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Hawks unable to hold off Memphis momentum in loss to Grizzlies

The Hawks could not find a way to top the reinvigorated Memphis Grizzlies.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks were unable to avenge their Friday night loss with victory at home on Saturday night as the Hawks fell to the Memphis Grizzlies, 125-119, at State Farm Arena.

Trae Young notched his seventh straight game of 30+ points and 10+ assists with a 30-point, 13-assist performance. Dejounte Murray added 26 points for a Hawks side missing De’Andre Hunter for the second consecutive game with knee soreness. For the Grizzlies, Desmond Bane scored 37 points and Ja Morant added 30 points and 11 assists.

In an entertaining affair at State Farm Arena before the holidays, the Hawks and Grizzlies — despite officiating gripes — put on a good show, with the game tightly contested for most of the game — the exception being when the Hawks led by double-digits at the end of the second quarter, but this lead was quickly wiped away to begin the third quarter before Memphis took the lead themselves.

A 9-0 run in the fourth quarter for the Grizzlies when the game was tied at 106 proved to be the difference, so let’s take a look at it.

It began with the Hawks playing for the chance to retake the lead with a fastbreak opportunity with Young leading the charge and passing off to Bogdan Bogdanovic, who can’t hit the three after positioning himself. Off the rebound, the Grizzlies immediately push with Bane, who hits the pull-up three:

Hawks head coach Quin Snyder would later call this sequence “deflating” in his postgame interview.

The Hawks respond by working themselves into a great spot with Young and Clint Capela drawing the defense away from the back-pedaling Bogdanovic, who gets an open shot at a three but cannot convert:

The Grizzlies get themselves back on the scoreline with a free throw from Santi Aldama after the foul from Onyeka Okongwu:

The Hawks are again limited to a perimeter shot, this one coming from Okongwu in the corner:

This wasn’t the most ideal shot for the Hawks in this spot because Okongwu is...not a prolific three-point shooter, and a contested shot in the corner in the fourth quarter with 15 seconds on the shotclock isn’t the offense the Hawks need at this point in the game. Off the ball, Young wasn’t too pleased with the contact from Bane on his attempted screen:

The Hawks manage to produce a stop but cannot stop the run as Okongwu hesitates underneath the basket after he’s found by a driving Bogdanovic and the shot slips out of his hands and as he catches it he’s called for a travel:

You’d like to see Okongwu take this up first time, and the Hawks let an easier opportunity get away from them after being limited to perimeter shots on this run so far.

The Grizzlies ensure they don’t suffer back-to-back empty trips as their initial attack is thwarted by Clint Capela stepping in front of the driving Bane but the loose ball is collected by Bismack Biyombo, who offloads the ball to the relocating Bane who gets his feet pointed perfectly to set him up for the corner three:

It’s a classic problem the Hawks have when Capela has to come over and contest a shot to bail out the perimeter defense: when Capela shifts over there’s no one there to collect the rebound and the Grizzlies punish the Hawks for not securing the rebound.

On the Hawks’ next trip offensively, Young gets inside to the rim but his left-handed layup is too strong and the shot is missed:

After procuring another stop, the Hawks get a decent look at a jumper after Murray gets the runaround on Morant but can’t convert:

To cap off the 9-0 run, Morant attacks Young and his runner goes down:

Tough one for Young, who does very well here to stay in front of Morant and can consider himself unfortunate that Morant has scored here.

The Hawks were playing ‘catch up’ from this point on, and while a three from Saddiq Bey helped trim the lead the game began to fall away again when the officials missed a goal-tending call on a Bogdanovic shot near the rim and Young then is called for a take foul:

The missed goaltend was obviously a pretty bad call that would have brought the Hawks within four points, instead Bane is hitting a free throw to put the Hawks up by seven points. It was one of several poor calls made during the game, and it was surprising that no technical fouls were handed out, given Young and Quin Snyder made their displeasure known even from the very opening phases of the game, and in a more calculated manner speaking postgame.

“I thought that was one of those games played at a high level,” said Snyder. “Defensively in the first half we were good. Bane got hot, we missed some shots and they converted on the other end. There were some key plays, there was a goaltend that... that didn’t look like a goaltend. I thought that was a big play, and then we had a take foul that was a tough break. We’ve got to play through those things and that’s part of it for us. Adversity late but I didn’t think we got rattled and we kept playing. Some loose balls really hurt us late too.”

