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Hawks slip late in disappointing loss to Pistons

An overtime loss for the visitors on Monday night.

Atlanta Hawks v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks fell to a disappointing loss in Detroit on Monday night, falling in overtime to the Pistons 113-110.

Without Kevin Huerter — sidelined with left shoulder soreness — the Hawks were led by Bogdan Bogdanovic’s 22 points. John Collins returned to the starting lineup and scored 17 points.

For the Pistons, Cade Cunningham scored 28 points and dished out 10 assists while Jerami Grant added 23 points.

The Pistons’ 17-47 record heading into last night’s game may tell one story but their recent form tells another. The Pistons were 5-2 heading over their last seven games into proceedings last night and had beaten some solid teams along the way — teams with similar aspirations as the Hawks — such as the Boston Celtics, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors and the Charlotte Hornets during that stretch.

This contest was a tight affair for most of the game: 30 lead changes and 17 ties reflect a back-and-forth game, neither side establishing a double-digit lead at all during the 53 minutes.

Let’s journey to the fourth quarter and how the Hawks seemed to have the game secured, then appeared to lose it and then appeared to have it secured again, only to end up with a split in between at the end of regulation.

Let’s start with this go-ahead basket by Bogdanovic, giving the Hawks a one point lead with 2:45 remaining:

A big basket from Bogdanovic having missed his last two threes in the quarter.

The Pistons respond immediately through Cade Cunningham, who gets the switch on Bogdanovic and a very-nifty, quick drop of the shoulder frees him up for the basket:

The Hawks’ response is dull as Trae Young’s attempted pass into the front-court is easily picked off, resulting in a turnover:

The Pistons double their lead as an airball from Isaiah Livers is gathered by Killian Hayes, who angles himself into Bogdanovic, drawing the foul and free throws; which he splits:

The foul would mark Bogdanovic’s fourth.

The Hawks would draw a foul through Young on a three which the Pistons would successfully challenge, resulting in a jump-ball. The Hawks won this jump and a after a could of perimeter attempts, Bogdanovic boxes out Cunningham to grab the offensive rebound, score at the rim and draw the foul; bringing back those points that the Pistons challenged to avoid:

On the next play the Hawks initially seemed as though they got the stop they needed but Clint Capela’s block on Cunningham is collected by Livers in the corner. Livers then hands the ball to Cunningham who drives to the rim and is, again, well contested by Capela forcing a miss. However, Bogdanovic’s tipped rebound is weak and ends up in the hands of Cunningham, who scores and draws the foul from Bogdanovic in the process:

A rough possession for Bogdanovic, who picked up his fifth foul — and a poor foul — in the process of this. A shame that Capela’s efforts on this possession counted for naught in the end: he made Cunningham’s life here very tough and did everything he needed to.

Cunningham, critically, would miss the free throw and the Hawks would retake the lead through De’Andre Hunter, who streaks in transition catching the Pistons napping and draws the foul and free throws:

Hunter hits the two free throws to give the Hawks the lead with under a minute to go and the Pistons call for a timeout. Out of said timeout Livers misses a good three-looking three from the corner:

A good contest from Hunter here and, as the Hawks call for a timeout to get Trae Young back into the game, the visitors are in the commanding position. They have the ball with under 30 seconds remaining and the lead. They get the switch they want with Saddiq Bey guarding Trae Young out top but Young’s fade-away shot is short:

Not a great shot from Young from the point of view he had hit very little all game and you’d ask yourself was this likely to go down given how the night had unfolded? Despite this, the Pistons — after taking their time calling their timeout — only have 1.6 seconds to score once they get the ball inbounds. All the Hawks have to do is not foul, make it tough on the catch and force a tough shot: very easily achievable given the time frame. Sadly for the Hawks, they fall at the first hurdle as Bogdanovic picks up his sixth foul as he bumps Cunningham from behind just as he catches:

On viewing, I had mixed views on whether this was actually a foul but the Hawks used their challenge earlier in the game so that avenue was closed to them. On the call, Dominique Wilkins immediately conceded that this was a foul and there was little protest from Hawks head coach Nate McMillan either on the sideline.

Now, all of a sudden, the Hawks are in a dire situation where two free throws from Cunningham puts them behind with 1.6 remaining. Cunningham dispatches the free throws and the Hawks call for a timeout, now in a situation they should not be.

