Atlanta Hawks

Hawks go cold down the stretch in loss to Thunder

The Atlanta Hawks suffered their fourth consecutive loss on Tuesday night, as they fell 119-107 to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Philips Arena.

Taurean Prince followed up his 38-point performance with another 25 to lead the Hawks, while Dennis Schröder added 18 points and eight assists.

For the Thunder, Russell Westbrook notched his 100th career triple double with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Carmelo Anthony ignited in the third quarter and added 21 points to the OKC cause.

Cold stretch proves costly

This was turning out to be a very interesting game indeed.

After stretching away from the Thunder near the end of the first half (taking a 12 point lead) the Thunder — mostly behind the three-point explosion by Carmelo Anthony — roared back with a 36 point third quarter and then opened an eight point lead in the fourth quarter.

The Hawks reeled off an 8-0 run to tie the game at 103-103, Taurean Prince’s three-pointer equalling the score with 5:17 remaining:

The Thunder called a timeout at this juncture and came up with a 16-0 run out of the timeout to bury the Hawks and secure this game.

The Hawks, meanwhile, only scored four points in the final 5:18 and those all came in the final minute when the game was already over — the offense just completely broke down down the stretch: 2-of-8 shooting, 0-of-3 from three and five turnovers in the final 5:18.

Russell Westbrook took over in that stretch with seven points and got the benefit of the whistle, getting to the line on six occasions down the stretch while also setting up pretty much all of the Thunder’s 16 points in the final 5:18.

When he gets a full head of steam, he’s just very difficult to handle, and when you do collapse onto him he finds the open man and finds Jerami Grant here for three:

If you’re the Hawks, you’ll live with Grant taking that perimeter shot instead of Westbrook taking a shot.

Grant was really solid in this game scoring 19 points, hitting that important three and then scoring this tough basket plus the foul:

The Hawks didn’t really do themselves any favors on the offensive end, taking some questionable shots in that stretch, this from Dennis Schröder being one:

Taurean Prince had enjoyed a good game but when that outside shot falls for Prince, sometimes he’s prone to settle and the shots he put up down the stretch didn’t go down, with this one being blocked:

Good defensive play by Brewer here, to be fair to Prince…

This one was a little bit more of settle with 18 seconds left on the clock:

Isaiah Taylor also couldn’t get anything going down the stretch:

That 5:18 cold stretch was very obviously the deciding factor in this game and the Hawks’ inability to score and produce stops proved a deadly combination

However, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer was happy with his side’s performance, particularly in the first half, labelling it one of the best the halves the Hawks have played this season.

“A lot of things competitiveness-wise and aggressiveness and ball movement (were positive),” said Budenholzer postgame. “Especially in the first half, probably one of our best halves of basketball (this season). It’s 103-103 with five minutes to go. Credit to them. They made one last run and separated from us and closed out the game…”

Budenholzer also drew positives amongst his players, particularly in Taurean Prince and Dennis Schröder.

“A lot of positives all up and down the roster,” continued Budenholzer. “Damion Lee – I don’t know where he was yesterday – he comes out and plays 17-18 minutes tonight. Andrew White and our G League guys. Obviously Taurean and Dennis are setting the stage with the way they’re competing and the way they’re playing. The way they’re up into their guys. I just love the way Dennis and Taurean are setting the tone for our group, and the bigs rotating through. I just like the way we played tonight. We always talk about getting better and there’s no doubt we did that tonight.”

For Dennis Schröder, the deciding run came down to two things: Russell Westbrook and the Thunder’s experience.

“Russell Westbrook took over,” said Schröder of the final 5:18. “He’s a helluva player. Carmelo hit some shots. We have to give them credit. Grant had a couple of and one’s. They had a run. Runs happen. They were better tonight.”

“They’ve been in the league (for a while),” continued Schröder. “We have five players, rookies, from the G League. They’re more experienced. But I think we played well tonight. As a team, I think we got better. But down the stretch, they just had better players than us.”

“Westbrook is going to be Westbrook, but ‘Melo coming out there, I think he hit four straight three balls,” said John Collins of the final five minutes. “It’s tough to stop him when a guy gets hot like that. You get that momentum, which (brought) them back in the game. Everybody is playing off that. It’s tough.”

It just goes to show: you could put together a really solid game for 43 minutes but one cold stretch can ruin all of that good work for you, and that was the case here. The Hawks had put together a very solid game but that final 5:18 was poor and in the NBA — no matter who you are or where you are in the standings — that’s all it can take…

Turnover points

The Hawks didn’t turn the ball over an awful lot in this game — 15 turnovers — but they were punished for it when they did as the Thunder scored 28 points off of those turnovers.

Really, this tone was set from the very beginning of the game as the Hawks began the game with a turnover and Paul George stepped into an easy three-pointer:

For the Thunder, they only committed seven turnovers — the second game in a row where the team the Hawks have faced have committed less than 10 turnovers.

With Kent Bazemore now out for the season, I think you will see less steals per game from the Hawks and, as a result, less opponent turnovers and less points off of turnovers for the Hawks. Bazemore averaged 1.5 steals per game and ranks 14th in total steals this season with 100 exactly…

Damion Lee’s NBA debut

Dealing with a plethora of injuries — including a season-ending injury to Kent Bazemore — the Hawks were left a little short on the wing and signed guard Damion Lee to a 10-day contract.

Lee was immediately thrown into the fold as he saw rotation minutes and performing well: 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting and 2-of-4 from behind the arc in 17 minutes:

Lee also had two assists in this game, including this nice, extra pass made to Taurean Prince, who hits the three:

Lee gave the Hawks a nice lift with his offense and his three-point shooting in this game but that three-point shooting is something you should probably expect to come-and-go. Lee was a 30% three-point shooter this season for the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G-League after shooting 47% from three with the Maine Red Claws the season before… A staggering drop-off.

Not a whole lot to say here for Lee in this game: a very solid debut game.

Rotation notes

With all of the recent injuries, Mike Budenholzer and the Hawks have had to do a lot of roster juggling.

Tyler Dorsey looks as though he’s going to be the starting shooting guard in place of the injured Kent Bazemore from here on out but has really struggled of late and struggled again last night with five points on 2-of-7 shooting.

Isaiah Taylor is obviously the backup point in the absence of Malcolm Delaney but there was no Josh Magette to be seen last night: a DNP-CD. The Hawks helped deal with their wing shortage by playing Taylor at shooting guard alongside Dennis Schröder.

Two-way player Andrew White saw significant wing time (which isn’t a surprise given the wing situation) and scored nine points on 3-of-4 shooting in 20 minutes a game — all of which were three-pointers.

Tyler Cavanaugh made his first appearance for the Hawks since January 17th after suffering a nasty ankle injury and his re-integration into action with the Hawks’ G-League affiliate Erie Bayhawks. Cavanaugh had a solid outing, but it’s not one that the boxscore will show you: three points on 1-of-3 shooting.

His coach, however, was happy with Cavanaugh’s return to action and what he brings.

“I love the IQ, the toughness,” said Budenholzer of Cavanaugh. “He’s going after every loose ball. He makes the three on the wing. He has a great feel. The way we play, he fits us really well. There’s a toughness that comes with his IQ that we value. He makes his teammates better. There’s a good spirit to him. We always play well when he’s on the court.”

Elsewhere, Miles Plumlee was a DNP-CD, with Budenholzer favoring Cavanaugh instead.

The Hawks (20-48) are back in action on Thursday for the final game of their three game homestand — and the final one before the Hawks head out on a six game road trip — when they take on the Charlotte Hornets.

Kemba Walker and Dwight Howard… Should be fun. Stay tuned.

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