Clint Capela in particular made his thoughts on the officiating known and described how those calls can impact a team. “There’s a lot of calls we didn’t agree with,” said Capela. “It’s never easy emotionally. As a player we compete, we give the that best we can and it’s hard to just let it go. At the same time, you don’t want it to affect your whole team, your whole energy, which is happening to us sometimes. It’s hard, honestly it’s hard to just agree with the refs and not saying anything. We just definitely disagree with some of them.”

Capela’s comments also seemed to suggest that the officials knew it was Morant — a shot-blocking guard capable of explosive blocks — and the no-call was a reputation call. “Sometimes I think it’s because it’s a certain player they’d rather just let it go,” said Capela. “I saw it was a goal-tend but I also saw who blocked the shot, so, I don’t know.”

In another question later in his availability, Capela chimed in mid-question to circle back to the officiating and how he wouldn’t receive the same treatment in block calls.

“When it’s me they call it goaltending!” quipped Capela later. “That’s all I’m saying. When I block the shot, if it goes down they don’t give it to me, from what I remember. I don’t get that ... at some point we have referees, referees are supposed to regulate the game if there’s a situation where something crazy happens but if it’s not in the rules of the game just call it. Like I said, I do not get those type of blocks.”

Capela’s ire at the situation — as much as he chuckled about it in his last answer — was clearly present and I would be surprised if he doesn’t part with a solid chunk of change this Christmas in the form of a fine. It’s not to say what he’s saying is incorrect. Let’s call a spade a spade: it was a bad call, and, as Capela alluded to, it likely was a reputation call. It happens in this league.

While they didn’t help the cause, the poor officiating wasn’t the reason the Hawks looked towards as the reason they lost this game. Both Young and Capela pinpointed that third quarter — a quarter where the Grizzlies hung 40 points on the hosts — as a turning point having taken a 12-point lead with the first bucket of the second half.

“Really think that third quarter they scored too many points, the way we came in wasn’t right,” said Capela. “I felt we allowed them to get back into this game with confidence. In the NBA when you get that confidence back it makes your job harder and that was the case.”

On the second night of a back-to-back — with injuries/absences to the likes of Hunter and A.J. Griffin — Young believed the Hawks didn’t quite have the energy in the second half.

“It was a little flat,” said Young of the energy in the second half on a back-to-back. “It’s tough, we’re already down guys too it’s not like we have our full guys and full roster and we’re able to play through it. We’re also bringing guys up that were playing in the G League showcase this week. Seth was balling, had almost 30 at halftime in one game and now he’s playing with us. It’s throwing guys out there and trying to make plays. Guys are doing the best they can and we just fighting. We have lapses in the second half of these last few games that winning teams and good teams don’t have, and we’ve been having them and we’ve got to learn from them and get better.”

What did help the Grizzlies was Desmond Bane finding his feet after a six point first half showing before scoring 31 of his 37 points in the second half.

“I think they posted us early with Jackson and we broke down a bit but we cleaned that up,” said Snyder of Bane. “He got some clean looks in transition and we started to blitz him in pick-and-roll. There was a few broken plays where he just ended up with the ball. There were a few times where we guarded him well and he made shots, and that’s really what you want is to make him take tough shots. It was a little bit too easy. He’s good, obviously.”

A large portion of Bane’s work in the second half was done in transition and in the open court, and some of this helped contribute to 76 points in the paint for Memphis.

“Your offense versus your defense when you miss shots, especially when we drive the ball to the rim, they have numbers in transition and they laid it in too much in the paint in full court,” said Snyder of the points in the paint. “Then some of it was the glass, some of it was post-ups, some of it I thought we did a good job trying to get to shooters and running people off the line but getting to the rim. A number of things.

“We’ve got to be really connected. We don’t take up that much space so it’s tough to shift and stop penetration when you’ve got Bane over here... Ja Morant going through the nail through the foul line and Desmond Bane sitting there in the high quadrant, that’s a tough mix.”

When Morant was on the bench in the third quarter, Bane came alive and it was these stretches both in the third and fourth quarter that arguably undid the Hawks as Memphis continued to hold their lead with their star on the bench.

“He got going in that second half, he’s the type of guy who doesn’t stop shooting,” said Young of Bane. “He’s like Bogi for us: he can get hot and get them going and got them back into the game. The NBA is a long game, the lead is never safe both ways. We let them back into the game and a few plays here and there is what determines a game when it’s that close.”

The performances that Bane and Biyombo put in while Morant was on the bench and Jaren Jackson Jr. in foul trouble were hugely important to Memphis. The Hawks, meanwhile, had to dip deep into their rotation with Garrison Mathews starting for Hunter and Snyder having to call upon Seth Lundy, who played 19 minutes and shot 1-of-7 from the field and 1-of-6 from three.

