The Atlanta Hawks dropped their first game home after their four game road trip in what can only be described as an ugly, 85-83 affair with the L.A. Clippers. It’s a normal occurrence in the NBA for teams who have been on a lengthy road trip to have a let down game in their home return and this was no exception. In this tough loss, what were the takeaways from the first meeting of the season between the Clippers and the Hawks?
Jeff Teague’s haircut
“Handsome young man” – Bob Rathbun.
And moving swiftly on…
Lack of bench scoring
The Hawks’ bench made life very difficult for the starters, who essentially had to carry the entire offensive load. The bench scored just 12 points and were outscored by Jamal Crawford by himself, let alone the Clippers’ bench who outscored the Atlanta bench 39-12. Though, it wasn’t that the Hawks bench were outscored by Jamal Crawford by nine points that was concerning — the Hawks bench didn’t register a single point in the second half nor did they register a single free throw attempt in the second half. That’s incredible.
Dennis Schröder lead the bench scoring with seven points and he helped in the first half, but the rest of the bench didn’t step up. In fact, combined, the other four Hawks who came off the bench last night didn’t even outscore Schroder. Mike Scott could only muster one point, Sefolosha and Splitter only managed two points each, and Tim Hardaway Jr. didn’t score at all — taking just one shot.
The Clippers’ bench gave them the boost they needed last night as the starting unit looked tired, which the shooting percentages reflected — 38.8% from the field and 18.5% from three-point range. 21 points from Crawford, eight from Austin Rivers, and seven points and six steals from Wesley Johnson gave the Clippers the bench lift they sorely needed, as Chris Paul could only muster 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
There wasn’t a better time for the Hawks to play the Clippers, whose last home game was the manic 140-132 overtime victory against the Houston Rockets on January 18th. This game was also the second of a back-to-back, having won a nail biter in Indiana the previous night.
You can look at the two good looks that Paul Millsap missed at the end of the game, or Chris Paul dragging Horford down to the ground as DeAndre Jordan prepared to dunk home the go-ahead basket, but the bottom line as to why the Hawks lost this game was their bench didn’t perform and the Clippers’ did. Don’t believe me? The entire starting lineup for the Clippers finished with negative plus-minus ratings while all of the Hawks’ starting lineup finished with a positive plus-minus rating. The entire Clipper bench, meanwhile, finished with a positive plus/minus rating while the entire Hawks bench finished with a negative plus/minus.
Their impact on this game and the lack of impact the Hawks’ bench made turned the tide of this game.
Turnovers prove costly
Normally it’s the Hawks who make the opposition pay for turning the ball over, but last night the Hawks got a taste of their own medicine. The Hawks committed 23 turnovers and the Clippers made the Hawks pay, scoring 17 points off of those turnovers. Each turnover has the potential to be a four-to-six point swing. Instead of the Hawks potentially scoring a two or a three-pointer, they gave the Clippers so many opportunities to do so instead.
In a game that would eventually end in a two point loss these turnovers proved very costly for the Hawks, particularly in the second half. The Hawks committed 14 second half turnovers and the Clippers converted those into 11 points. A lot of credit belongs to the Clippers’ defense, who racked up 11 steals in the second half alone, and 16 in total.
Jeff Teague also believed that the turnovers proved costly (via the AJC quoteboard):
“Killed us. They did a good job and had active hands. We just didn’t take care of it tonight. It came back and bit us.”
Hack-a-Jordan backfires in the fourth quarter
As an NBA coach, you learn to play the percentages game. When Ricky Rubio is standing behind the three-point line, you leave him alone and let him shoot away from the perimeter. That’s the shot you want him to take. If he makes it that’s fine, you live with it, but more than likely it’s not going in and you can take advantage of his poor three-point shooting percentage.
Coach Bud decided to play the percentage game in the fourth quarter (as he did in the second quarter) and decided to send DeAndre Jordan to the free throw line in the fourth quarter. The idea of doing this is in hope that Jordan misses the majority of his free throws (which also takes the team out of any offensive rhythm and the ball out of the hands of Chris Paul) and eventually force the Clippers to take their defensive enforcer out of the game until there are two minutes remaining, where you can no longer foul off the ball intentionally.
Jordan headed into last night’s game shooting just 41.4% from the free throw line and surprised everyone when he went 6-of-8 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, hitting four in a row. If Jordan had shot to his percentage, we’d probably be talking about a Hawks victory rather than a defeat, but you have to give Jordan credit. He stepped up and made his free throws and made the Hawks pay the price for giving him the opportunity to add to the Clippers’ scoreline. Coach Bud played the percentages (as he should’ve, his decision to do so should never be in question) and he’ll just have to live with Jordan making his free throws.
Korver rediscovering his touch?
This is a classic “don’t look now but…” stat — Kyle Korver is averaging 48% shooting from three-point range in the last 10 games. Last night was the first time in a long time that Kyle Korver looked like Kyle Korver again. He connected on all four of his three-point attempts, including a clutch three to put the Hawks up by one with 24 seconds remaining, a play he admitted afterwards was a broken play (via the AJC quoteboard):
“The play was completely broken. That was not what it was drawn up to be at all. I just found myself with the ball up top and Al set a screen. I was able to step into one.”
He looked as though he has finally found his legs again, and his shooting form looked great. He’s getting to his spots quicker than he was in the early stages of the season which has made it harder for opponents to stay with Korver, as they did so with ease earlier in the season, and the result is that he has more room when he attempts a shot.
Again, don’t look now but things are looking good for Kyle Korver.
Just a couple of final, quick observations:
(1.) I liked the decision by Bud to put Bazemore on JJ Redick, and hide Korver on the offensively limited Luc Mbah a Moute. Bazemore did a good job contesting Redick’s shots, and the man shooting 48.9% from three coming into this game could only convert 2-of-6.
(2.) After Jamal Crawford sank two clutch free throws to put the Clippers up by three with 7.8 seconds remaining, the Hawks called a timeout to draw up a play to try and tie the game. The Clippers decide that they do not want the Hawks to attempt to tie the game with a three-pointer, and decided to immediately foul Al Horford as the ball was inbounded to him. This is something teams should definitely do more — if you’re up by three points foul on catch and send the opponent to the line and make him hit two free throws, rather than chance your arm and let them attempt a three. Although the Clippers turned the ball over after Horford made the second free throw and gave the Hawks another attempt to tie, the decision to send the Hawks to the line rather than let them attempt a game tying three was an excellent decision.