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Hawks suffer first preseason loss in defeat to Pacers

The Hawks wrap up their preseason on Friday night.

Atlanta Hawks v Indiana Pacers Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks fell to their first preseason defeat on Monday night, falling 116-112 to the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Saddiq Bey led the Hawks in scoring with 21 points and 10 rebounds off the bench with De’Andre Hunter adding 16 points. For the Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton and Aaron Nesmith each scored 15 points.

Both sides came into this contest having made changes from their last outing — the Hawks rested Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, while Clint Capela again sat out. In their place, Kobe Bufkin and Bogdan Bogdanovic started in the backcourt, with De’Andre Hunter making his first preseason appearance starting alongside Jalen Johnson, with Onyeka Okongwu at the five. For the Pacers, most notably, All-Star Haliburton made his first appearance of the preseason.

For the game itself, matters were proceeding until in the second quarter where the Pacers outscored the Hawks 43-15 to take a lead as large as 29 points, blowing this game ultimately beyond the reach of the visitors.

The Pacers hitting seven threes in the quarter didn’t help but they also found themselves in the bonus with a significant amount of time remaining in the quarter and would shoot 8-of-11 from the stripe. Their ball movement was strong, too. 13 of their 14 baskets were assisted and they shot 63% from the field.

To a degree, you can live with what the Pacers did offensively in the second quarter — they hit 7 threes and they moved the ball well to create openings: give them credit. Conversely, where the Hawks struggled was on the offensive end scoring 15 points on 6-of-20 shooting. In particular, they found a stout Indiana defense that thwarted many of their attempts inside, Myles Turner in particular was fantastic in the second quarter defensively. Bruce Brown had a strong block on Bogdanovic inside, and Johnson’s three shot attempts in the second quarter all met strong defensive challenges.

The Hawks chipped away in the third quarter outscoring the Pacers 35-21. There wasn’t one player who put the team on their back, instead there were contributions all around — Bufkin finally got going from the field, Hunter hit some shots, and Bey and A.J. Griffin had input off the bench. The Hawks brought the lead down to single digits in the fourth quarter — down to seven points with 10:03 remaining after a Griffin three, but an 8-0 run for the Pacers out of the subsequent timeout brought the lead back to 15 and it was enough of a margin to hold on to. The Hawks brought the lead down to four on a few occasions but the Pacers always had a reply of some sort, whether it was from the free throw line or otherwise, and they held on to secure victory.

In terms of standouts from this contest, Bey scored 21 points on 7-of-10 from the field, 2-of-3 from three and 5-of-5 from the line to go with 10 rebounds. He looked good on the court despite not featuring in the last couple of games here, his defense (I thought, at least) looked better out on the floor and this is the improvement under Hawks head coach Quin Snyder that I’m interested to see come from Bey this season. Offensively, we know what Bey is capable of: he’s capable of nights exactly like this, but defensively could easily give most of it back. I thought he was solid last night defensively.

It was good to see Hunter back in the lineup and attacking early on en route to 15 points on 4-of-9 from the field and 7-of-9 from the free throw line.

It’s always encouraging to see Hunter attacking and I enjoyed that he was doing this from early offset of this game — you’d love to see him get to the line more because Hunter can have those 5-of-15 shooting nights and he can be a bit anonymous offensively but getting those points at the line on those nights when the shot doesn’t fall is big, and we’ve seen Young have nights like that where he may not have the shot but he’s getting to the line and it really helps.

It was encouraging to see Griffin enjoy his best game of the preseason so far after two particularly difficult games recently. Griffin scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 from three — he just looked like the A.J. Griffin from last season, smiling away after hitting this shot in the fourth:

He’ll be hoping for another strong outing to finish preseason and in doing so would go a long way to putting behind the struggles he has had thus far in the preseason and begin the regular season on encouraging notes.

Off the bench, Trent Forrest (4-of-5 from the field), Garrison Mathews (two threes in the fourth quarter) and Mouhamed Gueye were solid when they got their minutes and it was fun to see Wesley Matthews hit a three and whip-out his patented three-point celebration.

This play from Gueye was fun, a little 4/5 dribble-handoff action with Gueye pulling up from deep to connect on this three:

There were difficult nights to be had by a few Hawks. Bufkin in particular seemed to struggled quite a bit with the starting role. Defensively, it’s not even really worth looking at — he’s coming up against Haliburton to begin this game — so it’s not going to be favorable matchup. Offensively, Bufkin struggled, shooting 3-of-11 from the field. It was more so the first half that presented Bufkin with issues, settling at times shooting the ball (0-of-6) but did manage to find his way in the second half, all three of his field goals coming in the second as he shot 3-of-5.

It’ll be a good reference overall for Bufkin to learn from: 22 minutes will not be guaranteed most nights once the season kicks off. Haliburton is a quality guard to go against, and with pick-and-roll bigs like Turner on the other side there’ll be plenty to learn in that regard, too.

Elsewhere, it was somewhat of a return to earth for Jalen Johnson, scoring just four points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field. He chipped in with three assists but Johnson found this particular matchup inside to be a difficult one, especially in the second quarter with Turner making life difficult.

Bruno Fernando did not enjoy the best of games, five turnovers in particular a difficult one — quite a few of those were illegal screens. Being a fifth year pro now — and the part of the game that is arguably his strongest — you’d expect a little better from Fernando in some of these situations.

Miles Norris was a DNP-CD, and if you can’t get into the team on a night like this one, things would appear pretty clear on that matter. Still, Norris is on a two-way contract and will be heavily involved no doubt with the College Skyhawks setup, but a disappointing night for him not to see any time at all on a night like last night.

The Hawks (3-1) will wrap up their preseason on the road in Philadelphia on Friday night in a matchup against the Sixers. Will Snyder treat this as a full dress rehearsal with all of his guys playing together? We’ll find out in due course.

Until next time...