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A glimpse into the Atlanta Hawks’ surprisingly slow opening quarters

Minnesota Timberwolves v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Hawks’ ongoing struggles with slow starts are evident, as seen in their recent clash against the Miami Heat. Despite facing a Heat lineup missing key players such as Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and Caleb Martin, Atlanta conceded a staggering 41 points in the opening quarter. While they’ve managed comebacks in previous games, they fell short against in this one. It’s crucial to note, however, that these concerning statistics are based on just a nine-game sample size.

In the first quarter, the Hawks possess the NBA’s second-worst defensive rating at 127.0, only surpassed by the Los Angeles Lakers, who currently hold a 5-5 record. Alongside this distinction, Atlanta allows an average of 15.3 points in the paint, ranking third-worst in the league and outperforming only the Indiana Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers.

Defensive struggles extend to fast break points, with the Hawks conceding 5.4 per first quarter, again ranking third-worst in the NBA. To contextualize these numbers, the Hawks allow just 6.6 fast break points in the entire second half this season.

Moving to the second quarter, the Hawks boast a more respectable defensive rating of 106.8, placing them 12th in the league. However, they still surrender six points per game on fast breaks, the highest in the NBA. For context, the Chicago Bulls, leading in this category, give up only 2.2 fast break points.

As the game progresses, the Hawks’ defensive rating improves to 112.5 in the third quarter and 106.1 in the fourth quarter, resulting in an overall defensive rating of 108.5 for quarters two, three, and four. This starkly contrasts with the alarming 127.0 rating in first quarters, bringing the overall to an 18th best 113.1 rating.

The first quarter stands out as the Achilles’ heel for the Hawks, reflected in their negative point differential during this period.

The second quarter slightly improves, and it’s an upward slope from there. On the bright side, the Hawks +3.2 point differential in fourth quarters is a very good sign. Starting slow is undoubtedly better than finishing slow. However, the Hawks still need to improve in the first to maximize their winning potential.

Opponents shoot over 53 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from three in the opening quarter, placing the Hawks among the bottom three teams in both categories. In contrast, opponents shoot 43.4 percent in the second (9th best), 49.2 percent in the third (21st), and 47.1 percent in the fourth quarter (18th), resulting in an overall opponent field goal percentage of 48.2 percent.

After surrendering 41 points in the first quarter against Miami, the Hawks tightened their defense, allowing only 76 points across the next three quarters. Despite outscoring the Heat during this period, they couldn’t overcome the 17-point deficit from the early stages. The Hawks also saw themselves in a hole vs the Minnesota Timberwolves. They allowed 42 points in the opening quarter, but then held the Timberwolves to just 71 points the rest of the game (23.7 points per quarter). Notably, the Hawks have faced deficits in six of their nine games going into the second quarter. While it has only been a double digit deficit once, they are entirely capable of limiting their mistakes early to avoid any deficit.

As the Atlanta Hawks still have 73 more games on their schedule, it might be premature to definitively label their slow starts as a trend. Nevertheless, the pattern has caught the attention of many fans. Looking ahead, the Hawks must prioritize more focus and energy in their opening quarters. Limiting these first quarter deficits is likely to translate into additional victories as the season unfolds.