Hawks vs. Trail Blazers — Things of Note

Graham Chapple —  March 19, 2017

The Atlanta Hawks dropped their second straight home game, this time against the Portland Trail Blazers, 113-97. In what was a wire-to-wire win for the Blazers, Damian Lillard led the way with 27 points while his running mate, C.J. McCollum, added 22 points. For the Hawks, Ersan Ilyasova — probably the only Hawks who you could say had a good game — led the way with 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from behind the arc.

Standings watch

Following this loss, the Hawks are now three games behind the Toronto Raptors in the race for home court advantage. The Hawks are about to head on a three game road trip (@ Charlotte, @ Washington and @ Milwaukee) this week. If this road trip goes badly, you can kiss home court advantage goodbye.

No Millsap = problems

Paul Millsap was a late scratch from this game with left knee tightness. The Hawks are 0-3 in his absence and the average margin of defeat is 27 points (including a 44 point loss to the Toronto Raptors). With last night’s loss that number drops to 0-4.

I mean, where do I even start with the Hawks last night? The defense was awful, the offense was awful, there was no effort, no urgency and little respect given to a team who has now won 7 of their last 9 games. There was little/no respect given to Lillard or McCollum, who literally got to whatever spot they wanted and got any shot they wanted…etc.

Yea…pretty much, Kimi, pretty much. The Hawks playing very poorly in Millsap’s absence was no coincidence at 0-3 and is no coincidence now at 0-4.

Anyways, let’s try to break some of it down and see where the Hawks went wrong. It’s worth mentioning, before we get cracking here, that not all of this could’ve been avoided even if Millsap was in the lineup. The Hawks have a lot of issues with Paul in the lineup, let alone without.

However, the Hawks are going to have to get used to Millsap’s absence. Chris Vivlamore of the AJC reports that both Millsap and Bazemore — who suffered a knee contusion near the end of this game — will miss at least two games, Bazemore to be re-evaluated in 7-10 days.

Nightmare first quarter

The Hawks have been known for their slow starts this season and, to be fair, this hasn’t been as much of an issue these days than it was in January but last night the slow starts returned with a bang.

The Blazers quickly raced to an 8-0 lead within the first minute. Then to an 11-3 lead. Then a 23-5 lead. By the end of the first quarter it was a 40-18 lead. Dwight Howard put it pretty well postgame:

“It’s terrible. We have to do a better job of coming out and getting stops and taking good shots. We can’t do this at home. It’s embarrassing. It’s not cool. … It’s how we start the game. If we give teams confidence from the beginning, they are going to continue to play that way. We dug ourselves a hole.”

“We have to play basketball. When somebody goes down, somebody else has to step up.”

— Dwight Howard

The Hawks shot 4-of-25 (16%) from the field while the Blazers shot 16-of-21 (76%). The Hawks couldn’t hit water even if they fell out of a boat, particularly around the rim…good Lord. Shot after shot after shot just rolled off the rim or was swallowed by Jusuf Nurkić or C.J. McCollum who combined for three first quarter blocks.

The Blazers, in comparison, were able to score at the rim at will in the first quarter:

Sure, the Blazers hit a few shots from the outside it wasn’t like they caught fire from the outside. They could’ve definitely have been slowed down had the Hawks matched their intensity.

When the Hawks are struggling on the offensive end they dial up Paul Millsap and trust him to make something happen, which he usually does. No one — bar Ersan — really stepped up on the offensive end in Paul’s absence. Watching how this game unfolded (as Dennis and THJ struggled to get going), all I kept thinking was “Who’s going to score on this team?”.

“It was the first quarter that we couldn’t recover from. We have to start better. We have to be better coming out of the gates.”

“… As a group you have to step up when a teammate goes down. When one of your better players goes down, everybody has to step up. We didn’t do that in the first quarter.”

— Coach Mike Budenholzer

After that…less than ideal first quarter, Hawks were playing catchup for the rest of this game and they had a lot of time to to chip away at this lead but couldn’t cut the lead below 11 points. That in itself is quite disappointing.

“…We can’t blame the loss on Paul Millsap not playing. It’s not an excuse. We just have to do a better job…”

— Dennis Schröder

Dennis is right, the Hawks can’t blame this loss solely on the absence of Paul. There’s an awful lot more they can blame this loss on than just missing Millsap…

Dennis’ horrible night

It was another night to forget for Dennis. Having struggled against the Grizzlies (10 points on 4-of-16 shooting) he had another rough game on Saturday — eight points on 2-of-14 shooting. Against the Grizz, Dennis was getting to his sports but the shots that we’ve seen him hit all season…some of those simply didn’t go down. It happens. But this game was different, he seemed a little out of sorts.

