Seven Hawks scored in double-digits — with four players scoring 20 or more points — with Trae Young leading the way with 25 points and 14 assists. Clint Capela added a season-high 22 points. For the free-scoring Hornets, LaMelo Ball scored 30 points and dished out 15 assists while Terry Rozier added 29 points.
Despite the absence of John Collins from this game (left hip flexor soreness) — with recently acquired Saddiq Bey starting in his place — the Hawks were favored heading into this contest...as they should have been. Atlanta had won two in a row, the Hornets were 15-43 heading into last night and had lost their last seven games.
The hosts arrived ready for this game and ran out to a double-digit lead not too long into affairs in the first quarter as their hot shooting stuck around for pretty much the entire game. The Hawks, in contrast, were slow to begin and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think they probably underestimated their opponent (which is not anything new for this Hawks side). The Hornets shot the ball well but the Hawks’ defense was also quite poor.
Despite falling behind and playing catchup for most of the game up to the third quarter (in fact, the Hawks never led in this game nor would they from the point we’re about to pick things up) two Onyeka Okongwu free throws reduced the lead to three points (99-96) with 2:40 left in the third quarter. It was those final 2:40 that ended up proving pivotal for the Hawks’ entire fourth quarter as the Hornets built a 13 point lead heading into the fourth behind a 10-0 run.
Let’s look and see what went wrong for the Hawks in this stretch.
Atlanta actually had the opportunity to tie the game or cut the lead to one after a Charlotte turnover but AJ Griffin’s attempted floater inside bounces in-and-out, much to his audible dismay:
After a missed three from Rozier, the Hawks get two bites of the cherry on their next possession, the first of which a solid opening for a jumpshot for Bogdan Bogdanovic before De’Andre Hunter grabs the offensive rebound but his attempted follow-up is stripped by Rozier on the way up and the Hornets come away with the ball:
Good effort from Rozier here, to be fair — this was sure to be a certain basket from Hunter.
After a split pair of free throws from Nick Richards, the Hawks see another solid opportunity offensively. Young is doubled and gets the ball to Okongwu, who lifts the pass to the open Griffin in the corner. Griffin drives inside and, again, his attempted floater bounces in-and-out:
Griffin is defended well on the drive here but Okongwu didn’t do him any favors with the high delivery of the pass to the corner.
The Hawks get themselves another stop through a steal and Young charges in transition to lead the break but his attempted lob for Jalen Johnson is broken up and the Hornets come away with the ball:
Hindsight is 20-20 but Young would’ve been better off to go it alone on that possession — he had an open lane.
Bogdanovic commits a foul as the Hornets come in transition after that turnover and the hosts earn two free throws, sinking both to nudge the lead to six. In reply, Young drives to the rim but is unable to finish:
I’d like to see Johnson take it to the rim here, think he could’ve stepped around the defender here to challenge at the rim but ended up passing back out to Young.
In transition off of that miss, Ball takes former teammate Okongwu by surprise pulling up from deep, stretching the Hornets’ lead to nine points, Ball’s 14th of the quarter:
The Hawks get another solid look on offense on their next possession, this time through Bogdanovic, though his stepback jumper is long, and while it would eventually get the bounce it had gone out of bounds over the backboard before it dropped:
The Hornets may not have taken advantage initially of the Hawks’ misses to begin the final 2:40 of the third but certainly did so at the end of it, this time through Ball’s drive forcing the help defense from Johnson and when Ball kicks it to Bryce McGowens on the wing, Griffin is unable to get out and deter McGowens from making the three to give the Hornets an 11 point lead:
To wrap up a dismal end to the third, Young does well to work himself into an open three which is missed, and Okongwu is unable to follow through on the offensive rebound:
The Hornets would split another pair of Nick Richards free throws to push their lead to 13 points heading into the fourth — always a precarious situation where one mini-run from the Hornets blows the game open, and the Hornets did exactly that to take a game-high 17 point lead at the start of the fourth and while the Hawks tried to rally — and did so, bringing the gap down to one point with 1:17 remaining — they ultimately fell short.
This basket to give the Hornets a three point lead isn’t ideal, with Rozier’s run unchecked to get a layup with just over a minute remaining:
With a minute to go and plenty of time to steal this game, Young finds himself with an early switch on the perimeter in the form of Hornets center Mark Williams and when Young steps back to take the three it’s blocked by the long reach of Williams, who is found galloping in transition after the tap-ahead by Ball and finishes at the rim:
The Hawks had one more roll left: a layup from Young cutting the lead to five points with enough time that, if they get a stop, they can try for a tie. However, as was the case most of the night, no such stop came and the pick-and-pop with Ball and PJ Washington is a play the Hawks aren’t able to overcome and Washington hits the dagger three:
Not a great loss for the Atlanta Hawks. They did well enough to almost overturn the 17 point hole they fell in to begin the fourth quarter but it was just too little too late — they didn’t take this game as seriously as they should have from the jump. The Hornets shot the ball very well but the Hawks didn’t really make it difficult.
