hornets down the stretch and he gives the Hornets the lead as he drives by Bogdanovic and does a great job adjusting at the rim to score amid the contest from Capela:

After a split pair of free throws from Hunter, Washington extends the Hornets’ lead as he initially sets the screen behind Capela before darting in front of him, receiving the ball and hitting the three-pointer:

Hunter is unable to respond to this basket as his floater is contested by Washington and is missed:

With the shotclock winding down, the ball is hit to the corner to Miles Bridges, who swings it to Terry Rozier, who hits the side-step three-pointer to give the Hornets a seven point lead and the Hawks call for a timeout:

Not a lot to say about this shot, it’s just a standard Rozier shot that he’s capable of making — that’s what he does.

Whatever the Hawks wanted to run out of that timeout never saw the light of day as Young’s behind-the-back pass is unsuccessful and commits his sixth turnover of the night and the Hawks commit the foul to prevent the fastbreak:

On the subsequent play out of bounds, the Hornets run a pick-and-roll with Washington serving as the roll man where he receives the ball on the roll and is only faced with Young between himself and the basket. Young commits the foul as Washington scores, giving the Hornets a now double-digit lead:

Young reduces the lead to eight points with a long two-pointer, the Hornets look as though they’re going to spring a pick-and-roll with Ball and Washington but on the drive Capela elects to stay in the lane as Hunter almost appears to be already beaten by Ball. Ball finds the open Washington and Young’s closeout isn’t enough to deter him from making the three and giving the hosts an 11 point lead:

A basket from Bogdanovic reduces the lead to nine points with 1:49 remaining — not looking great but not impossible — but the Hawks are already up against it and try to spring traps/doubles but the Hornets move the ball and it eventually ends up with another basket for Washington, this time underneath the basket:

The icing on the cake was had on the Hawks’ next play as Huerter’s intended lob for Capela is long and returns possession to the Hornets:

That is essentially all she wrote for this game — a game that the Hawks had some level of control for the majority of the game and got away in a hurry down the stretch as factors (such as Gallinari’s and Young’s injuries) stacked against them. There were some offensive blips of course but it really was one of those games where a few made shots for the Hornets in a short stretch and all of a sudden the game was over.

The Hornets obviously made big plays down the stretch to wrestle this one away, with P.J. Washington starring for the hosts — 13 of his total 16 points coming in the fourth quarter.

“They moved him to the five in a pick-and-pop game,” said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan of Washington. “We knew that he was capable of doing that. We didn’t get out to his reds, wasn’t quick enough getting out to the shooters. They basically ran a pick-and-pop game.”

In a tied game at the end of the third quarter, the Hornets outscored the Hawks 31-21 in the final quarter, including 19 points in the final 4:20. Despite this, McMillan believed that it was the Hawks’ offense — and more specifically their turnovers — that cost them this game.

“I think turnovers, execution and missed shots,” said McMillan of the difference in the final four minutes. “You’ve got to take care of the ball. This team, you fuel their play turning the basketball over. They’re second in points off of turnovers. Tonight we had 13 of those and that led to 25 points. That’s their game. We needed to do a better job of taking care of the ball. The other thing is when you have open looks you’ve got to take those shots. I thought we passed up a couple shots tonight because we didn’t have our rhythm or didn’t feel it. You’ve got to take those shots and we weren’t able to make those shots.”

The Hawks committed two turnovers in the fourth quarter and while they shot 47.4% from the field in the final quarter, the Hornets shot 57.1%.

“They hit some tough shots,” said Young of the Hornets’ fourth quarter. “We started being aggressive, Terry hit a good shot. We had some good looks too I feel like they just didn’t fall at the end. Came down to the wire, a couple of shots went their way.”

“I just felt they got hot and we didn’t” added Capela. “At the end they started making shots, tough threes. A team like that at home gets hot and the whole crowd with it, the energy, it changes everything. We weren’t able to make shots at the other end. It happens but we kind of make it difficult for us.”

The Hawks were obviously operating shorthanded in the front-court without Collins and that problem was compounded as, during the first half, Gallinari was ruled questionable to return to the game. By this time, Onyeka Okongwu had already accrued three fouls so the Hawks were truly operating short in the front-court. While they started Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot in the second half, Gallinari was missed throughout the game offensively for the Hawks.

“That changed things,” said McMillan of losing Gallinari. “They start that big lineup with Washington, Plumlee and Bridges, and we lose another power forward. Gallo is a guy we play through, so that took away from some of the things we normally would do out there when we have Gallo or JC out on the floor.”

The Hawks, I thought, missed an opportunity to be in a much more comfortable position in the first half. They scored 67 points in the first half — thanks to great first halves from Capela (who had 15 and 11 at the half), Hunter (14 points), Kevin Huerter (11 points) and Okongwu, despite his three fouls (10 points on 5-of-5 shooting) — despite Young and Bogdanovic shooting a combined 0-of-11 from the field.

The Hornets have presented a problem for Young over the last few seasons with James Borrego at the helm but he still got some good shot opportunities, as did Bogdanovic. It’s just a shame for the Hawks those shots for thosr guys didn’t really fall last night as they could have easily got to at least 75 first half points had some of those shots fallen, and then it’s a different ball-game. Also unfortunate from the point of view that, normally, if one of Young or Bogdanovic struggles, the other is there to pick up the pieces — always a difficult spot when both are struggling on the same night.

In the end, Young scored nine points on 3-of-12 shooting while Bogdanovic scored 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting but this is a tad misleading as he scored a number of those points when the game was essentially over.

This was an important game for the Hawks given that the Hornets sat directly below the Hawks in the standings with a 34-35 record heading into the game. Now, the Hawks sit at No. 10 in the Eastern Conference behind the Hornets in 9th — their only solace is that the Washington Wizards, at No. 11, are 4.5 games adrift of the Hawks.

“All losses are important, all losses are big” said McMillan postgame when asked of the importance of this game. “But we have to continue, have to go back home and continue to try to win games at home. Next opponent, get prepared for Memphis and turn our attention and focus to Memphis.”

A tough loss for the Hawks given how they did control proceedings for much of the game and obviously injuries/knocks to Gallinari and Young — who commented that he was still feeling sore after the game — in addition to playing without Collins and being on the road. It was a spot that only got tougher as the night unfolded. A shame for the Hawks because they did get some really solid games from the likes of Hunter and Capela.

There have been far worse losses for the Hawks this season; this is not one of them. In the end, I think this was a loss of circumstance more than anything else (and, to be fair, the Hornets did well to bounce-back on a few occasions during this game and then pull away in the fourth quarter).

The Hawks (34-35) are back in action on Friday night when they will take on the rolling, 48-22 (and winners of their last four games) Memphis Grizzlies at State Farm Arena.

Should be a fun contest.

Until next time...