The Atlanta Hawks dropped the first game of their back-to-back road trip against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, falling 93-116. Goran Dragić scored 27 points while Dion Waiters added 20 points as the Heat stretched their win streak to nine games.
Hawks outplayed, outhustled
After playing a gruelling 4OT game on Sunday, the Hawks gave their players both Monday and Tuesday off in order to recover. Despite that, the Hawks showed poor energy and effort compared to their division rivals, the Heat seemingly winning all of the 50-50 balls and just outhustled the Hawks. James Johnson in particular was running riot and no Hawk could match his energy and tenacity. James Johnson. When James Johnson is outhustling your entire team, I’m going to say that’s a problem.
The Hawks had started this game off O.K. but three consecutive threes for the Heat forced Bud into a timeout. The Heat took a seven point lead into the second quarter and continued to outhustle and outplay the Hawks in the second quarter behind an 11-0 run. The Heat would take a 15 point lead into the locker room at the half before stretching their lead to 20 points in the third and, with a game against the Rockets looming in the very near future, Bud decided to wave the white flag before the third quarter was even over. And that was, pretty much, all she wrote. There was some interesting drama in garbage time but we’ll get to that soon.
Were the Hawks still feeling the effects of Sunday or was a lack of practise the issue here? Either way, the Hawks should’ve played a lot better than they did. A lot better…
“I don’t know where to put the finger but we’ve got to come out with more intensity, come up more ready to play defense. I think the offense is okay but defensively we are not showing any type of intensity. We are not making it hard on them. I take a lot of that pressure. I’ve got to do a better job of leading these guys from the start.” — Paul Millsap
This was the Hawks’ sixth 20+ point loss this season… That’s a problem for any playoff team. But for Paul Millsap it matters little the margin of defeat.
“A loss is a loss, to me. Twenty points. Ten points. One point. It’s still a loss. We can’t look at it like a blowout. We’ve got to do a better job of coming out at the start of games.” — Paul Millsap
We’ve seen this Hawks team struggle so often out of the gate and often it has been talked about amongst the players and media, but when is it actually going to change? Not anytime soon, apparently…
While the Heat are streaking, played very well and were worth their win in every way, the Hawks should have been closer to the Heat than they ultimately were. I’m not saying they should’ve beaten the Heat (not to take away from what the Heat did) but this should’ve been a more competitive game. But again, credit to Miami, they’ve been playing exceptionally well of late and last night was no exception.
Poor three-point defense
The Hawks have had trouble defending the three-pointer this season — ranking 25th in opponent three-pointers made conceding 10.3 threes a game on 36% shooting — and last night was no exception. The Heat only (yeah, only) made 12 three-pointers last night and the reason I say only is because the Hawks have had games where they’ve conceded 17/18 threes. But the manner in which the Hawks conceded some of these threes last night was baaaaaad…
The Heat outscored the Hawks 36-21 in threes and it’s not hard to see why.
Watch Kent Bazemore in this following clip. Even before Waiters penetrates, Baze is already cheating Luke Babbit — a career 40% three-point shooter and shooting 38% this season — on defense and is drawn towards the painted area. By the time Waiters has penetrated and kicked the ball back out to Babbit, Baze is nowhere near him and Babbit knocks down the open three.
I have no idea what Baze is doing or what he’s hoping to achieve by leaving Babbit this open. Dwight Howard is there if Waiters — as he did — gets past Millsap. Bazemore doesn’t need to be in the paint in this possession. Babbit didn’t need to be asked twice.
Off of a turnover, Babbit fills the lane in transition and heads toward the corner. As he arrives there are two Hawks that are back in transition: Tim Hardaway Jr. and Millsap. Paul points to Babbit in the corner and tells THJ to cover him while Millsap would offer the rim protection. However, THJ remains in the middle of the paint next to Millsap and when Rodney McGruder arrives with the ball, he passes it to the wide open Babbit. Bazemore manages to get somewhat near Babbit and probably expected him to pass the ball to the open Dion Waiters. If he did, Baze would be in a great position to come up with a steal. However, Babbit doesn’t even fake a pass, shot-faking instead, taking a step to his right and hits the three, leading to a timeout and a very angry Bud.
Not the greatest defensive sequence, you can see why Bud was so furious. THJ should definitely have guarded Babbit in the corner (McGruder was always running into Millsap leaving THJ with no reason to be there) and Bazemore should’ve done a better job contesting/not allowing Babbit’s three-point shot rather than trying to go for the steal and allow Babbit the opportunity to shoot.
