Despite a season-high of 26 points by Jeremy Lin, the Hawks lost their ninth consecutive game Wednesday night at State Farm Arena.
Lin’s performance, although encouraging because of his injury-riddled past, couldn’t overcome the lack of offensive success by the Hawks’ starters and the team’s inability to stop Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and center Jonas Valanciunas in a 124-108 loss to the Raptors.
In addition to Lin, the Hawks’ bench considerably outperformed the starters throughout the game.
In the first quarter, the bench scored 16 points, while starters had eight. The bench finished the first half shooting 54.2 percent from the field, while the starting group of Trae Young, Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore, John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon shot 27.2 percent.
The Hawks’ bench, which totaled 72 points, first showed signs it would carry the game as coach Lloyd Pierce slowly subbed in his bench early in the first quarter after the Hawks failed to score for the game’s first four and a half minutes. The energy off the bench allowed the Hawks to turn a 15-point deficit into a two-point deficit after a 10-0 run to end the first quarter.
“I just didn’t like our energy, like the way we started or approached the game offensively,” Pierce said. “I didn’t like our energy. I just wanted to mix it up (by putting in the bench) you know, try to send a message and get those guys a fire underneath them and then the second group came in and made a run and made a push and it’s an 11-point game and we’re battling and competing and they’re playing the right way.”
Once the Hawks starters slowly came back in the game in the second quarter, the Raptors’ extended their lead from two points to 11 at the half.
The starters didn’t just struggle to get going on offense Wednesday in the early stages of the game, but they struggled deep into the second half. Prince, for example, entered the game averaging 16.2 points, but did not make a shot until the third quarter. He finished 3-of-11 shooting for 12 points. Collins, who totaled six points, also didn’t make a shot until late in the third quarter off an assist by Young. Young was 2-of-7 for six points after notching a 25-point, 17 assist game Monday against the Clippers.
Young said he’s frustrated with his play on nights like Wednesday, but still unable to pinpoint why the starting group is struggling with slow starts.
“I never want to use the excuse of us being a young team, but I think part of it plays into that when you’re playing a team that’s in the playoffs every year and we got a lot of respect in the NBA. I think that’s a factor.”
Pierce said after the game that the third quarter presented the same struggle the first did in terms of lack of energy from his starters.
“We’re not going to wait (to put in the bench),” Pierce said. “We’re still early in the season, we’re still early with our rotations and just trying to find any energy that I can keep on the floor and guys that are willing to play together and compete together.”
The Hawks’ starting five also struggled on defense against a Raptors team that entered the game sixth in the NBA in points per game (115.4). The Hawks played without starting center Alex Len and rookie Omari Spellman. Pierce said Len experienced back tightness Wednesday morning that progressed as the day went on, so the Hawks needed to be creative with how they used their bigs.
Lowry totaled 21 points, 12 rebounds and 17 assists while Valanciunas had a team-high of 24 points and 13 rebounds. Pascal Siakam scored 22.
The Raptors (15-4) shot .533 from the field against the Hawks despite the absence of Norman Powell, O.G. Anunoby, C.J. Miles and notably Kawhi Leonard, who leads the team with 24.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
Attempting to fill the void left by Len, center Miles Plumlee stepped up as the game progressed, recording seven points on a few alley-oops.
Even though Dedmon, Plumlee and Collins were on the floor, the Hawks struggled to rebound. The Hawks had 34 rebounds compared with the Raptors’ 55.
The Hawks also got in foul trouble early in each half, allowing the Raptors to make 17 of 23 free throws.
The familiar narrative weaved throughout the game of the Hawks falling behind, coming back, but then losing steam as the game went on.
The Hawks return to State Farm Arena to host the Boston Celtics at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Hawks’ Vince Carter, 41, scored 14 points, which was just enough to surpass the 25,000 career points landmark. In the fourth quarter, Carter was six points shy of the mark so as the clock ran down, he was fed the ball by his teammates. Carter landed at 25,001 career points after a dunk with 0.5 seconds left.
“I cheated,” Pierce said of feeding Carter the ball. “I didn’t want to do that, but I had to do it to see Vince out there and get that milestone and I feel a lot better for doing it.”