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Hawks unable to plug defensive leaks in loss to Bulls

The Hawks could not prevent the Bulls from scoring.

Chicago Bulls v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks suffered a home defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bulls on Monday night, 136-126.

Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 28 points behind a hot night shooting the ball. De’Andre Hunter added 23 points off the bench as seven Hawks scored in double-figures. For the Bulls, they were led by four 20+ point games, 29 points coming from DeMar DeRozan and another 29 points in a career-night for Ayo Dosunmu.

Proceedings looked promising for the hosts for much of the first half — the Hawks building a double-digit lead inside the first quarter — and even when the Bulls made a run the Hawks had a reply in them and ran their lead back up to 12 points in the second quarter.

However, a 17-4 run for the Bulls towards the end of the second quarter wrestled controlled away from the Hawks and gave the Bulls a one-point lead heading into the locker room. In hindsight, losing this lead before halftime was damaging for the Hawks, who never looked quite on top of matter from this point forward and would only lead the game twice in the entire second half.

The Bulls made life uncomfortable for Trae Young in the third quarter at times — their pressure forcing him to get off the ball.

On the switch onto Nikola Vucevic, Young doesn’t feel comfortable to drive on this favorable switch with Dosunmu in close proximity should he drive to his more comfortable right hand side, and so Young passes it to Dejounte Murray, who misses the three:

Again, Vucevic and Dosunmu combine on the double off the screen to put pressure on Young to make a decision, and while he makes the right decision Vucevic is able to use his sheer size to deflect the intended pass and the turnover is committed:

On the drive, Young gets inside the paint but is cut off by a pack of Bulls and is again forced to give the ball up to the corner in Bogdanovic, who misses the three:

Young was also prompted into a rare eight-second violation after the pressure from Jevon Carter, whose full court pressure made life that little bit more annoying.

Where the Bulls really battered the Hawks last night, however, was in the paint: 68 points in the paint but more than that it was the, quite frankly, alarming field goal percentage for the Bulls at the rim: 78%:

For an opponent to shoot 78% at the rim is a shocking indictment of your defense. Sure, not having Clint Capela hurts but this was still a number that was far too high.

The first play of the game was arguably an indicator of what was to come, with Dosunmu taking advantage of Young defensively and Oneyka Okongwu playing catch-up defensively and unable to make an impact on the play as the help defender:

Here, Torey Craig basically walks into the lane to receive the ball and finish past Jalen Johnson:

The ease of which Craig is able to score here is concerning.

With Vucevic’s three-point shot to be respected, it draws Okongwu out on the perimeter. And when Dosunmu drives from the corner, Johnson can’t get back into the paint quick enough. Saddiq Bey is too indecisive and a simple reverse layup completely takes Johnson out of the play defensively:

DeRozan is always a difficult cover, but he’s able to duck into the layup with ease from the post here on Hunter, who is beaten a little too easily:

Late in the game, DeRozan would best Hunter again with a similar move:

In the second half, Vucevic is able to fake Johnson, and by the time he drives to the rim it’s too late for Okongwu to do anything about it as he’s drawn towards the corner on Dosunmu and Vucevic has an easy finish at the rim:

Again, Vucevic gets by his perimeter defender with ease, and his size and touch presents a difficult combination for help defenders:

I have a difficult time discerning Okongwu’s action on this defensive play as he just mistimes his challenge on Coby White, who is more than happy to take a very easy lay-in:

In the end, the Bulls shot 55% from the field for 136 points but the 78% shooting at the rim is an extremely damning stat for the Hawks.

“We’ve just got to be better,” said Hawks head coach Quin Snyder. “Some of it was pick-and-roll where we were getting rejected. Whether it’s closeouts, even you come and rotate and help, once you’re in a long close-out situation — and they do a good job of driving the ball in those situations — you’re on your heels. Certainly, Dosunmu got to the rim and got to the paint. We ended up in a lot of late switches but, everybody, we’ve all got to be better guarding the ball.”

Nights like last night highlight Capela’s importance, an importance that Bogdan Bogdanovic admitted the Hawks miss but provide an opportunity for the next man.

