Hawks continue to clean up defensive miscues as season picks up

The Hawks held on to defeat the Pistons 118-113 on Wednesday night, but they know that they still have things to clean up as they move through this season.

The Hawks’ defense has been far from perfect, but the team did enough good to keep the Pistons at bay. Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter helped to challenge Pistons sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic, despite Bogdanovic heating up early.

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Bogdanovic ended up scoring 33 points, making 12 of his 21 overall shots, including 6-of-12 shooting from 3-point range. The 33-year-old leads the NBA in 3-pointers made and has knocked down 51.2% of his 3-point shots.

“I mean, it’s tough,” Hunter said. “Like, I don’t think people understand how good some guys are. We’re in the NBA, everybody’s, you know, really good, and he’s a veteran, and he’s played in the playoffs, overseas and things like that. So once some dudes get hot, you know, it’s not much you can do. But my job is to not let them get hot. So, that’s what I tried to do.”

On Friday, Hunter and his teammates will try to adjust to what they saw on film at Thursday’s practice. They’ll get another crack at the Pistons, and Hawks coach Nate McMillan will look at how the team adjusts.

The Hawks will aim to prevent Bogdanovic and guard Cade Cunningham from getting downhill. That challenge will increase vastly should Pistons rookie Jaden Ivey return to the lineup. Ivey missed Wednesday’s action with a non-COVID illness, and it remains to be seen whether he will be ready for Friday’s action.

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Regardless, the Hawks will look to be a better team that can execute in-game adjustments far more quickly. McMillan said the Hawks need to do a better job of understanding time-score situations, after allowing Bogdanovic to score four 3-pointers in the final four minutes of Wednesday’s game.

So, with even tougher opponents on the horizon, McMillan is looking to his players to hold each other accountable and communicate, especially on defense. The Hawks are looking to establish their defensive identity.

They’ve done some good things so far that has them trending in the right direction. The Hawks rank in the top five in the league in steals (9) and blocks per game (7.5) and sixth in points scored off turnovers.

They also rank fifth in average contested shots per game (57.3).

The Hawks, though, are focused on cleaning up everything now because they don’t want to be figuring things out later as they look to make a long postseason run.

“First thing is field-goal percentage; keeping guys out of the paint is another goal,” McMillan said. “Our contests, we chart those. Our challenges, we chart deflections, we chart all of those things, rebounding the basketball, taking charges. So, it’s a lot of things that we chart that we’re challenging our guys to do consistently.

“And I think all of those little things like that adds up to become a big thing and an important thing that if we get our unit, meaning all of our guys consistently on the same page, how we want to defend, what’s an absolute no-no. Then we’re gonna give ourselves a chance to win and ... it’s still early. We’re still working on it. There’s still some kinks that we have to smooth that out.”