Out of their timeout, they are handed an absolute gift as Marvin Bagley incredulously fouls Collins at the rim, just completely clatters into Collins at the rim and gives the Hawks the chance to take this lead back and for good, with no timeouts remaining for the Pistons:

But Collins splits the free throws and to overtime we go.

In overtime the key stretch was the part where the Pistons created that five point buffer earlier in the period, beginning with this Cunningham three as the Hawks go under the screen and the Pistons doing a good job creating separation for him:

The Hawks miss two opportunities to respond, the first coming from Young’s missed shot at the rim and when he gathers the miss, fires the ball out to Delon Wright who misses the three:

The Pistons then extend their lead to five points as Collins’ efforts to draw a foul is ignored by the officials as Bagley barrels through Collins and scores the basket:

This turned out to be the difference: this cushion right here that the Pistons built. The Hawks never got this lead below three points the rest of the way as the sides exchanged baskets. That said, down three at the end of the game and with the ball, the Hawks had chances to tie the game again, first with Young and then a rushed Hunter as the clock expires:

Thus sums up a rough loss for the Atlanta Hawks, who were considerable favorites heading into last night’s game and, really, should have tucked this game away. The Pistons, to their credit, have played well and especially in close games. Bally Sports put forward a stat that the Pistons are 8-2 (now 9-2) in games decided by five points or less since January 1st — the Pistons have been finishing games of late and are reaping the rewards for it.

For the Hawks and head coach Nate McMillan, that was the issue last night.

“It’s about finishing,” said McMillan postgame. “Go back to regulation; we had opportunities to finish there as well as overtime. Finishing is getting stops, executing offensively and making shots.”

The Hawks didn’t shoot awful percentages or struggle massively in a quarter that allowed the Pistons back in. They just didn’t do enough to create consistent separation. Their offense wasn’t poor, it just wasn’t great.

“I don’t think it was necessarily the best,” said Young of the Hawks’ execution. “I don’t think us scoring at all the way we played throughout the whole game offensively was our best today. Including me. I think we brought it defensively, they scored 100 points in regulation so that’s good defense but not being able to score and push the ball — I don’t think we had the right mind-set coming into the game. I think we needed to play a little faster — they switched a lot — I think we should have played a little bit faster and not let them get into the half-court game as much.”

Young himself really struggled in this game. Despite a strong first quarter where he scored eight points, Young would only muster six points for not only the rest of the game but overtime too, scoring 14 points on 5-of-20 shooting from the field.

“I feel like I got to my spots and getting it going early, I even felt I shot some shots I usually make,” said Young of his struggles. “Just didn’t see it go in, didn’t get into a good rhythm when I came back in after the first quarter. Just got to be better after that first quarter and stay with it.”

Young may have had 12 assists in this game but it was a struggle offensively and he did not play well at all, sadly for the visitors. A shame because quite a number of Hawks played quite well. Capela was active defensively and the Hawks received strong boosts from Wright, Williams and Danilo Gallinari (in the second quarter) — Wright in particular was active defensively in passing lanes and just in general defensively. One of his better games this season.

Bogdanovic led the Hawks in scoring with 22 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field and 2-of-11 from three. Bogdanovic hit some big shots and made some big plays but in the fourth quarter there were definitely shots that were ill-advised and very similar to the shots that Young would receive flack for had he taken them — shots like this:

And obviously there were his fouls late on, costly fouls — every foul he had in the fourth quarter (three of them) led to Pistons free throws. The Hawks can consider themselves fortunate the Pistons missed a number of them. Of the late foul with 1.6 seconds remaining, Nate McMillan shared postgame the explanation he was given.

“He said he had his arm wrapped around,” said McMillan on the explanation he was given for Bogdanovic’s foul. “Situation like that, it’s been that kind of contact all night long. Basically he said that his arm was wrapped around the player.”

When McMillan says there had been contact similar to that all night long, I’d imagine he’s alluding to the fact that there was contact of that ilk but it wasn’t called.

Bogdanovic himself believes calls like that aren’t normally made at the end of games, trying to dance around words that would see him fined but that none of it would bring back the win that slipped away.

