After losing two straight over the weekend to the Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks due to lack of energy, the Hawks returned home Tuesday night duplicating the same effort in a 112-94 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. The worst loss of their season entailed trailing by 35 at one point, Anthony Davis scoring just 13 points, lack of ball movement and plenty of head hanging. This game out of the three felt different, especially on a night rapper Gucci Mane brought so much energy and enthusiasm to Philips Arena with his highly anticipated halftime performance; the Hawks looked lifeless.
Their top-ranked defense looked out of sorts and uninspired, which attributed to the Pelicans shooting their second-highest field goal percentage of the season.
“They were too comfortable, they were too free, they had a lot of open looks,” said Coach Budenholzer postgame. “We couldn’t get to their shooters or contain the ball. 112 points total, 34, 32, 39 [first three quarter Pelican point total] that’s just way too many points, that’s not good enough defense.”
In the Budenholzer-era, this team has consistently been one of the best defenses the league has to offer; Hawks opponents are fully aware they will have to earn their points the hard way. The hardest part of the night for the New Orleans players looked like tying their shoes and putting on the jerseys.
Not only did they take it to the Hawks, but also guys like Tim Frazier and E’twaun Moore penetrated through Atlanta’s defense without a second thought. One of the founding principles of this defense is to make nothing easy in the paint, contest everything. The Hawks didn’t do that on Tuesday night and the Pelicans’ ball movement — 319 passes made — gave the Hawks a bit of their own medicine.
“They just played great basketball from the beginning to the end,” said Dwight Howard. “The moved the ball, the ball didn’t stick at all. They did a good job of finding the open man and attacking the gaps.”
Now after the most embarrassing loss of the season, this team looks ahead to a tough five game road trip starting with the Indiana Pacers and ending with the new look Golden State Warriors. This type of loss might of came at the right time, early enough to send a message and refocus, not too late enough to panic. That focus will be tested on their first lengthy road trip of the season, especially since they are shooting worse (45.2-percent) and accumulating less assists (22.5 per game) away from home in six games this season.
In an 82 game season, losing streaks say more about a team than the contrary, particularly for a squad with title aspirations like the Hawks. How they respond in Indiana Wednesday night will more than likely set the tone for the remainder of the trip, but also give insight into how mentally tough they are at this point.
“I think this will be good for us,” said Howard. “We need this early test because it will make us stronger. I think we will come out of all of this, a really good situation. We have to take it one game at a time; it’s going to be a tough trip.”