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Poor first quarter sends Hawks to defeat in spite of comeback attempt in loss to Pelicans

A poor loss from the hosts on Sunday night...

New Orleans Pelicans v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Casey Sykes/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks suffered their first home loss since February 11th as they fell short against the New Orleans Pelicans 117-112 at State Farm Arena on Sunday night.

Danilo Gallinari scored a season-high 27 points as he continues to start in place of the injured John Collins. Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic added 21 points. For the Pelicans — playing without Zion WIlliamson, Brandon Ingram, Devonte’ Graham, Larry Nance Jr., Kira Lewis Jr. and Alize Johnson — Jonas Valanciunas scored 26 points while C.J. McCollum added 25 points.

A disastrous first quarter set the Hawks a hill to climb for all of the game, essentially, and facing a 15 point hole to begin the fourth quarter the Hawks dug deep and rallied in this game, closing the gap down the stretch to give themselves a chance to win this game.

Let’s take a look at how they lost this game down the stretch, and we’ll pick it up at a timeout taken by the Hawks with 3:27 remaining after cutting the Pelicans lead to three points.

Both sides come close to scoring on their first offensive trips after the timeout as both Bogdanovic and McCollum see shots that are narrowly missed before Young’s floater on the drive from the wing cuts the lead to one point:

The Pelicans respond through McCollum as he receives the hand-off from Valanciunas before hitting the floater:

Wright ends up behind McCollum on the play when Jose Alvarado sets the screen and isn’t able to recover, and you can see the moment McCollum realizes he can drive and hoist the floater.

The Hawks would go on to tie the game as Young takes and makes the hero three-pointer:

A shot like this is always conflicting. It’s a bad shot in the context of game and if Young missed it would be called a bad shot. Alas, he made it on this occasion.

The Pelicans attempt to respond through McCollum as the Pelicans, again, try to separate him from Delon Wright but this time Wright is able to get back in front of McCollum to contest the shot, which is missed. However, Valanciunas grabs the offensive rebound and is fouled by Clint Capela. sending Valanciunas to the free throw line:

Valanciunas knocks down both free throws to give the Pelicans a two point lead but the Hawks immediately rectify this as Capela strolls behind the Pelicans defense and Young easily finds him for an alley-oop to tie the game:

Valanciunas responds as he establishes strong position in the paint, carves some space for himself before stepping-back and hitting the fadeaway jumper over Capela to return the lead to New Orleans:

The Hawks work themselves into a great shot opportunity through Young, who easily gets by Alvarado and when he slips — as well as Valanciunas not being close enough — Young gets a great look near the free throw line but the shot falls out:

It’s more surprising Young missed this shot than it is that he made the three-pointer down the stretch — it’s just a shot Young makes more often than not at this range so it was surprising this didn’t fall.

The Pelicans run their lead up to four points as Alvarado comes off the Valanciunas screen and turns on the jets to turbo to the rim for the basket:

It’s a great turn of speed shown by Alvarado, credit where credit is due.

The Hawks cut the lead back to two points as Young gets to the free throw line after a foul from Valanciunas and when the Pelicans come again, McCollum misses the floater inside but crucially Valanciunas taps the offensive rebound out and the Pelicans take possession of the ball. On the outside, Alvarado is then fouled by Young, sending him to the free throw line:

Obviously a bit to be said here because the shotclock was of course still on and would have left the Hawks with about five seconds if all of it was used and Young commits the foul despite that. Well, he ‘commits’ the foul but it was a horribly weak call: that can barely be counted as a blocking foul, that is a ludicrous call to make and the Hawks really should have been more upset than they were (if they were upset at all).

Alvarado knocks down both free throws to give the Pelicans a four point lead with 13.5 seconds remaining but the Hawks keep hold of their timeout and, up against it now, Gallinari bricks a long three-pointer with time running out, the Pelicans grab the rebound and that was all she wrote:

The Hawks’ comeback attempt was a valiant one — a 15 point hole in the fourth quarter was a big deficit to erase but the reason they were there in the first place (their poor first quarter) will only add to the frustration.

The Hawks committed nine first quarter turnovers as the Pelicans ran out to a 35-18 lead to end the first quarter, eventually leading by as many as 19 points.

“You can’t give an NBA team that kind of a lead,” said Gallinari. “It’s tough against everybody and to win an NBA game you have to play 48 minutes.”

Let’s take a look at the comments both Hawks head coach Nate McMillan and Trae Young on the Hawks’ first quarter turnovers before we look at some of them.

“They had their hands up,” said McMillan. “I think a couple of turnovers we just threw it to them. It wasn’t so much what they were doing, we’re just turning the ball over. A couple of times they had length on Trae when they were guarding him, then you got big Valanciunas who was trapping at times. A couple of times they were really unforced, us turning the basketball over more so than what they were doing defensively.”

“They’ve got a lot of good wing defenders,” said Young when asked about the Hawks’ nine first quarter turnovers. “They’ve got a lot of guys who have some size and length on the wing and they made some good reads. They were really pulling in to help on the roller and the guy who had to guard two made a good job of picking the right one. I made a couple of turnovers in picking the wrong one. You’ve got to tip your hat to them on making the right reads and give them credit sometimes.”

Those would seem to contradict each other but they’re actually both right.

