Hawks @ Spurs — Things of Note

Graham Chapple —  March 14, 2017

The Atlanta Hawks couldn’t stop the San Antonio Spurs from moving atop of the Western Conference as the Spurs topped the Hawks 107-99 in San Antonio. The Spurs were led by Kawhi Leonard’s 31 points while Patty Mills — in place of the injured Tony Parker — scored 15 points and dished out nine assists. For the Hawks, they were led by Dennis Schröder’s double-double, 22 points and 10 assists.

The streak continues

February 15th 1997. That was the date the Hawks last beat the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio and last night that losing streak (now 19 games) continued.

Without LaMarcus Aldridge (get well soon) and Tony Parker, this was as good of a time as ever for the Hawks to, perhaps, emerge from San Antonio with a victory but, alas, it was not to be. Kawhi Leonard was just so good, a truly special talent and an MVP candidate. His contributions on both ends of the floor were a huge reason why the Spurs won this game, as is often the case.

Threes the key

You can look at this game in two different ways: The Hawks either lost this game because they couldn’t contain San Antonio’s three-pointers, or because they couldn’t hit their own threes. The Spurs hit a season-high 16-of-34 (47%) from behind the arc while the Hawks only hit 6-of-22 (27%) from behind the arc, San Antonio outscoring the Hawks 48-18 from three. Take your pick, either way, the three-pointer was the difference.

After, seemingly, taking steps forward when it came to defending the three — holding Memphis and Toronto to a combined nine threes — the Hawks appear to have taken a step back in San Antonio.

We’re going to take a look at some of San Antonio’s threes.

Thabo Sefolosha is guarding Kawhi Leonard on this possession in the first quarter. As Patty Mills slides toward the baseline, Dennis Schröder and Dwight Howard attempt to spring a trap. Sefolosha leaves Kawhi in order to cover Pau Gasol, who would’ve been wide open since Dwight left him to go trap Mills. Unfortunately, Mills sees the wide open Kawhi, finds him and Leonard knocks down the three.

I can’t imagine ‘leave Kawhi wide open’ was mentioned in the Hawks’ scouting report, but anyways… By leaving Kawhi, the Hawks gave Mills an easy option to pass out of this trap. The crosscourt pass to Kawhi is an easier pass to make than back to Pau, since Schröder is, at least, in between Mills and Pau whereas there’s no defender in between Mills and Kawhi. Credit to Mills, though. He was very quick to spot the open Leonard once the trap was sprung and delivered a nice pass to find him.

Late in the second quarter, Manu Ginobili passes the ball to Kawhi Leonard, who teases a shot before driving toward the rim. Ersan Ilyasova is matched up with Pau Gasol for this defensive sequence and leaves him in order to slide over to draw a charge on Leonard. As Kawhi barrels into Ersan (which, to be fair, should’ve been called as a charge), he zips the ball to the open Gasol. Sefolosha does a good job sliding over to take away the Gasol baseline jumper but Pau spots an open Manu, delivers him the ball and Manu knocks down the three.

What is Kent Bazemore doing here? There is absolutely no need to come help Thabo in this situation, Pau isn’t backing down Thabo. If he was, it would be a different situation and the double/help would be understandable but he’s not. There’s absolutely no need to leave Manu for a wide open three here.

In the third quarter, after recovering from a stumble, Kawhi Leonard passes the ball to the moving David Lee. Because Paul Millsap is recovering after going to ground in an attempt to wrestle the ball from Kawhi, Sefolosha was forced to leave Lee in order to cover Kawhi. Bazemore is forced to leave his man (this time, Danny Green) in order to put a body on Lee and Lee whips the ball out to Danny Green and he hits the three.

Unlike the last example, the decision by Baze to leave his man is fine — he had to do that — but the contest isn’t great. He just runs right past Green, who doesn’t even fake a shot in order to get Bazemore off of his feet, Baze just runs right past him and should’ve been called for the foul as he tried to reach around and block the shot.

