Dejounte Murray led the Hawks with 24 points with Jalen Johnson adding 20 points. For the Cavaliers, Donovan Mitchell and Sam Merrill led with 18 points apiece as seven Cavs scored in double-digits in a balanced attack.
It was a tough spot for the Hawks here. A close game in Miami with a high emotion ending with the Murray winner before immediately returning to Atlanta very early on Saturday morning with a game to come against an opponent who hadn’t played since Wednesday — a significant rest advantage.
That advantage was clear from the offset as the Cavaliers began the game on a 10-0 run, and to say the Cavs never looked back would do the Hawks’ first quarter comeback efforts a slight injustice, but the Cavs won this game wire-to-wire and in comfortable fashion in the end.
The second and third quarters in particular got away from the Hawks — the Cavs outscoring the hosts 34-25 in both quarters — but by the second quarter it was clear the Hawks were in trouble.
Their offense really struggled, shooting 39.8% from the field and 28.9% from three on 38 attempts. The Hawks found it difficult to get inside towards the rim in the first half. A stout Cavaliers defense — spearheaded by Jarrett Allen at the back — forced the Hawks into tough shots at times.
Here, the Cavs keep the Hawks on the outside and when Johnson does get into the lane his progress is thwarted and he gets stuck between a shot and a lob attempt:
On the drive from the corner, Johnson can’t get the best of Dean Wade and makes a good pass to Saddiq Bey in the opposite corner but Bey misses the three — an example of the Cavaliers forcing the Hawks to the perimeter:
Again, the Hawks can’t find a way through into the paint so they swing the ball and hope a corner three can salvage the offensive possession, but Johnson’s corner three is missed:
On the pick-and-roll with Trae Young and Clint Capela, Capela gets a head of steam and rolls into the paint, but between Sam Merrill and Allen, Capela is forced to pass back out of the lane to three-point line where Murray misses the contested three:
On a drive from Trent Forrest, Wade stays in front of the guard and forces Forrest into a tough shot:
Allen usually provides a problem for offenses at the rim and last night was no exception, as he blocks the shot at the rim after the Hawks’ pick-and-roll:
Here, the Murray-Onyeka Okongwu pick-and-roll doesn’t yield a look, and Murray looks to Bey, who gets inside but the Cavs’ defense smothers him and Georges Niang blocks the shot:
On this play, Johnson is forced to pass out of the lane faced with Allen, and Young’s brief attempts to shed Max Strus turns into a step-back shot which is missed:
The Hawks just found the going tough offensively, and this was a trend all game long. For a team who recently went on a 90+ game streak of scoring 100 or more points in a game, their struggles were reflected in the 95 points they registered, the fewest points the Hawks have registered in a regular-season game since December 7, 2022.
There were individual shooting struggles, particularly with Saddiq Bey who shot 0-of-12 from the field and 0-of-6 from three. Bey’s struggles are now alarmingly long-stretching now:
Saddiq Bey is 33 of his last 130 from three-point range.— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) January 21, 2024
25.4% over about six weeks. https://t.co/XXo5zyzjUA
“I have so much belief in Saddiq,” said Hawks head coach Quin Snyder. “He’s a rock. His competitiveness, his focus, his work ethic. He had a few tonight to that were right there and rimmed out. Just want him to keep at it and know the confidence that I have in him and his teammates have in him. Everyone goes through stretches. He’s one of those guys I’m sure it eats at him. Just want him to keep competing and keep working.”
“Just got to tell him to keep shooting,” added Jalen Johnson of Bey’s shooting slump. “We need him shooting his shots. Those shots are going to end up falling. Everybody goes through slumps, it’s part of a long season. He’s going to figure it out. We all have confidence in him that he’s going to find his shot again, it’s just a matter of time.”
Jalen Johnson (8-of-16) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (5-of-11) were efficient from the field but struggled from three (1-of-5 for Johnson, 1-of-6 for Bogdanovic), while Young only attempted 12 shots before taking a knock in the second half. He is now being assessed for a possible concussion, Snyder revealed postgame. It was also a tough night for the Hawks’ bench, who — outside of Bogdanovic — were led by Patty Mills’ six points.
While I think it’s perfectly reasonable to chalk this down to a schedule loss, Snyder wasn’t satisfied with attributing the loss to tired legs.
“We don’t want to offer that (as an excuse),” said Snyder when asked about tired legs on the second night of a back-to-back. “You’re going to have tired legs a lot and you want to be able to play through that. We didn’t have competitive fire at the beginning of the game and when you don’t have that it’s hard to generate it. We tried, there were stretches where you could feel the energy pick up. They didn’t feel us early.”
The problem I think was certainly compounded by the fact the Cavs hadn’t played since Wednesday: it’s not too common to have that much of a rest advantage against an opponent when you play on the Wednesday and your opponent plays on Friday and again on Saturday for a back-to-back. It certainly played a factor to begin this game, that 10-0 run, while not decisive, set a tone of sorts for the rest of the game.
Jalen Johnson, like Snyder, mentioned the Hawks not being prepared and landing the first blow as primary reasons for their 2-of-11 start to the game.
“Just not coming out prepared, ready, hitting them first,” said Johnson of what he could attribute the Hawks’ slow start to. “It was all things we could control. We’ve just got to be better moving forward with that.”
The Cavaliers’ defense was very good last night, and this could have been expected — they’re currently 3rd in the league in defensive rating, and Snyder singled out the impact of Jarrett Allen for his impact.
“I think Allen particularly in pick-and-roll is really good,” said Snyder. “His ability to be up and have a presence up the court and his mobility to protect the rim. The key for us is connectivity that we have on the offensive end. Over the course of a game when you have that you get better opportunities. There were stretches where we had some good shots and didn’t make them. Sometimes it’s like that. There’s other things that we can control that will help us.”
Snyder was asked if he could elaborate on the ‘connectivity’ he mentioned and what that looks like to him.
“We haven’t played well offensively in a few games but we’ve been really good on defense, those last few games is what it looks like,” elaborated Snyder. “When guys are helping each other — when I say helping each other meaning just being shifted — getting people off the glass, getting back, all the things fundamentally that we talk about all the time. When we’re executing those things, usually good things happen. The same thing offensively: our spacing, our ball movement, taking open shots, playing together.”
“It’s just being on the same page,” added Johnson of his interpretation of what Snyder meant by ‘connectivity’. “Communicating defensively, knowing what we’re in offensively. I think that’s what he means by being connected, everybody on the same page. There [aren’t] guys out there not knowing what they’re doing. I think that’s what he means by that.”
From the Cavaliers’ side, it was an incredibly balanced effort. Mitchell only scored 18 points and this was a very comfortable win. Through three quarters he had 12 points on the board, but the supporting cast around him — Wade, Merrill, Niang, Isaac Okoro, Allen, and Strus all stepped up across the board.
It was the balanced effort the Atlanta Hawks’ simply couldn’t match.
The Hawks (18-24) are back in action on Sunday for a brief two game trip to California, beginning in Sacramento for a tilt against the Kings (23-18) on Monday. The Kings will also have a rest advantage, as their last game was on Thursday against the Pacers.
Until next time...