Look, let’s be blunt here. Dennis was awful. In fact, he was so bad that in the later exchanges in the second quarter, Bud yanked Dennis from the game and sent Malcolm Delaney back into the game with three fouls. That tells you everything you need to know about Dennis’ night, really. 

Against Mike Conley, you can be forgiven for having an off night — Conley is a good defender. Damian Lillard, however, is not a top notch defender, and he’s definitely a player Dennis should’ve exploited more than he did.

With the Hawks’ leading scorer (Millsap) out, offense has to come from somewhere and the fact that Dennis couldn’t step up was a huge reason why the Hawks lost this game. Matched up against a poor defender in Lillard, Dennis should’ve looked to attack Lillard off the dribble a lot more than he did. To further compound the issue, when Dennis did attack the rim his shots were either blocked or fell short.

In the last two games, Schröder has scored just 18 points on 6-of-30 shooting.

“It happens. Other games nobody says anything when I play great. It just happens. Everybody has games like that. I’m just going to keep being aggressive and help my teammates get some wins.

— Dennis Schröder

Lack of defense, effort and energy

(Continuation of the last point, which feeds in nicely into this one)

It wasn’t as though Dennis was clamping down on Lillard, or anyone for that matter, to make up for his rough shooting night. Lillard scored 27 points and Dennis’ defence of him was poor.


Dennis just gives up on this play, uninterested in recovering from this screen and sticking with Lillard right until the end of this possession. A very easy basket for Dame in the end.

It was honestly so bad watching the Hawks defend Lillard, and McCollum for that matter. The pair found it so, so, so easy to get to their spots and fire freely with so little resistance. 

Example 1:

Example 2:

Example 3:

And example 4:

Did you notice a recurring theme in most of these? The big isn’t stepping up and contesting the shot off of the pick-and-roll. And that big is…you guessed it, Dwight Howard. And there were so many more examples of this during this game. Heck, just watch those two compilations of Lillard and McCollum and you’ll see it time and time again.

The Hawks also showed very little urgency or hustle in defensive fast break situations. 

Here, while the Hawks are jogging back while the Blazers are attacking with purpose and numbers. Tim Hardaway can’t be everywhere at once. He tries to cut off the initial run of in the paint but when the ball is kicked to the shooter, he tries to get there but he simply can’t and the result is a made Portland three.

You can’t defend effort like this, it’s just not good enough. After this play Bud immediately called for a timeout, obviously not too thrilled with his team’s effort either.

This play about summed up the Hawks last night: Dwight Howard sliding out of the way of McCollum, who lays the ball in with no rim protection.

No resistance, no effort and no energy. Bud was furious with Dwight after this play, as he should’ve been. His postgame assessment of the defense he team played was brief.

“I thought we were poor defensively..”

— Coach Mike Budenholzer

Hard to argue with that.

Poor offense

Without Paul Millsap, it’s just so much harder for the Hawks to score consistently in the paint, even more so on a night when Dennis can’t score at/get to the rim. As such, it became a ‘offense-from-the-perimeter’ kind of game and, unfortunately, no one — other than Ersan — could get that shot to go down. Kent Bazemore went 0-of-4 from deep, Thabo Sefolosha, Taurean Prince and Malcolm Delaney all went 0-of-3 from three and THJ shot 2-of-6 from three.

In one possession, this was Atlanta’s offensive story in a nutshell: searching for offense from the outside and unable get much offense from the inside when they couldn’t get anything from the outside, because Dwight — unless you’re running a play for him — can’t really create offense for himself in the same way Paul can and Dennis was struggling to get to the rim.

As a result of all of these different factors, the Blazers outscored the Hawks 48-30 in paint points — a huge story from this game.

“…I thought we were poor offensively. We weren’t very good on either end.”

— Coach Mike Budenholzer

Failure to punish turnovers

As was the case when the Hawks faced the Spurs last Monday, Atlanta failed to make Portland pay for their turnovers. The Blazers coughed the ball up 20 times but the Hawks only scored 14 points off of those.

Even in the first quarter, the Blazers turned the ball over seven times but the Hawks only scored two points off of those seven turnovers.

