Court Vision: Hawks stumble out of All-Star break, fall to Raptors

The Atlanta Hawks have lost four of their past seven games.

Dale Zanine/Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks stumbled out of the All-Star break with a 105-80 home loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday night. Here are three observations from the game:

1. The All-Star break was not kind to the Hawks’ chemistry, hot shooting

Back on Dec. 26, the front end of a home-and-home with the Milwaukee Bucks, the Hawks laid an egg, finding themselves on the wrong end of a 30-point blowout. Things got ugly, and Atlanta learned its lesson. Entering Friday night, it had not dropped a home game since that embarrassing loss. They had lost just three games at Philips Arena the entire season, including wins against Golden State, Washington and Portland … until the Raptors arrived.

The second-place Toronto Raptors waltzed into Philips Arena and took away everything the Hawks excel at in a 25-point win. The Eastern Conference’s top team looked disjointed coming out of the All-Star break, committing turnovers left and right and missing nearly every shot they managed to find. The box score was a train wreck: season-low 33 percent shooting, 29 missed 3-pointers, 22 turnovers.

Things got so bad for sharpshooter Kyle Korver, the player who is challenging for the greatest shooting season in NBA history, that at one point, after missing a rare wide-open 3-pointer — his ninth outside miss of the night — he shook his head in disbelief and made a comment to coach Mike Budenholzer. The game was already getting out of hand. He took his place on the bench, befuddled by his worst shooting night of the season. He wasn’t the only one. The 80 points was the Hawks’ second-lowest output of the season.

"There were some of our shots that kinda come within our offense, within the flow, that we’re probably gonna hit a higher percentage of. Tonight wasn’t our night, but I think their defense had something to do with it," Budenholzer said. "I think there were some shots that we took that weren’t great. I think in the meat of the game, in the flow of the game, there were still a lot of shots that we will live with.

"You’ve got to give Toronto a lot of credit. They gave it to us good tonight. There’s a lot of reasons that we didn’t play well, but they were a big part of that."

As poor of an offensive night as the entire team experienced, that wasn’t the focus of Budenholzer’s post-game criticism. He took the approach that the offense will come around. But the rust after a week-long break should not have affected his defense quite as much: the Raptors found open looks, created second-chance opportunities and did damage in transition.

"There’s some nights were you’re not going to make shots. That’s where we’ve said that you’ve got to be better defensively on those nights, you’ve got to rely on your defense when you’re not making shots. I don’t think we were good on the defensive end of the court," Budenholzer said. "I’m probably more concerned with the shots they were getting, the open looks they were getting, the second opportunities they were getting, the loose balls they were getting. I think offense, at least tonight, is not our biggest concern."

However minor, the Hawks are in a swoon.

The Raptors win handed them their second straight loss, their first losing streak since November. They’ve lost four of their past seven games as Toronto has crawled back to within 5 1/2 games in the conference standings.

"It means a lot, especially against the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "Especially with the way they beat us the last time we played them, it definitely means a lot. … Just like in Toronto, it was a close game for two quarters, and then (the Hawks) came out and busted it open in the third. Our challenge at halftime was to not let that happen."

Challenge met.

 

All of that being said, it’s the first game back after a long break and though the Hawks have been one of the hottest teams in the league since mid-November, these things happen. Toronto was one lopsided loss, a rarity this season. Atlanta has lost five games by double-digits so far. Golden State has taken six such losses — it happens. 

There are second-half kinks to work out and they are not yet at full strength (Thabo Sefolosha is still out for the foreseeable future). And if the Hawks are going to average 22 turnovers and shoot 30 percent from the field from here on out, there are going to be plenty more losses just like this one. Other than that, it’s difficult to label this anything but a game that went in the wrong direction and never made a U-turn.

"The turnovers. That’s where you can say there’s a cause for concern," Hawks wing DeMarre Carroll said. "I think turnovers, lackadaisical, low energy — teams are really coming at us, they’re really (turning up the intensity)."

