The Atlanta Hawks dropped Monday night’s game convincingly to the Charlotte Hornets. It was their fourth consecutive loss.
Without Paul Millsap, the Atlanta Hawks are not a good basketball team. That has become very clear over the course of the season, and especially over the last two games. The team is now 0-5 without him and look more like a lottery team than a playoff team when he isn’t on the floor.
Last night’s game against the Charlotte Hornets looked as though it was going to be different. The Hawks came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. Atlanta jumped out to an 8-1 lead thanks to a pair of three-pointers made by Tim Hardaway Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha.
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Their hot-start led to a quick rage timeout from Hornets coach Steve Clifford. Midway through the first quarter, Atlanta’s lead held steady at 15-7. They were in control of the game. A dismal end to the quarter sent things spiraling out of control. The score was 19-19 after the first quarter, but that was just the beginning of the collapse.
The Hornets started the second quarter on a 9-0 run and they would never trail again. The promising start was wasted. The Hornets would come away with a 105-90 victory. As you might expect, Atlanta’s offense struggled without Millsap’s stabilizing presence.
The Hawks shot 44 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from three-point range. 15 turnovers also bogged them down. Dennis Schroder led the way with 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting. Schroder kept the Hawks competitive for stretches with his quick dashes to the rim and three three-pointers. Kemba Walker, normally a solid positional defender, seemed to have trouble with Schroder’s quickness.
Ersan Ilyasova played well in his second straight start. He finished with 13 points and six rebounds on 5-for-11 shooting. It’s not Ilyasova’s fault he’s not Paul Millsap. He did his part, it just wasn’t enough.
Thabo Sefolosha and Tim Hardway Jr. each finished with 11 points, while Dwight Howard scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He also unleashed this nifty pass to Ilyasova. Sometimes you have to appreciate the small, positive moments that reveal themselves in the midst of a 15-point loss.
Another bright spot was 30 minutes for Taurean Prince. He didn’t have his best shooting night, but Prince finished with 13 points and four rebounds. He also played particularly aggressive defense. He’s going to be really good. Get excited about Prince, folks.
Other than Prince, Atlanta’s bench combined for just 11 points. Seven of those points came from Jose Calderon and Mike Muscala in garbage time. It was not pretty for the Hawks’ reserves.
Charlotte’s usually stagnant offense had a field day against a Hawks team that was missing both Millsap and Kent Bazemore. The Hornets shot 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from outside. Kemba Walker didn’t even play well and he still had a solid night. Charlotte’s All-Star scored just 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting. Four three-pointers highlighted an otherwise quiet night for Walker.
Nicolas Batum matched Walker’s 16 points and added six assists. Marvin Williams scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds on 5-for-10 shooting. Frank Kaminksy shook off early shooting struggles to score 14 points on 3-for-6 from three-point distance.
Briante Weber, Charlotte’s new backup point guard, was outstanding in 19 minutes of action. The former VCU star scored eight points, dished out an assist, grabbed four rebounds, and collected three steals. Weber is a spark-plug on offense and a relentless defender
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I’m amazed that it took so long for a team to make him their backup point guard. He recently signed a multi-year deal with the Hornets, so it looks like the Hawks will have to deal with him for the foreseeable future.
The team is saying all the right things, still, they seem extremely frustrated by this recent swoon. The following quotes come from Chris Vivlamore’s recap in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Ersan Ilyasova commented on Atlanta’s defensive struggles.
“They made their run and we couldn’t respond,” Ilyasova said. “Not just offensively but defensively. They got way too many easy baskets. We were struggling with the pick-and-roll defenses. They have a stretch-5 and it’s a tough situation with our rotations. Everybody shoots 3’s. We have to figure it out and stick together.”
Mike Budenholzer parroted the same things he’s been saying all season after bad losses.
“There is a concern with how we are playing,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It’s always been about what we are doing day-to-day. If you are doing things well day-to-day, you’ll move up in the standings and win games. If you are not doing things well day-to-day, the reverse will happen. We just have to be better.”
The Hornets are feisty, and the Hawks were shorthanded, but this is a bad loss. There’s no other way to describe it. The Hawks are now in danger of falling further down the standings. Indiana’s win over Utah means that Atlanta is just a single game ahead of them for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
They’re just three games ahead of the ninth place Miami Heat. With 12 games left, Atlanta missing the playoffs is a legitimate possibility. Mathematically they’re still in good standing, but their next two games come against the Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks. If Millsap misses both games then chalk up two losses.
The Hawks catch a break in terms of scheduling after the Wizards/Bucks stretch. A three-game swing against the Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns, and Philadelphia 76ers should give them an opportunity to pad their record and stave off the lottery.