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Hawks throw away 24-point lead, capitulate in loss to San Antonio

A second half of horrors for the Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta Hawks v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks suffered a horrendous defeat at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday afternoon, falling 126-118 at AT&T Center.

On his return to San Antonio, Dejounte Murray led all Hawks scorers with 22 points, with Onyeka Okongwu adding 17 points off the bench. For the Spurs, Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell both scored 29 points, with Zach Collins adding 19 points.

It was a game that was going very well for the Atlanta Hawks, who scored at absolutely free will in the first half of this game, scoring a season-high 81 points and held a commanding 22 point lead at halftime against the 18-52 Spurs. This lead rose to 24 after a basket in the early third quarter and you’d have been forgiven for thinking the Hawks should have been able to see this one out.

You’d have been right to think that, bet your house on it...but not when it comes to this team.

The Spurs hit eight third quarter threes, many of these coming in the first half of the third quarter as the Spurs chipped into the Hawks’ lead as their offense sputtered in the third, giving the hosts a sniff of a chance that this could still be a game.

In terms of the Hawks’ offense sputtering in the first half of the third, they either settled a bit at times or took contested shots (for the most part).

This contested shot from De’Andre Hunter for instance as he comes off the Clint Capela’s not an awful shot but it’s not great either:

After gathering his own miss, Murray tries to go straight back up with it and the contest of Collins enough to deter Murray from making the follow-up push shot:

In general there was just far too many average/poor Murray shots in the second half here, whether this was a concerted effort as part of his return to San Antonio or otherwise it was a bit much at times (this next shot not especially great as Murray goes across the lane):

The Hawks scored 20 points in the third quarter on 35.7% shooting, while the Spurs scored 39 points on 65% shooting and 8-of-12 from three.

The Spurs hit some really tough shots and got hot in the first half of the third to get themselves back within contention before cutting the lead further, but they really did hit some tough shots and pull up threes. The Hawks might have done enough to survive this onslaught had they made even a few shots in the beginning of the third but between that and the Spurs hitting their Hail Mary’s, it gave them hope — always a dangerous thing in the NBA, even more so when the crowd (who were sleepwalking in the first half) get back into it.

The Spurs missed their chance to tie the game in the third quarter and for almost half of the fourth quarter the Spurs still couldn’t quite wrestle the lead back. What they couldn’t have imagined, however, was that when Murray hit a jumpshot to give the Hawks a 114-108 lead with 7:30 remaining the Hawks would remain scoreless for nearly the next six minutes. The Spurs would go on a 16-0 run over that period to take a commanding 10 point lead but let’s look at the Hawks’ offense during that stretch.

To start the drought, De’Andre Hunter misses a somewhat contested three:

Nothing too wrong with this shot, it’s not a great shot but not the worst shot either.

John Collins would get two attempts a three in the fourth, the first one was a contested three that wasn’t an ideal shot:

On the pick-and-roll, Young finds the rolling Capela down the lane and when Capela is swarmed he kicks it out to Collins in the corner for the open three which is missed, and the follow-up effort from Hunter at the rim meets resistance and is missed:

A tough one from Collins to miss the open three but sadly it’s been the story for him from three this season, it just hasn’t worked out. The follow from Hunter was a bit wild to attempt given the amount of traffic.

Trae Young did not enjoy the greatest of games offensively and missed a few shots that were open, including this three-point attempt coming off the screen with the shotclock winding down:

Dejounte Murray had a pretty rough second half shooting the ball but his shot selection really didn’t help him either. We’ve looked at a few already and shots like this, contested threes, don’t help. Sure, he can make them but when the Hawks have had successive empty trips offensively perhaps there’s a better option available:

At this point the Spurs finally retake the lead, leading to an Atlanta timeout.

Next, again, Young misses a shot that he normally can makes with the open floater attempt inside, and Capela is unable to guide the second opportunity:

Murray again tries to attack and get to his pull-up jumper but it’s contested and like many of the shots he took in the second half it falls short, and when Hunter gathers the loose ball he again tries to attack the rim and finds himself in a crowd where his shot is blocked:

Neither of these were good shots but Hunter’s is the worse of the two...I genuinely don’t know how he thought he stood a chance there at the rim when the help defense was right there to rotate.

On the drive the following possession, Young passes out of a floater opportunity to Murray behind the three-point line, who drives inside and is met by Zach Collins who is credited with the block, fuelling the fastbreak for the Spurs for a basket:

To cap off a truly horrific stretch offensively, Young’s attempted pass to Capela at the rim is intercepted by Devin Vassell and ends in a turnover, and the subsequent basket would effectively end the Hawks’ almost certain shot at victory:

A truly remarkable end to the second half: empty trip after empty trip all while the Spurs not only retook the lead but ran out to a 10 point lead themselves... Quite extraordinary.

In the second half the Hawks scored 35 points (fewer than what the 40 and 43 points they respectively scored in both the first and second quarters) on 33% shooting from the field and 0-of-10 from three. In contrast, the Spurs scored 65 second half points on 58% from the field and 9-of-16 from three.

Hawks head coach Quin Snyder praised the Spurs for their second half but hopes that his players will be able to distinguish the differences between their play in the first and second halves.