Additional silver lining? That Milwaukee loss triggered the team’s 19-game winning streak. That historic run started in Milwaukee. The Hawks will look to get back on track against none other than the Bucks on Sunday.

2. Lou Williams makes himself at home (again)

The hometown kid continues to light up the hometown team. Former Hawks guard Lou Williams bolstered his Sixth Man of the Year resume on Friday night in a big way — pouring in 26 points in 24 minutes. It was the 13th time he’s surpassed the 20-point mark this season.

The Hawks defense wasn’t exactly giving up nothing but easy looks, either. Williams, a South Gwinnett High School product, just kept finding the bottom of the net. He was 9 of 14 from the floor, including seven 3-pointers, all while picking up four rebounds, four steals and two assists. He’s been a welcome addition in Toronto since parting ways in an offseason trade — we’ll chalk it up to philosophical differences — but he remembered the rims at Philips, outscoring Teague and Korver by himself.

Coupled with DeMar DeRozan and All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, the Raptors backcourt put up 57 points on the night.

This isn’t exactly fresh material. This was merely Williams’s second act since returning home. Though he did very little in the two home games against the Hawks — combined 13 points on 5 of 14 shooting — he poured in 22 points in his previous visit, an 11-point Raptors win.

In fact, in four of his past six road games in Atlanta, Williams has scored 20 or more points.

3. How much of an issue is frontcourt depth?

Outside of a pre-deadline deal shipping rookie Adreian Payne to Minnesota for a future draft pick, the Hawks joined other top contenders in both conferences (Golden State, Memphis, Toronto) in exercising restraint during Thursday’s frenetic trade deadline. Same goes for the Raptors.

The potential problem with standing pat at the trade deadline is that the team’s flaws remain intact, if there was even a solution on the market to begin with. For Atlanta, one of the deeper and more complete teams in the NBA, post depth remains a concern. Behind All-Stars Al Horford and Paul Millsap, the frontcourt depth begins and ends with Pero Antic and Elton Brand — maybe with a dash of Mike Scott, a 6-foot-8 forward who serves equally as a wing player, and Mike Muscala.

This is not a pressing concern, at least not in the regular season. There are select few pressing concerns when the record is 43-12.

Plus, it’s difficult to feel bad for a franchise that features two versatile All-Stars down low.

Still, Brand plays sparingly (18 games this season, three in the past 15 games) and Antic’s efficiency is a problem.

At his best, Antic is a 6-foot-11 body that can stretch the floor on offense. At his worst, though, Antic is a defensive liability that provides an inefficient offensive option. Antic is not spacing the floor well this season. Among all NBA players with at least 100 3-point attempts this season, he’s one of only 21 shooting under 30 percent from the outside. His offensive and defensive ratings both side below league average.

Friday night didn’t offer a counterpoint to Antic’s pre-break poor play. In a six-minute stretch in the first half, he missed two of his three shots, failed to log a single rebound or assist, committed two turnovers and two personal fouls. He didn’t re-enter the game until it was out of hand.

Could this be an issue down the stretch or in the playoffs? Perhaps. The game does slow down and the Millsap-Horford combo could take on even more minutes in a postseason setting, but foul trouble — the Hawks are among the league’s best at avoiding that predicament — could create some hypothetical problems. Not that bench depth or any other kind of depth could have prevented what happened in Philips Arena on Friday, but it’s worth keeping an eye on as the playoff race continues.

22: The Hawks’ 22 turnovers tied a season high, alongside that 30-point loss to Milwaukee on Dec. 26.

19: The Hawks logged just 19 assists. It was just the sixth time this season they’ve been held under 20 dimes.

"I don’t think we played with the edge and activity that we probably have come to expect and execute on a night-in, night-out basis. We didn’t have that activity. We didn’t have that edge. … We’ve gotta figure out how to get it, keep it and have it every night." — Mike Budenholzer

"The shots we took were good shots. We just missed them. We had a week off. We just have to get back in the lab. — Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll