The Atlanta Hawks’ season can’t have hit much more of a low note after suffering a 98-95 defeat against the Phoenix Suns, who were without Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Markieff Morris, Jon Leuer, and Ronnie Price. In a classic trap game situation the Suns got the job done, with Archie Goodwin hitting the go-ahead, contested three with 0.1 seconds of the game remaining. The Hawks are now 1-2 on their Western Conference road trip. In a very disappointing loss, what were the takeaways from this game?
The need for a consistent backup center
With Paul Millsap unavailable for this game due to personal reasons, Al Horford slid over to the power forward spot and Tiago Splitter started at center. Millsap has been Atlanta’s best player this season and his production was always going to be sorely missed, as he leads the team in scoring, rebounding, and steals. It was, therefore, important that the Hawks received meaningful production from Splitter, but this never materialized. Splitter only registered two points, three rebounds and a plus-minus rating of minus-13 in just 17 minutes, 11 of which came in the first half.
I’m sorry but he earns nearly $9 million this season. How can you justify having a backup center who can’t even provide 20 minutes or play in crunch time (in a game where rebounding was an issue) when there’s an injury? There was a period in the fourth quarter where Mike Scott played center (while Horford got some rest, eventually playing 38 minutes) and Thabo Sefolosha was the power forward. I love Mike Scott, and he had a good game, but he should NEVER be your center. At all.
Atlanta’s lack of consistent center backup really hurt them in this game. Any time Horford came to the aid of his teammate as a help defender, it left the rim vulnerable. One particular play at the end of the third quarter illustrated this. Horford attempted to block a layup attempt by Archie Goodwin and, in doing so, left Chandler in the perfect spot to slam home the offensive put back. The lack of another big body to box out Chandler or contest the rebound hurt the Hawks in this particular situation.
More rebounding issues and second chance points
For two games in a row this has been a problem for the Hawks. Rebounding the basketball was always going to be a more challenging issue for the Hawks with their leading rebounder unavailable (Millsap, 8.8 per game).
However, there’s a limit as to how far you can push that excuse. Tyson Chandler exploded for 27 rebounds last night. This isn’t Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler we’re talking about. This is the washed up and old Tyson Chandler going for 27 rebounds. It gets worse though: 13 of those 27 rebounds were offensive rebounds. The Atlanta Hawks allowed the 33-year-old, 15th-year veteran to snatch 13 offensive rebounds. That’s inexcusable. I’m sorry Al Horford, Mike Scott and Tiago Splitter but it is.
In another three point loss, the Hawks also allowed the Suns to tally a double digit number in second chance points (10). You might argue that 10 second chance points isn’t a whole lot to give up, but it’s more so when the Hawks allowed them. Two of those came from Tyson Chandler in the play described above at the end of the third quarter. The end of any quarter is never a good time to concede second chance points. It usually highlights a lack of focus to finish out the quarter.
However, there is an even worse time to concede second chance points: the last minute of the game. Goodwin attempted a finger roll in the paint. He missed, but Chandler bullied Horford for position (and did so with ease) and tipped in the rebound to give the Suns the 95-93 advantage with 24.6 seconds remaining. Four second chance points (in a three point loss) came in the last 30 seconds in two different quarters. This shows a lack of defensive effort and concentration to see the quarter through, and the Hawks paid the price.
Poor fourth quarter offense
Not until there 5:27 to play in the fourth quarter did the Hawks attempt a shot that was not a 3-pointer. The Hawks went 3-of-10 from behind the arc in the opening 6:33. To take that long to attempt a 2-point field goal is just poor offense from a good offensive team with great offensive principles. And it’s not as if the Hawks didn’t have the opportunity to score some two-point baskets in the period. Dennis Schröder passed up at least two layup opportunities in favor of finding his teammates for a 3-point shot. The Hawks’ lack of attempts in the paint in the fourth quarter was alarming. Look at this fourth quarter shot chart, which shows only three field goal attempts in the paint in the fourth quarter. That’s not good enough.
Hawks fans can only hope Paul Millsap returns very soon.
An extremely strange and amazing phase of play
Let’s end with something fun, one of the most ridiculous phases of play of the season.
Wow! There’s so much to dissect here. Total carnage. A blown dunk, bodies flying everywhere, some fantastic defense by Horford to protect the rim and somehow prevent a score, the Suns somehow not scoring, and an amazing pass from Dennis to find Bazemore in the corner who ties the game.