“We just have to come out with urgency and urgency on the defensive end of the floor,” said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan. “Establishing defense that we can get stops and teams are not putting up 30-plus quarters throughout the game as they did tonight.”
“We never really established, defensively, that we could get stops consistently,” McMillan added. “With 21 fastbreak points they basically got to their tempo and were the aggressive team.”
The Hornets scored 144 points on 63% shooting from the field, 54% from three on 20-of-37 from distance, 18-of-23 from the line to go along with 36 assists. The Hornets made some tough shots but both their offensive will and the Hawks’ defensive resistance were established early on.
“They made a lot more threes than we did, they shot a really good percentage from three and the two,” said Young. “They were getting layups and the first part of the game they really established the way they wanted to play. We were trying to switch up things through the entire game and felt like nothing was working. You’ve got to tip your hat off to them, they hit some tough shots. Terry hit some crazy shots with contests in his hand, LaMelo did the same thing. You’ve got to tip your cap to them. Obviously you feel like we should win, we felt we should win coming into the game. You’ve got to give them credit hitting shots the way they are — 60% from the field and 54% from three, that’s not good for us but they hit some tough shots too. We’ve got to be better.”
Young was satisfied that scoring 138 points was more than above average but conceding 144 would not result in any victories.
“We did a good job, we’re a really good offense — we can score on pretty much any team — our main focus is that defensive end,” said Young. “If we’re not guarding anybody we’re not going to win any games. Giving them 144 points is way too much, we’re not beating anybody in this league like that. 138 is way more than average. We usually do a pretty good job scoring we just need to focus more on that defensive end.”
McMillan cited Atlanta not ‘controlling the basketball’ as the starting point for the Hawks’ many defensive lapses as the Hornets forced the Hawks’ defense to collapse.
“There was many breakdowns,” said McMillan. “Just guarding the ball, you’ve got to control the basketball; we didn’t do a good job of that which led to breakdowns — those guys getting into the paint, kicking the ball out to the three and they’re shooting rhythm threes. It starts with controlling the basketball.”
The absence of John Collins certainly did not help, and Young was quick to point this out postgame.
“It’s a difference whenever you don’t have John in there as a paint protector,” said Young. “Hopefully we get him back but we’ve just got to be more connected, more physical and set the tone early.”
In Collins’ place the Hawks, surprisingly, started Saddiq Bey, recently acquired in a four-team trade that only very recently was approved after doubts surrounding Gary Payton II’s medical.
Bey scored 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 from three in just under 21 minutes of action in what was, as it turned out, his first outing in a gym in a number of days due to the hold up on the trade.
On getting out there today. "So today for the first time I was even able to play and workout and stuff. So I just think it was good." https://t.co/nKWxqxCsZn— Lauren L. Williams (@WilliamsLaurenL) February 14, 2023
It was even more surprising to see Bey start upon seeing that but the reason, according to McMillan was to keep the synergy of the second unit together.
“I thought we could put him in that starting lineup, put him with the first group, try to keep our second unit together,” said McMillan of Bey. “With the first group we needed him to defend and spread the floor. First half I think he had one or two attempts, second half he was able to knock down a couple of shots. Was just trying to get him in with that first group and try keep that second group together, that rotation.”
The bench registered a combined plus/minus of minus+39 last night, perhaps in hindsight Bey may have been better served off the bench to help the second unit but he shot the ball well on his Hawks debut.
“He’s a hell of a player,” said Young of Bey. “His ability to shoot — I wish he was more aggressive to start the game but as soon as we told him to start being aggressive he started shooting and it was going in and he was making plays. We’re going to need it from him on this final stretch.”
It’ll be interesting to see how Bey looks in the second unit when Collins returns and he has a little more practise time with the team but his input offensively was solid, especially given the circumstances.
Offensively the Hawks played well: seven players in double-digits and four who scored 20 or more points, including a season-high for Capela, an efficient 20 points for Dejounte Murray on 8-of-14 shooting, Hunter scored 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting and Okongwu played well off the bench, contributing to the Hawks’ 74 points in the paint.
The Hawks also attempted a staggering 108 field goals and shot 49% from the field but in contrast to the Hornets attempting just 84 shots and scoring 144 points it doesn’t look quite as glamorous.
With this victory, the Hornets win the season-series 3-1, and given that the Hornets are now 16-43...yeah, not brilliant — just under 19% of the Hornets’ victories this season have come against the Atlanta Hawks.
This was a bad loss, a costly loss. Collins being out doesn’t help but this really should’ve been a game the Hawks took care of, and a game they needed to take care of as they attempt to chase a playoff spot. With losses like this, they’ll be a play-in team. The Hawks are three games back of the Miami Heat in 6th and 4.5 games adrift of the Brooklyn Nets in 5th, with the Knicks in 7th also looking to chase that spot. That doesn’t seem like much but with just 24 games remaining it’s not the easiest task in the world.
The Hawks (29-29) are back in action on Wednesday night in a pivotal fixture against the New York Knicks (32-27) at State Farm Arena.
Until next time...