After struggling at times in their first-round series victory over the Brooklyn Nets, the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks appeared ready to put that behind them in Game 1 against the Washington Wizards. The Hawks came out Sunday and put on an offensive clinic in the first quarter, scorching the nets to the tune of 37 points and an 11-point lead.
However, we had seen this act against Brooklyn. Atlanta made a habit of starting strong in the first round, scoring 117.6 points per 100 possessions in the six first quarters, per NBA.com. The Hawks were then often unable to sustain that success, and the numbers got ugly in the fourth quarter. Atlanta scored just 94.2 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarters against Brooklyn, and the Hawks were outscored by 16.9 points per 100 possessions in those quarters.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, that trend continued against Washington on Sunday. The Hawks managed just 15 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 5-of-28 from the field and 1-of-10 from three in a painful shooting display that cost them the game and home-court advantage in a 104-98 loss. There was one late possession where Atlanta missed six shots. SIX. It was hard to watch.
For the Hawks’ sake, you’d like to chalk it up to just fatigue and bad luck. Atlanta had played just two days before and Washington was well rested. The Hawks also shot an awful 15-of-49 (30.6 percent) on uncontested shots, per SportVU. That’s bad for any team, but especially bad and uncharacteristic for a typically excellent offensive team like Atlanta.
The problem, as mentioned, is these fourth-quarter struggles are looking more like an alarming trend rather than a rare occurrence. After this past fourth-quarter debacle, the Hawks now have a fourth-quarter net rating of -20.4 in the playoffs, by far the worst of any playoff team, per NBA.com.
This was one of the concern’s people had about Atlanta coming into the postseason. The Hawks have a bunch of really good players in Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll, but they don’t have that one true go-to guy on offense. Although, it must be noted that Atlanta has an offensive rating of 110.3 in the clutch in the postseason, per NBA.com. Defensive struggles down the stretch have played just as big a role as some of the offensive issues.
Another problem that has cropped up for the Hawks in these playoffs has been the generally awful play of their reserves. Dennis Schroder was better on Sunday, but the young point guard took several poor shots after a hot start and was really bad against Brooklyn. Kent Bazemore can’t make an open jumper to save his life. Mike Scott can’t either. Pero Antic took some ridiculous shots on Sunday, and Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer stuck with Antic far too long in the fourth quarter. Sure, Horford was in foul trouble, but Bud should have taken the chance with Big Al rather than going too long with an ineffective Antic, who was a team-worst -15.
We’ll see if Bud tries to ride Horford and Teague a bit more moving forward. Those two are both playing only about 32 minutes per game this postseason, and while there have been some extenuating circumstances that have caused that, it’s time to do whatever possible to play them huge minutes. They didn’t play big minutes in the regular season, so it’s time to let them loose.
Perhaps this has just been a rough patch of games for the Hawks and they find their groove again, on both ends of the floor. They were so good throughout the regular season, and it’s hard to believe some of those open shots won’t go down the rest of the series. However, these fourth-quarter issues and poor bench play are beginning to look like a troubling trend and not just an outlier. We’ll see how things play out the rest of the way.