Having come off the heels of a tough loss on Friday night at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, the Atlanta Hawks dropped the second night of their back-to-back to the Washington Wizards at State Farm Arena on Saturday night, 127-99.
Trae Young led all Atlanta scorers with 21 points, and Saddiq Bey added 16 points. For the Wizards, Kyle Kuzma scored 29 points. Jordan Poole added 20 points.
It’s...hard to know where to start when it comes to this game.
It arguably should have started the second the final buzzer sounded on Friday night as the Pacers completed a convincing victory over the Hawks at home without Tyrese Haliburton. That was a really poor loss, and it should have lit the fire under the arses of the Hawks — against the 6-31 Washington Wizards — to get back to winning ways in a season that has not gone to plan.
Against a team they have convincingly beaten three times already this season — and losers of six straight games heading into this one — the Hawks, despite being on a back-to-back, had the perfect chance at home to smash the Wizards and get some good feeling back after the Indiana game. How did the Hawks begin this game with that in mind? The first possession of the game ended with a shot clock violation after Jalen Johnson passed up the shot in the corner and offloads it to Young, and the clock expired. Hardly the way you want to start any game, but it ended up being the perfect harbinger to the following 47 minutes that was to follow.
The Wizards took a double-digit lead in the second quarter, ran it up to 20 points in the third, took a 28-point lead into the fourth quarter and led by as many as 30 points. And the Hawks emptied the bench with four minutes to go (it should have happened a lot sooner than it did). That’s it. There’s your game in a nutshell.
The Wizards played as they have for much of the season series: Kuzma scored a lot of points through three quarters, the Wizards could not rebound, their guard play from Tyus Jones and Delon Wright was strong...it was a Washington Wizards game that wasn’t out of the norm. For the Hawks, it was a complete contrast.
Offensively, it was a horror show all night long from the Hawks, and it came in almost every form: good shots that were simply missed (Bey had a number of these), poor shot selection (Young’s shot selection in the first quarter was poor), turnovers, standing around, miscues on offense, missed bunnies, backcourt violations, botched rebounds... It was, quite frankly, a mess.
The Hawks have fallen below standard this season but last night was the first time I really thought to myself “this team looks dysfunctional out there.”
That thought spawned from the manner in which the Hawks played in a such disjointed fashion on both ends of the floor. Poor shot selection, lazy offensive execution, standing around offensively, sloppy turnovers, poor rotations, slow rotations (Delon Wright was given a large amount of time to shoot on a couple of occasions)...
I was around for the Dennis Schröder-Dwight Howard fiasco, which had problems, but they at least had Paul Millsap to prevent it from being absolute carnage. Last night was the first time I can remember a Hawks team looking a team in almost disarray on the court, like they had run out of answers — like the outside noise was finally getting to them — and it was eerie to see it take physical shape on the floor. It’s not to say that their season is absolutely over (though it may seem that way, they still have a very realistic chance of making the Play-In Tournament and there’s still over half the season to play) but they’re certainly a team that needs some serious soul-searching and find some answers in their reflection.
Postgame, Hawks head coach Quin Snyder believed the Hawks were still in a chance of this game at halftime but admitted the third quarter — a quarter the Wizards outscored Altanta 41-28 — was decisive, and provided a further admission that the Hawks need to regroup.
“I think we hung in there in the first half,” said Snyder. “Down 11 at halftime and really hadn’t made a shot. If we continued to defend — not that we were perfect — but I thought we’d put ourselves in a decent position. Obviously the third quarter was a dagger. We need to regroup.”
“We’ve got to find a way,” added Young. “I’ve been down before and found a way to fight back, and that’s what it is. We’re in a difficult situation right now. We’ve got to figure it out, we’ll get through it, I don’t worry about it.”
Snyder cited communication as an immediate path to improvement, outlining some areas where this was prominent.
“Collectively I think we need to communicate, if there’s one thing that you point to that I see it’s not there that can fix a lot of things, whatever those situations are,” said Snyder. “Whether it’s small-small pick-and-roll, transition defense, we have to be willing to talk, point, all those different things to get us on the same page on both ends. I thought our shot selection tonight was good. We didn’t see the ball go in. There’s still sometimes we’re passing shots up but we’ve got to keep taking open looks. When you’re not seeing the ball go in, that’s hard too.”
Young was also quizzed about the communication state of affairs, and communication through adversity, and cited ‘new concepts’ and players still not quite knowing where they need to be offensively as a factor for breakdowns in communication.
“It’s tough to communicate especially out on the floor,” said Young on communicating through tough moments. “New concepts...it’s not like guys aren’t trying to do certain things, just guys are still...don’t know where they need to be but we’ve got to talk through it. If we don’t know where to be then continue to talk to each other, learn from each other. Nothing great happens overnight. This is a process, and although our record is ass right now we can be a lot better, and we’ll be a lot better. This is a process, I’m not worried.”
I’d like to take a moment to appreciate some of Young’s honesty and transparency in his postgame comments last night, especially with regard to Snyder, ‘new concepts’ and the Hawks’ ‘ass’ record. It was refreshing to hear
It’s interesting — and indicative of their priorities/philosophies — that Snyder focused on defensive communication, Young on offensive communication. They’re both correct, of course, and there’s a clear disconnect on both ends. On communication defensively, this is obviously an aspect where the Hawks needed to be aware that moving John Collins would impact this side of play — there was always a risk of a regression defensively in this regard as Collins was the voice of this team defensively. Obviously with Collins out of the picture now it opened the door for Johnson, and that’s been great for Johnson and he’s the very few consensus agreements people share on this team going forward but it’s noteworthy that communication is clearly an issue and it seems the Hawks haven’t had anyone step up in this regard once Collins was dealt.