There were times where the Hawks did just give the ball away, such as this outlet pass from Young (off of which the Pelicans score):

An out-of-bounds blunder between Kevin Huerter and Young (leading to another New Orleans basket):

Young gets trapped in two minds and makes the wrong pass:

And off of a missed shot at the rim off a Hawks turnover, Huerter is surprised by Alvarado from behind, leading to another turnover, basket and then a timeout:

Young committed five turnovers alone in the first quarter, some of which we’ve seen but the others fit into the description Young gave on the Pelicans anticipating some of their passes.

With the camera view on this possession, you get a good sense as to how this was the case as Young favors one side of the court before his pass to the weakside is picked off by the player ‘having to guard two players:’

Different side of the court, same outcome:

Rinse and repeat:

“I did a bad job turning the ball over in the first quarter and they got out to a big lead,” admitted Young postgame. “I didn’t give us a chance to really score in the first quarter. We fought hard to get ourselves back in the game but it was too much to overcome and our first quarter really hurt us tonight.”

So, McMillan and Young are both correct in their assessments of the first quarter turnovers but the result was ultimately the same and led to the same problem.

“It’s tough to get anything going when you turn the ball over nine times,” said McMillan.

The Hawks did well enough to plug away after this and while they mounted a solid fourth quarter comeback, McMillan believed the Hawks had more than enough time to make said comeback.

“We had plenty of time to do that,” said McMillan when asked if the Hawks had dug themselves too deep a hole that they couldn’t get out of. “It was a really bad start, slow start. Nine turnovers in that first quarter, just dug ourselves a hole. They got momentum and was able to get a lot of easy points off of our turnovers in transition. We know we’ve got to do a better job taking care of the ball and I think we had nine turnovers in that first quarter. But you’ve got three quarters to try get it back. I thought we just didn’t react to that, come out aggressive. I thought the second unit did give us a little bit of momentum when they came in. But we’ve got to get dirty and make some plays early in that game.”

The Hawks are the league leaders in turnovers per game — averaging just 11.9 turnovers per game — so this was a pretty uncharacteristic night from that point of view. The Hawks committed 16 turnovers in total for the game (leading to 17 New Orleans points), accruing just seven turnovers over the remaining three quarters, committing just one turnover in the fourth quarter: a quarter where the Hawks outscored the Pelicans 36-26.

“That’s the intensity you need to see in that second quarter,” said McMillan of the fourth quarter. “Getting off to a bad start, that type of sense of urgency that we showed in that fourth quarter.”

Down the stretch, Jonas Valanciunas was huge for the Pelicans not only in scoring but also creating extra possessions with his offensive rebounding: grabbing four offensive rebounds. Jackson Hayes also caused carnage on the offensive glass, snatching six offensive rebounds as the Pelicans grabbed 18 offensive rebounds in total, leading to 14 second chance points.

The Hawks — already without John Collins to help on the glass — considered a lineup tweak involving Onyeka Okongwu during the game to help with this issue but the scoring efforts of Danilo Gallinari led McMillan to think otherwise.

“We talked about Onyeka, going with two bigs,” said McMillan. “But Gallo was the one guy who was scoring for us so we needed his shooting on the floor as well. What we have to do in a situations like that is try to gain rebounds. We knew this team is a really good offensive rebounding team with their length and their size. That was going to be an issue and that was a key that we get in and help on the boards tonight.”

Gallinari scored a season-high 27 points on 11-of-21 shooting from the field, including 18 first half points, 16 of those coming in the second quarter alone. Gallinari was one of a few Hawks who excelled offensively last night. Sadly for the hosts, a number of players struggled. Young obviously endured a torrid first quarter and would eventually shoot 5-of-14 from the field and Kevin Huerter did not look like himself as he went scoreless on 0-of-5 from the field in just 18 minutes.

The Hawks, to be fair, did do well to hold McCollum to 9-of-26 from the field and Hunter played a solid role in that as he guarded McCollum but it was mostly the efforts of Wright who, when guarding McCollum, held him to 2-of-8 shooting.

The Hawks showed good spirit and fight in the fourth quarter to make this a game and you could argue were very unlucky to be called for an extremely soft foul on Young to send Alavardo to the line to make it a four point game, but the reality is that would have been a heist for the Hawks — they didn’t deserve to win this game.

The Hawks were incredibly poor and lax to begin this game in game number 71 of the season, a season that has already shown to be far below expectations set prior to the season and the Hawks jostling for play-in seeding, and to come out like that in late March when every game is important was honestly really poor from the Hawks. Unti

Yes, the Hawks are missing John Collins — which definitely hurt in this spot given how things unfolded on the glass — but the Pelicans were missing significantly more important pieces to their team last last night and that statement is still true when you remove Zion Williamson from that conversation.

You could ease the blow by saying ‘it’s the Hawks’ first home loss since February 11th’ but that doesn’t mean this wasn’t a bad loss. The Pelicans deserve credit: they came in as underdogs, executed on defense well in the first quarter to create some of those turnovers, scored off of those turnovers, dominated the offensive glass, and still won the game despite McCollum shooting 9-of-26 from the field while all the while surrendering a 15 point lead in the fourth quarter. They deserved it.

The Hawks (35-36) are back in action on Tuesday, the first night of a road back-to-back which begins in New York against the languishing Knicks (30-41).

Until next time...