“I don’t know what to say, whatever I say I can be wrong,” said Bogdanovic when asked about his late foul. “But I remember when we played Phoenix on the road and Chris Paul was guarding, it was Chris Paul and D-Hunt. I’ve been in the league for a while already and I’ve played the game for a while and at the end (of the game) you don’t call these calls. Even if I grab him from the back or whatever, you can see the player’s reaction. It wasn’t like ‘I fouled him’, he was like ‘I didn’t touch the ball.’ But it doesn’t matter, we lost the game. Whatever I say right now isn’t going to fix it. I don’t know what to say. I feel bad that I did it. I didn’t have any intention to foul the guy there. I saw the ball coming in — it was a terrible pass, it was so low — and I just knock it down, it’s a natural reaction. But what can you do now? Nothing.”

“I didn’t necessarily think it was a foul that Bogi got called but we were still in a position to go to overtime,” added Young. “Can’t throw it all on one mistake, I feel like there was a lot of mistakes throughout the game that we could have been better at, top to bottom. I think we’ll be better and we’ve got to be better.”

Young is correct: this was not the reason the Hawks lost this game, nor Collins splitting those free throws late on (though, neither obviously helped the Hawks’ cause to win the game in those moments) — their issues are larger than that.

One of them, noted by Peachtree Hoops’ Glen Willis, revolves around the Hawks’ lack of pick-and-roll. When that notion was put to Young postgame, he cited an increase in switch defensive coverage against the Hawks.

“A lot of teams are switching,” said Young. “You run a lot of pick-and-roll teams are going to switch and then you get into a lot of throwing it into the big and everybody standing or you get into a lot of switches. A lot of teams that we’ve played recently have been switching teams. Game-by-game it’s a different adjustment. Milwaukee (Atlanta’s next opponent), it’s a different style — maybe more pick-and-rolls next game because of their drop coverage. But if they’re switching it’s hard to run a pick-and-roll because if you’re going to switch they’re just switching every time. I’ve been one of the best PG’s with our bigs in pick-and-rolls the last few years but teams know that’s what we do. They’re guarding that lob and making sure we don’t beat them by the lob and stay in front of us.”

I can’t count how many Hawks lobs I’ve seen broken up by teams this year — it’s been a problem, one that the Hawks need to examine because without their pick-and-roll their lives are that much harder.

Glen is more qualified to discuss the problem above than I am, and the point I’ll make today is that this is just another game the Hawks didn’t take seriously.

It’s been a tired tale this season for the Hawks: they’ve played good teams well and have been lacklustre against poorer teams. Time after time I feel like we’ve listened and read quotes from the Hawks about their mindset/approach when playing teams with worse records, or teams with notable players missing and the Hawks aren’t able to overcome.

Last night was no exception in the aftermath of the loss.

“It feels like we’ve showed up more against the higher seeded teams in the league and we’ve got to have that same mindset every game,” said Young. “I just don’t think we had it coming into today. We had it early on and had it going but weren’t able to sustain it and they were keeping it close. A lot of this teams in this league just want to keep it close at the end of games and see what happens. I think they did a great job of keeping it close and they made a couple more plays than we did at the end.”

McMillan was asked whether the Hawks were nervous playing a team the Hawks ‘should beat’ but the reality is the Hawks have been here so often this season that it’s just part of who this team this season. They don’t and haven’t taken these games seriously enough all season, despite the stakes of their season shrivelling to just getting into the play-in and seeing what happens from there, as any hopes of a top-6 seed and a playoff berth have basically vanished. Nevertheless, McMillan answered the original question.

“You don’t get nervous about it,” responded McMillan. “You know this team is playing loose, playing free, they’re playing hard and you try prepare your team for that. You don’t play the record of the opponent you play the game. They’re 5-5 in their last 10, they’ve won their last two. They play with a lot of energy, they’re on the attack for 48 minutes. So you prepare your team for it. We understand their record and all of that but you can’t play the record, you’ve got to play the game.”

Words are one thing but the constant we’ve seen this season is that the Hawks have played the record and not the game and nothing seems to be changing despite how often it happens and how often the Hawks have talked about it. Maybe a switch will be flipped when the play-in arrives and the Hawks’ season is actually at stake but for now, another solid chance at a victory (and a chance to finally return to .500) goes astray again.

Don’t get me wrong: the Pistons played well and have been playing well and kept things close all game long and made that first push in overtime, made those plays and deserved to win. Cunningham played well last night, showing why he was selected first overall last year and was able to score in the fourth quarter and overtime, making those plays to lift his team to victory.

The Hawks (31-33) are back in action on Wednesday night in Milwaukee to take on the defending champions: the Bucks (40-25), who will be on the second night of a back-to-back when the Hawks arrive at Fiserv Forum.

Until next time...