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Hawks unable to sustain lead after hot first quarter in loss to Heat

A hot first quarter wasn’t enough for the Hawks as they fall again in Miami.

Atlanta Hawks v Miami Heat Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks suffered a second consecutive defeat against the Miami Heat as their season-series came to a close on Monday night, falling 130-128 at the Miami-Dade Arena.

Trae Young scored 25 points while backcourt partner Dejounte Murray added 23 as seven Hawks racked up double-digit scoring. For the Heat, Jimmy Butler scored a game-high 26 points, with Victor Oladipo adding 22 points off the bench.

The Hawks put up a far greater challenge in this game compared to Saturday’s loss and this was evident immediately by scoring a 43 point first quarter on 76% shooting from the field. 22 of those points came in the paint as the Hawks attacked the rim, and while the visitors would rack up 70 points in the paint they wouldn’t have quite the same success that they did in the first quarter, the Heat doing more to cut off the Hawks from getting inside and forcing the pass.

Plays like this, where Butler steps up to prevent the drive and while the Hawks do get a basket out of the play on the Saddiq Bey tip off of the John Collins miss, it did prevent Young getting inside:

Again, a similar situation but the reason the Hawks get a basket from Collins on this next play is largely thanks to an incredible pass from Young out of the trap:

The Hawks led this game for much of the affair, with the Heat re-taking the lead in the fourth quarter where they found themselves involved in another close game.

The Heat broke away with two threes around the five minute mark, this first one from Caleb Martin in the corner:

There’s probably an illegal screen in here from Adebyao and Young seemed to get his rotation a little lost here but the Hawks have a chance to reply on the next possession.

However, when De’Andre Hunter is doubled on the block his teammates do very little to help him and when Hunter attempts a pass it’s intercepted by Bam Adebayo. The ball ends up in the same corner as the possession before, only the contest from Collins on Tyler Herro is a lot tighter...nor does it prevent the three from being made and Miami taking a six point lead and an Atlanta timeout:

The Hawks did cut the lead to three a few moments later, leading to a Miami timeout but out of it the Heat stepped up.

Out of the timeout, Butler moves across the lane and hits a very tough fadeaway with Clint Capela draped onto him with the contest:

The Hawks miss a great chance to respond as this open three from Hunter isn’t converted:

The Hawks would get a stop on their next defensive possession but fail to convert on the offensive end as Murray’s layup falls short and Capela’s efforts to secure the ball turn to dust and the Heat are left with an opening in transition for Herro to easily score in transition, restoring a two-possession lead for the hosts:

With only one timeout remaining, you can understand why Quin Snyder didn’t want to use his final timeout here.

The Heat were very much in control from this point...or should have been. Up five, Herro’s pass is deflected by Murray who scores in transition to give the Hawks hope, down three:

The Hawks then see another ray of hope as Adebayo is called for a travel, giving the Hawks one more chance to tie the game with a three:

But as quickly as hope is ignited, it’s dashed as Young loses the ball of his own accord and the Heat can ice the game at the line:

The Hawks made two late threes to make the scoreline a little closer than it was in reality but fall in the end to a Heat team that, prior to these two games, were looking over their shoulder to the Hawks in the standings.

Postgame, Hawks head coach Quin Snyder was pleased with his side’s competitiveness, especially given how poorly Saturday’s game went and pointed to his team’s sense of pride, especially to begin the game.

“I thought we really competed,” said Snyder postgame. “That was something, after the first half the other night particularly, it was a point of pride for our guys. Particularly the way we started the game we were really aggressive, defended well and continued to do that throughout the game.”

The loss will only be made more frustrating by the fact the Hawks led for most of the game and led by as many as 15 points but plenty of factors were not in their favor last night, the officiating certainly was one aspect many were displeased with. For the Hawks and Snyder, it was one aspect where the Hawks got a bit distracted.

“I think that’s where learning how to win on the road, you’ve got to play through those things,” said Snyder. “I thought for the most part we did. There were a couple times in the game where we got a little distracted whether it was a call, the zone, or switching pick-and-roll. But we recovered from it pretty quickly and being able to keep your focus during the course of a game...they made a lot of shots too, they shot 56% from three. Defending through a possession and seeing the ball go in, that can knock you back as well. I thought we kept our composure throughout.”

