Hawks Lack Legs, Energy In Loss to Pistons

Ben Ladner

The NBA schedule can be grueling, and after a dramatic road win on Friday night, the Hawks had neither the stamina nor spirit to sweep a tough back-to-back, losing 136-103 to the Pistons. The Hawks arrived in Atlanta at 3 a.m. Saturday morning after playing an 8:30 p.m. (Eastern time) game in San Antonio the previous night, while Detroit entered the game having not played since Wednesday. The rest disparity was evident and made all the difference early on as the Pistons jumped out to an early lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Whether by unfortunate scheduling or their own doing, the Hawks plainly lacked the energy to compete in this game, which resulted in sloppy play on both ends of the floor. Offensive sets were disjointed while defensive rotations were either late or absent. If the Hawks managed to slow the Pistons at their initial point of attack, they couldn’t sustain their effort long enough to make second or third efforts and finish possessions. “They didn’t feel us in the first half,” Lloyd Pierce said. “They didn’t feel us all game, actually. And that was the biggest issue. We’re just kind of chasing them all night.”

Derrick Rose ran circles around Atlanta’s defense with 27 points on nine assists (12-of-17 shooting) as Andre Drummond gathered 17 rebounds and five steals to go with 16 points. Markieff Morris and Svi Mykhailiuk poured in 22 and 25 points, respectively, off the bench as Christian Wood played with more energy than Atlanta’s starting five combined. Most every quantitative measure of effort and execution pointed Detroit’s way. The Pistons outscored the Hawks 15-7 in transition and forced 19 turnovers – many of the Hawks’ own making. Detroit shot 80 percent at the rim, grabbed 35 percent of available offensive rebounds, and posted a 68.8 effective field goal percentage. They were quicker to the ball and to the basket; Atlanta lagged a step behind the action all night.

“Just the competitive spirit, the energy that was there was gone right from the start,” Pierce said. “We didn’t move the basketball. They had seven blocked shots in the first half, which means we weren’t looking to kick out and make them have to work defensively. We just didn’t have a competitive energy tonight.”

John Collins’ 20 points helped mask an inconsistent defensive game – though he wasn’t alone in letting the Pistons get where they wanted – and Trae Young (16 points, seven assists, 2-of-7 from 3) didn’t quite appear his legs. Jeff Teague (15 points, seven assists, five turnovers in 25 minutes) and Treveon Graham are still easing their way into their new team. Cam Reddish couldn’t retain the touch he had in San Antonio and Kevin Huerter (2 points, 1-of-7) would rather forget this one. Multiple Hawks air-balled open shots or left jumpers short, and layups seemed to lip out more often than usual. Atlanta shot just 61 percent at the rim and 29 percent from 3 – perhaps a product of heavy legs.

Only De’Andre Hunter played decidedly well for Atlanta, finishing with 19 points, four rebounds, and three assists. He attacked downhill and finished through Detroit’s bigs on multiple occasions and was among the few Hawks who wasn’t sluggish on defense. “The one guy that’s really struggled [on back-to-backs] is De’Andre, and he actually came out and I thought he was good tonight,” Pierce said. “I thought he was in the right mindset. He got downhill and got to his spots.”

Pierce used Young and Teague together for stretches of the game, and plans to use that pairing for 10-15 minutes per game. Saturday provided a glimpse at the theory of that alignment, even if the results weren’t positive. Teague’s driving and passing ability should make the Hawks more dynamic on offense and free Young to work away from the ball more often – or, at the very least, attack with the defense already in motion. For the time being, the two point guards still have plenty to learn about playing with one another, and their chemistry should start to form as Teague gets comfortable with Atlanta’s offense.

The Hawks are now 1-8 on the second night of back-to-backs, and many of those contests have been especially brutal (they have five remaining and won’t play another back-to-back until February 9 and 10). Even for a team with relatively young legs, recovering after an NBA game in time to play at full capacity the next night is a grueling endeavor. When young players haven’t learned how to condition their bodies for the rigors of the NBA schedule, it’s hard to keep anything in the tank on nights like these.

“I hate using the excuse of people being young, but shit, that’s just kinda how it is,” Young said. “There’s a lot that goes into playing in a back-to-back. That’s not an excuse at all, but that’s just how it is.” 

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