“They deserve credit for what they did in the second half,” said Snyder postgame. “They made plays on both ends of the floor, they hit some shots but it’s difficult to not be able to reconcile our part in that. The way we played in the first half — both first and second quarters — versus how we played in the second half. In a perverse way, I hope we can continue to see the differences — the difference in the score board is obvious — but what were the things that we were doing in the first half that we didn’t do in the second half. I think we were 0-of-10 from three but it wasn’t just about that it was a lot more than that, some things we had control over that we didn’t do.

“Obviously a tough loss. One thing we’ve seen all year, 20 point leads in this league are, especially early in the game, are no guarantee of anything. But I think for us to feel the difference between when we had the lead and when we didn’t, it’s pretty palpable as far our level of play and the way we were playing.”

Dejounte Murray spoke about identity postgame and how the Hawks are still trying figure themselves out somewhat.

“I think it’s been what’s it’s been all season,” said Murray postgame. “Still trying to find that identity of ‘What are we playing for?’ The consistency word is what I always use the whole season, starting with myself. I full take accountability for me being able to be better on offense, defense, being vocal. That’d be number one for me, but as a collective unit we’ve got to figure out the identity of what we’re playing for, if you really want to win. You can tell the teams who really want to win they buy in, attention to detail and they’re consistent. When I say that, it’s not about making or missing shots — being there for each other on defense and the offense takes care of itself.

“I feel like the first half we played well and got comfortable. One thing about the Spurs, they’re going to play hard for 48 minutes, share the ball and we gave them confidence and they got a win that they well deserved.”

Let’s be honest, if you’re posing questions of identity and ‘what are we playing for’ after game 71 of the season...your season is probably a lost cause.

Playing ‘comfortable’ was an accurate assessment on the situation, they certainly felt comfortable and, to be fair, you can’t blame them for feeling that way.

There are times where the Hawks underplay an opponent with a worse record, which you can understand them doing to a degree in this situation but this is a pitfall the Hawks have fallen into often this season and it happened again yesterday to begin the second half, more so on the offensive end.

“I think we have to feel the game,” said Snyder when asked about the team’s urgency to begin the third quarter. “There were some possessions offensively where we need to go from good to great and impose our will as far as what we want to have on those possessions. They weren’t horrible shots at all but they’re shots that are tough to defend against, they’re shots that don’t make them work defensively. It’s not any one play it’s a series of plays that you have to feel when that’s happening. On the other end we started blitzing Vassell and he made everything and he’s a heck of a player and can shoot and score, that exacerbates it. I thought we got knocked back and it’s hard to recapture that. After that there were things that we did better but we were never able to string multiple possessions along.”

It’s exactly as Snyder said: the shots at the start of the third weren’t horrible shots but they weren’t great either. The Hawks were unfortunate in the sense that they struggled as the Spurs got hot, so, six of one and half a dozen of the other, to borrow a cliché.

The Hawks’ shot selection wasn’t great in the second half and when Snyder was asked if he was happy about the shot distribution he made an interesting point when it came to one pass/no pass possessions and how they affect the Hawks.

“The thing about threes is that they usually indicate us moving the ball,” said Snyder. “It’s not always going to generate a three— there’s time for one pass possessions and no pass possessions but as you feel the game go that way this is a team that when we don’t have those possessions it impacts us, it impacts us defensively. We’ve got a lot of guys that can make plays individually but the true strength of a really consistent offense is when you’re making plays together. Nobody is being selfish, we’ve just got to connect and they need to be our basekts.

“This is what I was saying about the two halves, we did something pretty well in the first half but we did a lot of things not so well in the second. Sometimes if you make shots too — or they miss shots — it masks it, in this case it polarized it. In some respects it’s tough to feel this and certainly with a loss right now at this point of the year and all the things that are going on but your hope is it’s something you can take and feel on a deep level.”

The Hawks, with the personnel they have, are obviously guilty of quite a number of one pass/no pass possessions and when Snyder says it impacts the Hawks defensively, is that an implication that the Hawks perhaps aren’t as motivated defensively after not getting a touch of the ball and seeing quick shots go up? Certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

Elsewhere, Dejounte Murray’s return to San Antonio was initially going well but a 3-of-12 showing in the second half dented his shooting percentages, ending with 10-of-25 from the field. He may have led the team in scoring but I wouldn’t place this high on the list of good Murray games, and the same applied for Trae Young who shot 4-of-16 from the field en route to nine points.

In terms of Hawks that played well, Onyeka Okongwu played well off the bench, scoring 17 points on 6-of-8 from the field to go with seven rebounds, four of them offensive rebounds and these came at a crucial time in the second half when the Hawks were struggling offensively and the second chances tucked away by Okongwu were really important to the team when they came to him.

AJ Griffin enjoyed a good game, scoring 15 points (all coming in the first half) on 6-of-10 shooting, and probably should have seen more minutes in the second half than he did (playing just seven minutes).

Hard to find a ton of positives in such a loss, even the work of the first half flies out the window knowing that the Hawks didn’t see the job through. The Spurs got hot and made a lot of tough shots at the same time the Hawks went cold offensively, likely believing the job was done, or that when this became a close game that they had enough to pull away again.

This was one of the their worst losses of the season, and the Hawks have had some bad losses this season — this is up there.

The Hawks (35-36) are back in action on Tuesday against the Detroit Pistons (16-56) at State Farm Arena.

Until next time...