The Heat shot 32-of-37 from the free throw line, outscoring the Hawks by 15 at the line, the visitors shooting 17-of-23. The explanations given for some calls seemed to frustrate the Hawks more so than the number of attempts, at least according to Trae Young.

“It’s very frustrating at times,” said Young of the officiating. “Whenever certain shots are up in the air on one end and on the floor on the other. Maybe they talk about it before the game and know what type of fouls we get and certain things so they’re predetermining that it’s on the floor. It’s frustrating because DJ had a couple of fouls that could have been shots. They shot 14 more free throws than we did so it’s not all about the refs and all of that but it is frustrating sometimes when it’s called one way and their explanation is ‘Maybe you’re right,’ and certain things like that. It’s frustrating.”

Speaking of Young, he enjoyed a strong game scoring 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field but his defensive effort was arguably the best it’s ever been. Young fought hard to stay with his man on multiple possessions.

Here, Young is active defensively in the corner, shows on Butler as he heads to the middle before going back to Herro:

The basket may have been scored but Young certainly did his part defensively.

Again, Young provides great effort in his movement and his contest on Herro to help force a miss:

On this possession, another good contest from Young on Herro:

Given his size, Young can only do so much when it comes to contesting and while he acknowledges this deficiency defensively he knows there’s another aspect that he can utilize defensively to help him compete on that end of the floor.

“Defense is all about energy,” said Young. “I’m already at a disadvantage with my height, playing in a tall man’s league. I’ve just got to use my quickness to get under people and make people as uncomfortable as possible. I’ve just got to continue to use my quickness. I’ll do that.”

Young had shown signs of being more intentional on the defensive end of the floor under Nate McMillan but under Snyder — at least to begin his tenure — Young’s activity has ramped up.

“He’s got a lot of pride,” said Snyder when asked about Young’s defense. “The thing he and I have talked about is using his quickness. If you don’t want to switch him onto Jimmy Butler — you don’t want to switch a lot of people onto Jimmy Butler — but in Trae’s case using his quickness to his advantage. They’re a hard team to play against, there’s constant movement and all the handoffs. DJ too. There were a couple of possessions we were working like crazy, one in particular where we got a couple of stops, a couple of long rebounds and ended in a made three. We didn’t quit, not that I would expect that. In Trae’s case — and it’s been more of a focal point for our whole team — to have more of a presence on the ball, to not be passive. For him in particular, it’s something I know he’s focused on, and I thought you saw that tonight.”

Young is still struggling to find his perimeter shot (shooting 1-of-5 last night) and pondered whether his focus on defense has taken away from his shooting but has made it clear that he’s really focusing on his defense at this current moment in time.

“Bringing DJ in it allows me to be more aggressive on defense,” said Young. “I’ve been trying to do that all year for my teammates. Maybe that’s why my shots are short, and they all know I’m playing hard on that end and trying to give my teammates all I can on both ends. I’ll be alright, I’ll continue to be better on offense but my defense is what I’m really focusing on the most for sure.”

I think the criticism of Young’s defense so fair in his career has been largely fair but this is the best defensively I think Young has been in his five seasons in the NBA. He was beginning to try more under McMillan this season but really appears to be buying in even more under Snyder and that’s hugely encouraging so far.

It’s tough to find a similar level of overall encouragement coming away from this game — not for the game itself (seven players in double-digit scoring and the Hawks played quite well I thought) but for the big picture on the season. The Heat taking these two games moves them 2.5 ahead of Atlanta with possession of the tiebreaker, and the Hawks are now 4.5 games adrift of the Brooklyn Nets in 6th — it’ll be difficult to make up that margin now, these were two costly defeats. Right now, it seems like the play-in beckons for the Atlanta Hawks.

And that might be just fine with Quin Snyder, if it means they’re improving in the right areas.

“I want us to be the best team we can be by the end of the year,” said Snyder via the AP. “And that’s really what it comes down to, how can we keep improving? Obviously, we want to win - record, standings, playoffs but I think we’ll be better off if we continue to improve. And in order to do that, sometimes you need to have an off day.”

The Hawks (32-33) now head to Washington to face the Wizards (30-34), who are just 1.5 games behind the Hawks with two games this week to come. With Toronto half a game behind the Hawks too, the Hawks desperately need a good week to avoid falling to the bottom of the play-in picture having entered this two game stretch against the Heat looking to be at the top of it.

Until next time...