Going inside the Hawks’ 94-92 loss against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night.
1. The Spurs sealed the deal on the free throw line. When Hawks guard Kyle Korver tapped Manu Ginobili on the elbow on a 3-point attempt with one minute remaining, it ended a 6-0 Atlanta run to officially erase what was a 10-point deficit at halftime.
The Hawks were rolling at the time, but when the long-time Spurs star hit all three free throws to reclaim the lead, it was a crucial turning point. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer clearly was not pleased with the call — nor the result. Forty-two seconds later, Spurs forward Tim Duncan hit another free throw. And after Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague came up with a driving layup to knot the score at 92-92 with 13 seconds remaining, it was Ginobili who once again got into the paint and drew a (questionable) foul. He knocked down his two free throws to walk away with San Antonio’s first win of the 2014-15 season.
In total, 13 of the Spurs’ 24 fourth-quarter points came at the free-throw line — a total that the Hawks’ overall execution down the stretch could not overcome.
2. The student still hasn’t taken down the teacher, but Budenholzer’s group made things interesting in what looked to be a rout early on. The Hawks fell to 0-3 against the defending champion Spurs with Budenholzer, a former Spurs assistant under future Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich, on the sidelines. Two of the losses have come by just two points apiece, with Wednesday’s game turning into a back-and-forth affair down the stretch.
This is not exactly a Budenholzer-centric trend, though: the Hawks have now lost 17 straight road games against San Antonio dating back to 1997.
In other words, Atlanta has never beaten Tim Duncan on his home court.
Ignoring that factoid and the egregious final possession in which Atlanta could not fire off a shot that came within 20 feet of the basket with three seconds to work with out of a timeout, it’s clear the Hawks are playing a Spurs-esque style with more and more effectiveness. They moved the ball well in the fourth quarter, even taking a two-point lead late before the flurry of Spurs free throws. They were right in this game, going toe-to-toe with a championship-caliber team by giving it a taste of its own medicine. It didn’t pan out this time, but the 1-2 Hawks have two quality losses on the resume (Spurs, Raptors) and, if they can avoid slow first-quarter starts, the schedule eases up over the next four games.
3. Dennis Schroder enjoyed one of the better performances of his young career. It’s been a patient process by necessity with Schroder, the 21-year-old Germany native who was considered a project when the Hawks drafted him with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. In his second season in the league, after spending some time in the D-League, he’s essentially serving as Atlanta’s third-string point guard behind Jeff Teague and Shelvin Mack. Entering Wednesday night’s showdown, he’d played just eight minutes total this season.
That wasn’t the case this time, as Budenholzer called on Schroder to play some key minutes during the team’s comeback. With Teague needing a break and Mack not playing well, Schroder came through, hitting four of his six shots to come one point shy of his career high.
He also added two rebounds and an assist, and just may have earned himself some more playing time moving forward … especially if there are more plays like this against reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard (yes, it’s still November):
27: Back to the charity stripe. The Spurs shot 27 more free throws than the Hawks in the matchup, amounting to 19 additional points. Atlanta ranked 14th in free throw rate entering the game, but this early in the season (when averages can fluctuate more freely) it looks like the team is headed toward the back of those rankings come Thursday.
30.9: The 3-point shot is such an important weapon in these two teams’ pace-and-space approach, but it wasn’t working for either one at the AT&T Center. The Hawks and Spurs combined to shoot just 30.9 percent on 42 long-range attempts — notably with Korver going 1 for 5 with quite a few open looks in key situations.