“We miss Clint, but it’s an opportunity for another guy,” said Bogdanovic. “When somebody goes down you’ve got to be ready. Bruno proved it, he’s ready.”

Bruno Fernando had some moments which were passable, but I would have a harder time agreeing with the statement that Fernando ‘proved he was ready.’ His own inability to protect the rim was highlighted by Dosunmu finishing at the rim on a couple occasions, one of which was emphatic:

Fernando’s reaction here to the drive was far too late.

Dosunmu had a slightly easier job of attacking Trae Young, a point of attack that yielded many points and helped steer Dosunmu to a new career-high of 29. For the season, Dosunmu averaged below 10 points per game heading into last night’s contest. There’s been a few games similar to this where role players go off for career nights against the Hawks (see: Caleb Houstan, who scored a career-high 25 points against the Hawks and averages 4.8 per game) and last night was just another one of those nights. Credit to Dosunmu, he made outside shots in addition to getting to the rim at will. The Hawks’ defense was just nowhere near good enough.

Bogdanovic’s postgame assessment of the Hawks’ performance was similarly scathing before dissecting how the Bulls found their fortune last night in the pick-and-roll.

“They played like a more experienced team,” said Bogdanovic. “They ran a lot of pick-and-rolls on the side, they were attacking the middle, rejecting us, we let them score ‘and-1’s’. That’s how teams get confidence. First half, I don’t think they wanted to shoot, they were hesitant. They found their rhythm back, start knocking down threes and won the game.”

Speaking of rhythm, Bogdanovic was certainly in one last night, scoring 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field and 6-of-10 from three. Other than Hunter, he was the only Hawk who had much of anything going last night.

However, without a victory, it didn’t mean as much to Bogdanovic.

“I cannot be fully happy because we lost the game,” said Bogdanovic.

There were efficient games out there for the likes of Okongwu (though, there were defensive issues highlighted by Vucevic’s size), Bey, and Johnson and these efficiencies yielded 13, 11, and 11 points respectively. Okongwu, however, was unable to finish the game due a concern with his toe, Snyder revealed postgame, so it remains to be seen what Okongwu’s status for Wednesday’s tilt against Charlotte will be.

Hunter played well off the bench once again, scoring 23 points on 6-of-14 shooting, 4-of-7 from three and 7-of-7 from the line in 28 minutes off the bench. You’d have to imagine that he will soon find himself back in the starting five.

On the other side of the spectrum, Young really struggled from the field: 3-of-14 for 19 points, 11-of-12 at the line bolstering his point tally and, to his credit, did dish out 14 assists to just two turnovers. However, Young was visibly frustrated again with the officiating, got called for a technical as he defended a call involving Murray, and was then called for a flop later in the game. Murray didn’t fare a whole lot better: 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the field and 2-of-8 from three and six turnovers. Combined, the Hawks’ starting backcourt shot 10-of-31 from the field and 4-of-18 from three.

From the Bulls’ side of things, obviously there’s a lot of injuries with Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams and Alex Caruso out of the lineup, and the visitors recovered well after going down by double-digits early. That run at the end of the first half was a turning point for them, and they continued to score at the rim all game long. But the second half in particular was easy work: 58% shooting from the field for 76 points, four players scoring 20 or more points, a little bit of defensive pressure from Carter combined with a porous Atlanta defense. It’s almost a surprise they didn’t win by a few more points all things considered. The fact the Hawks lost this game by only 10 points, with how Young and Murray struggled and all those paint points, is almost a head-scratcher (though 16 second chance points certainly helped in this spot).

All-in-all, a poor loss from the Hawks. It’s one thing for the starting backcourt to struggle offensively as they did (that can happen on any night), but defensively that was a nightmare — layup after layup after layup. Allowing 78% at the rim is a surefire way to lose an NBA game — sometimes it’s as simple as that.

The Hawks (24-30) are back in action on Wednesday night where they travel to Charlotte to take on the struggling Hornets (12-41), who are coming off the heels of a victory against the Pacers on Monday.

It’s the final game before the All-Star break for the Atlanta Hawks, and a much needed one at that. A loss against the Hornets here would just about sum up the season, and the Hawks have lost some stinkers in Charlotte previously so there is precedence there.

We shall soon see...

Until next time.