Young’s ‘new concepts’ comment are both intriguing and concerning. You’d have hoped with summer work, training camp, and 38 games under their belt this season that things would be further along than Young’s comments suggest. But Young insists that the players believe in Snyder and that the process is going to take time.
“Quin is such a cerebral coach, cerebral person,” said Young. “He needs time, he needs people in there that are going to listen, give the effort that he says. It’s a lot, it’s a lot but it can work, it can really work. It’s going to take us some time. The guys believe in him. Practise helps. When you’ve got back-to-backs it’s hard to fit in a practise, even after that it’s hard to get in a practise because you play a couple of days later. I know it kind of frustrates him because he can’t put in his imprint and instil in our heads as much as he wants to. We’re a young team, so you’re going to have mishaps and certain things because it is complicated but it will work. I really believe that.”
Snyder will likely never admit to difficulties instilling his system but these comments suggest that, so far, there’s been a difficulty in adapting and implementing how Snyder wants to play and it’s been a source of frustration for Snyder. This is a tough place to be 38 games in with playoff aspirations that have already all but been killed off and, once again, a route through the Play-In seems like the only path through, barring a miraculous turnaround...or trade, of which there has been increasing speculation.
On that topic of outside noise, Snyder was directly asked whether it had impacted the Hawks’ play and his response certainly diverted away from the question at hand, basically repeating that the Hawks needed a regroup.
“Tonight was different than last night,” said Snyder. “Last night we were on our heels the entire game. It may not have looked as different on the boxscore but those were two different games. I thought we were generating good shots tonight, they weren’t going in. There were a number of possessions defensively where we guarded well — Kuzma hit a tough turnaround over an extended hand, the ball bounces the wrong way and they get a shot — and we have to play through those possessions. Any time, when you’re down or not playing well, there’s always opportunities to look outside and I think our guys continue to be focused. To regroup a little bit right now is a good thing. We’re playing a lot of games, we’re 4-and-6, 4-and-6. We’ve got some games coming quickly and not a lot of time to practise and regroup that way, psychologically for us to dig in and focus. We can play better. Defensively there was more focus and we need to see the ball go in and we’ll have a chance to have a very different result.”
Not exactly answering the question but then again he unlikely to say publicly ‘Yes, we’re being affected by the outside noise.’
He did, however, maintain that the Hawks missing shots affected them in other aspects on the court, both Snyder and Young highlighting transition defense as an area impacted by the Hawks missing shots.
“Guys are human,” said Snyder of missed shots affecting play elsewhere. “There’s certainly a lift when you feel like you’re doing the right thing and you’re not rewarded for it ultimately when you’re scoring. We’ve had bad shooting nights but I didn’t think we came apart from that. There’s times you have to take those if they’re good shots. That’s not to say don’t drive the ball either but quick decisions and kick it. When the ball changed sides of the floor I thought good things happened. Again, you’re in transition defense situations even more (after missed shots) and we got driven. We’ve got to do a better job containing the ball, particularly when we’re more aggressive in pick-and-roll, we’re going to be in closeout situations. They hit a lot of those shots early and as the game went on they began to drive us in those closeout situations.”
“It can be deflating when you get the look you want, you get good shots and they just weren’t going in and it’s deflating,” Young added. “I think the first half we were still playing good defense but at the same time when you’re missing shots and you’re used to hitting or supposed to be making it gives them good look on the other end too, especially if they get a rebound and we’re attacking the glass and we’re down in numbers, or I go in and shoot a layup and I’m on the ground they have numbers. Sometimes when the ball doesn’t go in it gives them momentum offensively. They knocked down some shots tonight and that’s what can lead to it if we don’t make shots.”
I think there were good shots the Hawks were getting at times last night, but to call the shot selection ‘good’ overall I think is stretching somewhat.
No one played well.
Young shot 6-of-19 from the field and 2-of-10 from three, Dejounte Murray was a surprise inclusion in the end, but he could only score 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting, Jalen Johnson was 2-of-7 from the field and attempted only one shot in the second half, Saddiq Bey had great opportunities from three but couldn’t convert and shot 5-of-13 overall, Clint Capela missed a number of bunnies for 2-of-8, and Bogdan Bogdanovic shot 5-of-13 from the field.
Add to that, the Hawks’ streak of scoring 100 or more points in 94 straight games came to an end after they failed to obviously not reach 100 points but couldn’t muster four points in the final 3:10 of the game — a fittingly pitiful end to a horrid game to a game where the Hawks shot 34% from the field and 27.5% from three on 40 attempts.
A shame too, because it was a mightily impressive streak:
Tonight, the Wizards held the Hawks to 99 points snapped a streak of 94 games of scoring at least 100 points.— Wes (@bloghawk) January 14, 2024
It was the third longest in NBA history. pic.twitter.com/SOlRArCb6G
By far, this was the worst loss of the season for the Hawks. There’s no positive way to cut this loss. Absolutely none. They’ll have a good opportunity to respond to a similarly poor team on Monday afternoon in the Spurs, but you would have said the exact same thing with confidence after Friday’s loss to the Pacers.
Confidence in a bounce-back result against a bad team, just like confidence in this team as a whole, has taken a nosedive. There’s plenty of season remaining, but what can be salvaged from this new low will be a lingering question — among many other questions as the trade deadline looms...
The Hawks (15-23) are back in action on Monday afternoon on MLK Day when they’ll take on the San Antonio Spurs (7-31) at State Farm Arena, desperately seeking a victory.
Until next time...