(Again, worth mentioning: I’m not targeting Baze on purpose. It just so happens that in the midst of poor three-point defense, he happens to be involved)

Pau Gasol also caused issues with his ability to stretch the floor. The Spurs ran this one play where they have Pau and Lee set screens for the ball handler at the top of the three-point line. These force Schröder to have to run behind them and this frees up Mills. Millsap has to step up and cut off Mills’ path to the rim or his ability to pull up and shoot. As Paul steps up, David Lee is rolling toward the rim and this grabs the attention of both the recovering Millsap and Howard. While all of this is happening, Mills passes the ball the wide open Pau Gasol and by the time the Hawks realise what’s going on it’s way too late and Pau knocks down the open three.

It’s easy to blame Dwight here, but if he’s nearer to Pau, David Lee, who is ahead of Millsap on the play (as Paul recovering having had to step up on Mills) has a free lane to the rim. Maybe that doesn’t ultimately matter though, since Lee is really just the decoy here to get Pau an open shot… It’s just a beautiful set.

The Spurs run a variation of the play with Manu handling the ball instead of Mills and, again, Pau has a wide open three staring at him. But Pau’s slight hesitation takes away the open three and Gasol, instead, pump-fakes, drives and hits the floater.

The Spurs then run the exact same play that led the first Pau three again in the second quarter and, again, Pau is left with an open three.

I don’t recall/remember seeing the Spurs run this play in the second half but they got way too much use out of it than they should have in the first half. This is what happens when you have a center who prefers to sit in the paint matched up against a center who has a shooting touch — it creates problems if you aren’t willing to step out and guard that man.

Some of threes aren’t great but, at the end of the day, these are the Spurs. They move the ball fantastically and their ball and man movement last night was fantastic and they deserve a lot of credit for that. They cause everybody’s defense problems.

For the Hawks and their three-point story, they were undone by some outstanding San Antonio defense, particularly in the second quarter and down the stretch in the fourth quarter, where the Hawks just couldn’t score. Dennis Schröder tried to force matters in the fourth quarter and shot 1-of-5 in the final period, including some questionable three-point shots (he finished 0-of-4 from three on the night). Tim Hardaway Jr. also tried to force things in the fourth quarter from three, shooting 3-of-7 from three in the fourth quarter alone.

Failure to punish San Antonio’s turnovers

The Spurs’ 16 threes were a season-high and so were their 21 turnovers, but the Hawks couldn’t take full advantage and it proved costly. The Hawks only managed to score 21 points off of those turnovers, a point per turnover if you will. While, normally, you’d be happy to score 21 points off of your opponent’s turnovers, the Hawks should’ve scored more than that but their own turnovers, mistakes and poor shot selection cost the Hawks in this department.

“If you get turnovers, you have to be able to get points out of them. We just didn’t capitalize on them. The execution wasn’t that great. We had stretches where we executed really well. We had stretches were we were just dumbfounded. Against a good team they are going to capitalize on that.” 

— Paul Millsap

That said, you have to give the Spurs a lot of credit for the defense they played. They made up for their own mistakes with their half-court defense, which was on another level at times.

“Overall I was pleased with our defense. I thought they did a great job holding those guys under 100, given the fact we turned it over 20 times. It was a heck of an effort by the guys tonight.”

— Coach Gregg Popovich

More free throw problems

It was another tough night for the Hawks at the stripe as they shot 19-of-30 from the line. Had the Hawks made a few more of their freebies…who knows what kind of game this could’ve been. Dwight Howard, in particular, struggled from the line shooting 3-of-10 having started out 1-for-8.

Up next:

The Hawks (37-30) will return to Philips Arena where they will face the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night.

Game stats: NBA.com
Hawks quotes: The AJC via Chris Vivlamore
Spurs quotes: San Antonio Express News via Jeff McDonald

Graham Chapple