A missed opportunity for sure. 

A ridiculous video review and tech on Dwight

In the third quarter of this game, Dwight makes contact with Jusuf Nurkić as he tries to fake the big man in the post. Nurkić embellishes the contact and goes to ground, prompting the referees decide to review the play for a possible contact to Nurkić’s face and a possible flagrant foul. As the replays shows, Dwight does not make contact with Nurkić’s face, rather — light — contact with his upper chest area. It’s fairly obvious there’s no contact with the face but the officials asses Dwight a technical foul for “physical taunting”.

What? Physical taunting? How? I just don’t understand. There is absolutely nothing here. I’m not a huge fan of Dwight Howard at all, but this is absolutely ridiculous and no other player would get this sort of treatment. Dwight had lots to say about the play postgame via Chris Vivlamore of the AJC:

On the technical foul

“I just think it was B.S. to be honest with you. I can’t sit up here and sugarcoat it. Player taunting. Me hitting someone in the chest. It shouldn’t be even reviewed. It should be going down on the next play and getting ready to play defense. Instead it was reviewed and said that I hit him in the face. You go look at the replay and it’s nowhere near his face. I don’t like it. Everybody should be treated the same way on the floor. No matter how strong you are, big you are, small you are, whatever it is. It’s NBA. It’s no boys allowed. We are all grown men out there. You have to be able to play out there.”

On referee’s explanation

“He said ‘If you would have hit him in the face than it would have been some more.’ I said ‘I didn’t hit him in the face.’ It didn’t make sense to me. (Nurkic) did a good job of acting it out. He should find a way to make it to Hollywood. Or they are doing films in Atlanta now. He can find a good film right here and do some acting. That’s what it was.”

On frustration of second such technical foul

“It’s always frustrating. If I’m on one end and somebody hacks me and they say it’s a regular foul. I come on the other end and I barely hit somebody and it’s reviewed and looked at like I was trying to hurt someone out there on the floor. It is frustrating and you can’t use the excuse that you are bigger than everybody. Guys are taller than me. That’s just an excuse and it’s got to stop at some point.”

Hard to argue with any of what Dwight. The call was absolute nonsense. I’m not a huge defender of Dwight, so the fact I’m saying what I’m saying should help hammer of all this home. Ridiculous.

Free throws

Here’s something positive from last night.

The Hawks have been one of the worst teams in the NBA when it comes to making free throws/free throw percentage. Yes, Dwight is part of the problem but it’s not just him. Missed freebies have cost the Hawks games recently but last night they had one of their better nights shooting from the foul line in recent memory — 26-of-32 were the Hawks from the line. 

Tim Hardaway Jr. shot 8-of-9, Ersan Ilyasova shot 5-of-7, Taurean Prince shot 4-of-5 and Dwight shot 2-of-3. 

You have to give credit where credit is due, a decent night for the Hawks at the line.

Common sense Delaney returns to rotation

After riding with José Calderón for the last five games, Malcolm Delaney made his return to the rotation and scored eight points on 3-of-7 shooting in just under 26 minutes.

“I liked Malcolm. We’ve talked about his defense all year. It wasn’t the reason we did it but when you have McCollum and Lillard those are two of the toughest covers in the league.

“…I thought Malcolm’s defense was good. He competes on that end and made a few shots.”

— Coach Mike Budenholzer

Delaney’s return should’ve happened sooner.

The trade off for playing José over Delaney is that Calderón is the better shooter of the two. The only problem was that he wasn’t shooting well: 3.2 PPG on 38% shooting from the field and 22% from three prior to Saturday’s game. That number is only as high as it is because Calderón scored 14 points in garbage time against the Grizzlies last week. He had registered three (now four) scoreless games prior to Saturday’s game against the Blazers.

I understand that Bud was just seeing what he had in Calderón but, having seen what we have seen, José should not be seeing any other court time other than garbage time from here on out. It’s a defensive nightmare when he’s on the court. I understand he’s a wonderful teammate and professional, that’s great, but that alone shouldn’t merit him minutes.

Up next:

The Hawks (37-32) head to Charlotte to kick off a three-game road trip starting on Monday with a division tilt against the Hornets.

Game stats: NBA.com
Hawks quotes: The AJC via Chris Vivlamore
More Hawks quotes: Peachtree Hoops via Kris Willis

Graham Chapple