The Hawks (10-7) stumbled out of the gate Monday night against the host Cavaliers and could not catch up, falling 114-102.
Here are five observations:
1. After helping to deliver a victory Saturday night, rookie AJ Griffin made his first career start after the Hawks ruled out De’Andre Hunter. Griffin, like he has done all season, seized the opportunity and gave the Hawks some quality minutes in the loss.
Griffin scored 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor and 3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.
He didn’t make an impact solely on offense, though. Griffin also made an impact on defense, disrupting plays and keeping Donovan Mitchell, Cedi Osman and Darius Garland in front.
But, Griffin still has plenty of room to grow defensively. All three of the Cavs’ veteran scorers exploited Griffin’s inexperience and looked to attack when he was on them. Hawks coach Nate McMillan knew the Cavs would challenge Griffin on defense, but he was pleased the rookie continued to play aggressively.
“I thought he played the way he’s been playing, with confidence,” McMillan said. “You know, he’s gonna make some mistakes, but I thought they were aggressive mistakes. And, you know, I thought he played OK.”
2. Despite some solid minutes from Griffin, the Hawks missed Hunter’s defensive presence Monday. The Cavs kept the ball moving around the perimeter. Though the Cavs scored only seven triples in the first three quarters, they kept them hanging around as the Hawks tried to make their pushes.
The Cavs finished with 10 3-pointers, the average number of triples the Hawks have allowed this season.
Mitchell, Osman and Garland accounted for most of the Cavs’ shots from long range. Osman hit a clutch 3-pointer with about two minutes left to put the game out of reach.
“We just didn’t get stops,” McMillan said. “You gotta get stops when you fight to get yourself back into the game. And we didn’t get stops. They made timely baskets.”
3. Dejounte Murray had an off night Monday. Though he finished with 11 points, he struggled to hit his normal shots as the Cavs sent big man Evan Mobley to slow him down. The second-year center smothered Murray along the perimeter and forced him into tough shots.
Murray had one of his most inefficient nights this season, making 4 of 17 shots from the floor.
Murray started quickly, knocking down a 3-pointer in the first two minutes. But he did not make another field goal until the third quarter. He went 0-for-5 in that span but tried to create opportunities for his teammates. He tallied six assists.
4. The Hawks’ second unit got a big boost from third-year center Onyeka Okongwu, who had tough matchups against Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Okongwu and other members of the Hawks’ frontcourt limited them to a combined 7-of-11 shooting from the field.
Mobley and Allen average 11.3 and 10.1 attempts, respectively, from the floor.
“I just sought out to really be more aggressive than I did last couple of games,” said Okongwu, who scored a season-high 18 points. “I really felt like I was just running around out there, you know, being ineffective, not, you know, being aggressive and (not making) an impact out there. So, tonight, in a big game like this, I felt I needed to be more aggressive overall.”
5. The Hawks don’t turn over the ball often; they average the fewest turnovers per game for a reason. But Monday, their lack of care for the ball hurt them. The Hawks gave up 23 points off 16 turnovers, with eight of them coming in the second half.
At least four of those turnovers occurred in the final three minutes, when the Hawks looked to get back into the game.
Stat to know
Okongwu scored 12 points in the first half, marking a career high for points in a first half and the fifth time he’s notched 10 or more points in an opening half.
“I mean, it was better. I think, I mean, having AJ out there being a threat to score and being a threat to shoot, he’s definitely going to make a lot more 3s for us. And then, obviously, when we get Bogey (Bogdan Bogdanovic) back, that’s more 3s that’ll be out there.” – Trae Young, on the Hawks making 11 3s on Monday night.
The Hawks return to State Farm Arena, where they will host former teammate Kevin Huerter and the Kings on Wednesday night.