If you were to watch the following clip in real time, you would probably think “Oh, good ball movement by the Heat” and to an extent you’d be right. But watch Kent Bazemore, again, on this possession. The Heat push in transition with Dragić and he’s met by Bazemore. So, for this possession Baze should be guarding Dragić, that’s what this fastbreak opportunity has created for the Heat. When the fastbreak threat is extinguished, Dragić passes the ball to James Johnson and when he does, Bazemore decides that he’s just done guarding Dragić and is drawn to the paint, again. The Heat penetrate and move the ball, eventually finding a wide open Dragić and he hits the three.
Where is Baze on this possession? Why has he left Dragić like this? The only case I could make for Baze here is that, perhaps, he saw Schröder getting back on defense and assumed he would pick up Dragić. However, when Millsap is beaten by Wayne Ellington, THJ leaves Tyler Johnson to cut off Ellington’s drive (which he successfully does) and Schröder picks up Johnson. The only issue with this is that Baze doesn’t leave Dragić to actually guard anyone else, he’s just in the paint adding nothing, defensively, to this possession. Good ball penetration and ball movement by the Heat for sure, but Bazemore has to stick with Dragić here.
Our final example keeps us in the second quarter. Baze is guarding Dion Waiters and Millsap is guarding James Johnson. Right. Now, while James Johnson is shooting 36% from three this season, Millsap has him covered. Baze decides to leave Waiters (in what I can only assume is an attempt to come up with a steal?) and is now in the grill of James Johnson, who quickly swings the ball to the wide open Waiters and he hits the three.
In the eight game stretch prior to this game, Waiters had been shooting 49% from three and has been one of the main reasons why the Heat are now on a nine game winning streak. To leave him open like this is inexcusable.
The Heat saw many open three-point looks come their way and, in many ways, the Hawks were lucky the Heat only made 12 of their 32 three-point attempts. These particular threes seem to be down to player error more so than a product of the defensive scheme that Hawks have been running, which tends to lead to open threes. Yes, the Hawks were missing Thabo Sefolosha last night and that definitely showed but the Hawks have to do a better job guarding the three-point line. Many of these threes could’ve been avoided.
A poor night in moving the ball
The Hawks had one of their worst assisting nights of the season, dishing out just 13 assists. This number was actually just 11 prior to the fourth quarter and its extended garbage time and even the reserves struggled, dishing out just two assists in the final period. Point guard Dennis Schröder produced only two assists while backup point guard, Malcolm Delaney, produced only one assist. It was DeAndre Bembry who produced a team high three assists last night as he saw extended minutes in the absence of Thabo Sefolosha.
When you look at possessions like this:
It’s not hard to see why the Hawks only produced 13 assists…
Points in the paint differential
In the first two games of this season series, the Hawks scored 50 and 58 points in the paint respectively. Coach Eric Spoelstra pinpointed this as an area of focus for the Heat prior to the game:
Erik Spoelstra: “They’ve absolutely dominated us in the paint the two games. Pummeled us.”
— Chris Vivlamore (@CVivlamoreAJC) February 1, 2017
The Heat made sure to right that wrong on Wednesday night, outscoring the Hawks 54-36 in the paint. The Heat did a great job defending the paint and kept the Hawks’ penetration to a minimum. Dennis Schröder was able to squeeze through a few times but, for the most part, the Heat shut down his and Dwight Howard’s effectiveness in the paint. Dwight has had the measure of Whiteside when these two teams have met this season but Whiteside won this matchup last night scoring 18 points and securing 18 rebounds compared to Dwight’s six points and 11 rebounds.
TP tossed in garbage time
Just as you thought that this game would just play itself out in the fourth quarter…drama! Taurean Prince committed this hard foul on Hassan Whiteside as he rose to score the offensive rebound, prompting quite the skirmish:
Prince was, quite rightly, ejected while James Johnson was also ejected for his part in this scuffle. Postgame, Whiteside labelled Prince as a “fake tough guy” while Prince said that he didn’t mean to hurt Whiteside and that Coach Bud had told him to put Whiteside on the free throw line and not to give him anything easy:
“I don’t play the game of basketball to try to hurt somebody. I was just doing what my coach told me to do and that was to put Whiteside on the line and not give him anything easy. That’s what I did.” — Taurean Prince
Unfortunately, Prince went about it the wrong way.
“It did not look good. Unfortunately for Hassan Whiteside it’s a tough, bad fall. I think Taurean is just trying to wrap him up and not let him get an and-one. It ended up looking, and probably deservedly so, but there was nothing intentional, dirty or ugly. We hope Whiteside is fine. Taurean, wrapping up a guy is important and hopefully he can do it without that kind of fall.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
We’ve watched TP (albeit briefly) this season and it doesn’t take long to see and recognise that he’s not that kind of player. He just got this one horribly wrong. The ejection was the right decision and TP will learn from this.
The Hawks (28-21) have no time to feel sorry for themselves, they’re up against an even better team in the form of the Houston Rockets on Thursday night in Dwight Howard’s first return to Houston since he left the Rockets last summer after three seasons.