“He’s a competitor,” said Snyder of Lundy. “That’s the thing that stands out as much as anything. He’s probably upset he missed a couple of looks but the thing for me is that he takes them. I believe in him, his ability to shoot the ball. We need him to shoot when he’s in there and space the floor because a lot of times that’s what’s available. I think his toughness is one of his greatest assets.”

While Lundy missed shots last night, the shots he took were quality shots, and it was encouraging to see him confidently shoot it and continue to shoot the ball. That’s exactly what he’s in the game to do. It’s what Young encourages him to do too.

“You get more comfortable with what your shots are going to be and who you’re out there with and how to play, the more you play,” said Young of Lundy. “He got into the game earlier tonight played a little more — I think he knew he was going to play a little bit more tonight and that helps too. When you’re on the floor with me I’m telling you 24/7 to shoot the ball when you catch it because for the most part guys his guy is going to be helping and so you’re going to get good looks and good shots. He had some good shots, when he took some shots off the first catch then nobody’s saying nothing to him because we know he can shoot it. I know I want him to shoot it and I think my teammates do too. He’s going to knock some more shots down, he didn’t have a good rhythm tonight but he’ll knock them down in the next game.”

Going back to an earlier Young quote, he mentioned that Lundy had a game where he had nearly 30 before halftime. It highlights that Young certainly is aware of what some of their players are doing in the G League which is a nice touch of awareness and support I think. It doesn’t necessarily translate to anything on the court but a pleasant side note.

The rotation at this stage with Jalen Johnson still out means we see more of the Capela-Okongwu lineup, and it was one that was seen quite a bit last night. While there are offensive concerns as it pushes Okongwu towards the perimeter, where he’s not quite there as an outside shooter yet, there were encouraging exchanges between Capela and Okognwu offensively last night, this first one coming when it was Okongwu as the roll man, finding Capela at the basket for the easy finish:

The second assist comes from Okongwu in the corner as he whips the pass to Capela in the paint, and Capela finishes again:

“I love it because defensively we’re there but offensively I really feel whenever I’m in a situation where I can dish to him for an easy basket I’m doing it,” said Capela of the offensive with Okongwu. “Tonight he was in a position to do so and I was able to get two easy buckets and I love that out of him. He reminds me of that unselfishness when you see someone open to give it to them for an easy baskets. He always brings positive energy especially on the defensive end when we get easy buckets like that.”

Capela was one of a few Hawks who turned in great performances, Capela scoring 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting as well as another perfect night at the free throw line, hitting all four of his free throws to take his consecutive free throw makes to 17. In addition, Capela grabbed 12 rebounds (five of them offensive boards) and blocked two shots. This was a great game for him and despite the size of the Grizzlies causing issues at times when he was drawn away from bodies on the rebound challenging shots, Capela was fantastic in this matchup.

Dejounte Murray also enjoyed a fine performance, scoring 26 points 10-of-15 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 from three. It felt as though when the Hawks needed a three-point basket, Murray was the one who stepped up and would hit the shot. He was quiet in the fourth quarter but still a fine game from Murray.

Trae Young continued his streak of 30 points and 10 assists but as he was being asked about it postgame he interrupted and asked for the next question, not wanting to get drawn into his own stats. For the game itself, Young shot well from the floor (10-of-24), but what was more impressive was his 13 assists with just two turnovers in a good turnover game for the Hawks, who committed just 10.

You look at the Grizzlies boxscore and with just three players in double-digit scoring to the Hawks’ six, you’d be forgiven for asking how it went wrong for them. The Grizzlies three double-digit scoring efforts (from Bane, Morant, and Jackson Jr.) yielded 37, 30 and 20 points respectively, and the rest of the Grizzlies’ nine man rotation all contributed. It all added up. The Hawks’ eight man rotation featured a scoreless night from Mathews and just three from Lundy, and it showed in the end.

The officiating didn’t help, but Bane’s second half turnaround and performance with Morant on the bench — as well as that 9-0 run in the fourth — really swung this towards the visitors. As Young said, there are fine margins in the end, and when a couple of good looks from Bogdanovic don’t go down, a tough Okongwu corner three, a missed goaltend — combined those things can make the difference.

The Hawks (12-17) are back in action on Tuesday night when they take on the Chicago Bulls (13-18) at the United Center where the visitors hope they can call upon Jalen Johnson (and hopefully) others and begin to turn their season around against a similar placed opponent.

Happy holidays, and until next time!