Defense lets Hawks down in loss to Magic

Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce reacts on the sideline during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Credit: John Amis

Credit: John Amis

The Hawks (17-43) led briefly in the third quarter but couldn’t hold off the Magic (26-32) in a 130-120 loss Wednesday at State Farm Arena.

Below are some takeaways from the game:

1. Ultimately, the Hawks’ defense is to blame in this one. The Magic score the second-fewest points per game in the league (104.2) and have the second-worst field-goal percentage (43.4%), but during a crucial stretch in the third quarter, the Hawks couldn’t muster a stop. After taking their largest lead of the game at 75-68, courtesy of a Bruno Fernando dunk at the 9:21 mark, the Magic’s offense unleashed for an 11-0 run to pull back in front and Orlando never trailed again, despite the Hawks going to a zone defense to try and mix it up: “We just kind of fell apart the rest of that third quarter,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “And it’s really our defensive end. We just couldn’t get stops. We didn’t have a “stop” mentality. We didn’t take away anything from them in the third quarter. ... We just really never recovered from that, the whole second half, defensively.” The Magic shot 49% from the field compared to the Hawks 44.7%. In the fourth quarter, the Hawks narrowed a 13-point deficit down to four twice, but couldn’t get closer than that.

2. The Magic’s length and size make them a tricky match-up, and with no Dewayne Dedmon (right elbow pain), the Hawks were already in a tough spot. That showed from the get-go, with Mo Bamba grabbing six offensive rebounds in the first half alone (overall, the Magic out-rebounded the Hawks 52-42, with 13 offensive boards to the Hawks’ nine). They also blocked nine shots and had success in the paint (64 points to the Hawks’ 48), which in turn helped open up some inside-out 3’s (43.8% to the Hawks’ 36.1%). “It still came down to their size and their ability to crash the glass and their ability to score in the paint,” Pierce said. “That’s physicality, but that’s also size. ... I thought a lot of their guys were good around the basket.”

3. As of Wednesday afternoon, Hawks All-Star Trae Young was questionable to play with flu-like symptoms, but he couldn’t stay away and ended up with his 24th double-double of the season with a game-high 37 points (10-27 FG, 4-12 from 3, 13-14 FT) and 11 assists. He now leads the league with 14 games with at least 30 points and 10 assists. The Hawks gave up a whopping 41 points in the second quarter, but Young’s 20 points in the second alone helped the Hawks stay in it, going into halftime tied at 64. That’s the fourth time this season Young has had 20-plus points in a single quarter.

4. Point guards Young (6-foot-1) and Jeff Teague (6-foot-3) aren’t exactly known for their shot-blocking skills — that status usually belongs to the 7-footer crowd. But in the first quarter, both somehow managed to block shots by Bamba, who is 7-1 with a 7-10 wingspan. Young leaped for the ball just as Bamba tipped it back slightly, winding up for a dunk, and Teague later blocked Bamba on a 3-point attempt. Young on blocking Bamba, who happens to be one of his close friends: “That’s my dog. Mo’s my guy so I’m gonna be talking trash with him all the time now. Been knowing him since I was in high school. We talk all the time. When he’s in town, we hang out. When I’m in Orlando, I see him. So I’m definitely going to be talking about this one for a long, long time.” Teague added 12 points and six assists off the bench.

5. For the first time in his young career, rookie Fernando has recorded back-to-back games with double-figures. Fernando came close to a double-double with 10 points (5-7 FG) and nine rebounds Wednesday, following up a 10-point, four rebound performance in Monday’s loss in Philadelphia.

By the numbers 

26 and 7 (John Collins’ points and rebounds, to go with four assists and two blocked shots)

Quotable 

“There’s a lot that needs to be changed. We’ve just got to bring it more, we need to fight harder. It’s stuff that we can control. Defensive end, we’ve got to fight harder.” (Trae Young on what needs to change)

In Other News