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Hawks working to eliminate ‘awful’ defense in first, third quarters

Head coach Lloyd Pierce of the Atlanta Hawks reacts against the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena on November 27, 2018 in Miami, Florida.
Head coach Lloyd Pierce of the Atlanta Hawks reacts against the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena on November 27, 2018 in Miami, Florida.

Credit: Michael Reaves

Credit: Michael Reaves

The Hawks ended their three-game road trip on a low note Sunday, allowing 144 points to the Nets in their third straight loss.

Two days later, coach Lloyd Pierce still didn’t mince words about Sunday’s “awful” defensive effort.

“Our team defense will get better when our individual defense gets better,” Pierce said Tuesday before the Hawks hosted the Wizards. “And that’s the personal pride. They take that challenge. It’s each day individually adopting a sense of urgency, a sense of competitiveness from the start of the game that’s really where we’re getting hurt. But that’s individual. Individually, we have to be better in order for our team to get better.”

Lack of focus in the first few minutes of Sunday’s first quarter forced the Hawks to play catch-up for the rest of the first half. They eventually cut the deficit at halftime to six points after surrendering 42 first-quarter points. That manageable deficit was short-lived, however, as the Hawks continued to lack defensive pressure as they allowed the Nets to score 39 points in the third quarter.

This isn’t a new problem for the Hawks that now have two rookies — Trae Young and Kevin Huerter — in the starting lineup. Earlier on the team’s road trip, the Hawks allowed the Celtics to start Friday’s game on a 23-5 run and total 42 points in the first quarter. The Hawks trailed by 11 at the half, then were outscored 41-26 in the third quarter, ultimately losing the game, 129-108.

The Hawks have allowed 40 or more points in a quarter 11 times this season.

Center Dewayne Dedmon, who recorded one of two double-doubles for the Hawks Sunday with 24 points and 12 rebounds, said his six years in the NBA taught him how to adjust when a team’s struggle becomes a pattern. With the Hawks’ specific defensive struggle in the first and third quarters, Dedmon said his team must learn to lock into the coverages early and be patient when executing their defensive scheme, especially coming out of the locker room.

“I mean (the defensive struggles are) noticeable. Look at what we gave up last game in the first quarter and then we just had to catch up every game,” Dedmon said. “By the time we catch up in the second quarter, the third quarter comes around and it happens again. We just got to come out with a better energy and figure it out.”

One of the most disappointing factors Sunday was the Hawks had a chance to with with an impressive offensive effort of 122 points. The complete lack of defense crushed any chance.

Pierce has reiterated all season the type of high-volume shooting he wants. Despite the fact that the Hawks collapsed on defense Sunday, Pierce said he saw his desired offensive success.

“We’re getting the shots we want, rims and 3’s. (I) would love to get more free throws, that’s just the mentality offensively. Some of our players are learning how to initiate contact and get to the foul line,” Pierce said. “We’re sharing the basketball. I think we had a season-high of 38 assists the other night. So that’s not the issue. The momentum is great because the number of shots went down. The way we been playing offensively is the way we want to play.”

The Hawks (6-23) shot .553 from the field, .483 from the 3-point line and 19 of 25 from the free-throw line in the loss.

“It’s the whole reason why we lost,” Young said of the Hawks’ defensive effort. “We had a great offensive game, one that’s supposed to let you win ... but we weren’t ready to play defensively. I think it just wasn’t focusing on player personnel, whatever it was, but we got to do way better.”

Young, who recorded the Hawks’ other double-double Sunday with 13 points and 10 assists, said he thinks the answer to the defensive problems coming out of the locker room lies in better mental preparation before each game.

“I think it’s preparation, getting focused,” Young said. “It’s changing your routine to start the game. We can’t get off to a bad start.”