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Hawks outgunned by Knicks, stumble to 0-2 on the season

Some good in a rough home opener.

New York Knicks v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Hawks came into Friday night hoping to prove that Wednesday’s season opener against the Charlotte Hornets was just a blip. And while the contest against the Knicks was a completely different game than the previous one, the Hawks were unable to get out of their own way in a second straight loss to begin the 2023-24 season, 126-120.

De’Andre Hunter certainly shined — at least on the offensive end — as the standout Hawk of the night. He finished with a team-high 27 points on 8-for-13 (62%) shooting from the field and six rebounds to boot. He was in constant attack mode and earned himself easy chances at the rim and from the free throw line after drawing contact.

Here, he cuts into open space against a Knicks defense attempting to recover from the initial action. Saddiq Bey finds Hunter heading to the rim with a great pass.

Then, he and Clint Capela run a two-man game at the left elbow. This is far from Capela’s forte, but Hunter’s curl off the fake dribble-handoff gives Capela a window to make the pass.

That decisiveness from ‘Dre’ paid dividends from deep as well. On this ‘get’ — a two-part ‘DHO’ where the ball handler receives ball as he’s motioning toward the screen — Hunter did damage as well. Julius Randle went under Clint Capela’s pick which opened up a step-back opportunity.

Finally, after Hunter gives up the ball, two players turn their attention to sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic. The quick cut forms a give-and-go with Onyeka Okongwu, and Isaiah Hartenstein has no choice but to concede free throws.

“It was a little different,” De’Andre Hunter had to say about head coach Quin Snyder’s new offense. “I usually shoot more mid-range shots, but [Snyder has] just empowered me to take more threes while also taking those mid-range shots as well. So I tried to do that tonight.”

Jalen Johnson got the home crowd going on multiple occasions, providing a spark to State Farm Arena to break up long lulls. By now, you should have been witness to these two powerful finishes.

He finished with 11 points on 5-for-8 (68%) shooting and nine rebounds in a second straight impressive outing on both ends.

Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the Hawks’ team defense, which surrendered 20-of-44 three-point shooting (46%) to a New York Knicks team that finished 19th in three-point shooting a year ago.

The size and strength of RJ Barrett and Julius Randle gave the Hawks trouble early on, and that led to sending bodies their direction as the game progressed. The pair generally made the right reads under pressure and found shooters on the perimeter for open looks. And New York seemingly knocked every open triple down — at least through three quarters.

Here, both Hunter and Dejounte Murray sink to the nail, and there is a lot of confusion on who should pick up Jalen Brunson.

Later on, Randle collapses the defense from post up position. With all five players watching him in the paint, Hunter is forced to zone the two weak side spot up shooters. The fatal flaw here was jumping toward Quentin Grimes in the corner prematurely.

The Hawks even attempted to limit the penetration and kick game by going to a 3-2 zone defense for a couple of possessions in the middle of the second quarter but to no avail. Watch as Donte DiVincenzo lifts from the corner with little backside attention to tip off what defense the Hawks used here. But matador defense from Bogdanovic gives Immanuel Quickley a runway to the lane nonetheless.

These mistakes were early and often. And as a result, the Knicks bludgeoned the Hawks from deep through three quarters, going 19-for-35 for a blistering 54% shooting efficiency. Additionally, the 51% three-point rate meant the majority of their attempts generated were from three through 36 minutes. New York cooled off in the fourth, but the damage had largely been done.

Quin Snyder talked about the lack of defensive execution, saying, “[w]hen you’re in help situations, guys are gonna get some looks. But when we’re guarding the ball, we have our hands down. Just simple things like that where we have to have discipline. And there were stretches when we started doing it, and it was helpful. They’ll still make some of them. But you have to do everything you can to make that shot harder.”

Trae Young keyed in on the Knicks’ physicality, explaining, “[t]hey play physical. You got to match their physicality. They hit a lot of open shots. We were playing on top of defense helping and shifting. We had to get out of it because they were hitting some threes.”

“I don’t know that our rotation has kind of jumped out,” coach Snyder had to say about the rotation and matchups Friday night. “The rotation has been different both nights. Brought Jalen [Johnson] back to get a matchup on Randle for a little bit. The other night, [Hunter] was in foul trouble. We put [Hunter] on Brunson. He was in foul trouble early. So we couldn’t make that cross-match.”

Despite everything, the Hawks had a chance down the stretch of the fourth quarter to steal the game. Below, Trae Young sets Clint Capela up with a perfect chance to cut the lead to five with 1:30 left. The rest did not go according to plan.

Later, after the Knicks turned the ball over for the third time in the final 80 seconds, the Hawks had the ball down two with 24.5 on the clock. Young rejects the screen and jets past the Grimes, but Capela can’t corral the lob attempt as Mitchell Robinson long arm may have just thrown the timing off.

And, for good measure, Young himself misses a gimme at the rim down four points.

Young, however, didn’t want to dwell solely on the late possessions, saying, “[i]f we played better throughout the first three quarters, we wouldn’t have been in that position. So you can’t focus only on the last couple possessions because there’s a lot of other possessions before that led up to that and put us in that position.”

“I think you can point to a lot of things,” said Snyder talking about the execution from his team. The umbrella for me is just our lack of execution in a lot of different situations. Things that I know that we’ve talked about, we’ve worked on. And we’ve got to be more focused on in the course of the game. And we’ve got to communicate to one another in order to do those things.”

“And it wasn’t just one or two things,” he continued. “It was a number of things, and still we put ourselves in a position where we have a chance to win. I was obviously happy with the way we battled back in the fourth quarter. But we made too many mistakes relative to execution on the gameplan.”

“I’m trusting this process,” reflected Young. “I know it’s a long season. Every year is different, so I don’t try to judge it on past years and how we’ve started seasons. ‘Cause we’ve started seasons really good and ended up very mid throughout the whole year. So what if we start out very bad this year and we end up really great this year? So I’m trying to keep that positive mindset. And I feel like we have the talent to do it. And it’s just gonna take more time and more reps for us to get it going.”

“I haven’t had a coach that preaches getting up threes,” Young later said about his head coach. “Getting up threes and getting to the basket. Get layups and attack the glass when we shoot. This is a whole different scheme. Every coach brings something new and something different. And he’s been one of the best coaches in our business since he’s been coaching in the league. So we believe in him. We trust what he’s given us. We just got to get more reps under it and get our offense back to where it needs to be. And where it should be. I believe it’ll happen sooner than later for sure.”

The Hawks will be back in action on Sunday evening in Milwaukee to take on Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.