Court Vision: Hawks tripped up by defensive-minded Grizzlies

BY Zach Dillard • February 8, 2015

The Atlanta Hawks seemed to suffer from a Golden State hangover in Memphis, taking a loss for just the fourth time in 39 games. Here are three observations from the Hawks' 94-88 loss to the Grizzlies on Sunday night:

1. Grizzlies play their style, disrupt Atlanta's efficiency

Drawing the never-give-an-inch Memphis Grizzlies right after a showdown of the top two teams in the league wasn't an ideal situation for the Hawks. So after cementing their spot at the top of the NBA's standings with a convincing win against the Warriors, the road contest in Memphis was bound to be a grinder, especially now that the Grizzlies added Zach Randolph and Jeff Green into the rotation since the two teams' last meeting on Jan. 7.

Though the 94-88 final score doesn't truly reflect the slugfest that this game was at times on Sunday night, thanks in part to an uptick in offensive performance in the second half, make no mistake: this was largely played at Memphis's pace and in its style.

The Hawks shot 41.2 percent from the field and committed 14 turnovers. Their 17 turnovers was the fourth-lowest total of the season. And the Grizzlies weren't any better: shooting 39.1 percent and coughing the ball up 11 times. They didn't hit a single 3-pointer until the fourth quarter, which turned out to be an equalizer for much of the night for the Hawks. The difference? Tony Allen, Zach Randolph & Co. put in work on the offensive boards, creating 17 new offensive possessions.

The Hawks can win these games. They are one of the best defensive teams in the league that can, despite a relative lack of size, handle bigger teams on the defensive end and cause mismatches with the ball. But while there were spurts where it looked like Atlanta was going to pull away behind the standout play of Jeff Teague (22 points, six rebounds), Memphis was able to asset itself throughout.

"They're a very good defensive team. They found a way to get a little separation at the end of the game and I don't think that we executed as well as we need to," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I think their defense and their activity is a big part of that."

While it was the Hawks' second loss in their past four games, they've still won 35 of their past 39 games -- and three of those losses have come on the road. In fact, seven of the team's 10 losses have come away from Philips Arena this season.

2. Another off night for Millsap and Horford versus Grizzlies

For the second time against Memphis this season, Al Horford and Paul Millsap were quiet, raising questions once again whether the Hawks can handle post-oriented teams in the playoffs.

This was an extreme case, too. Horford and Millsap combined to miss all but four of their 21 field-goal attempts, scoring just 10 points in a close game. The Hawks were beat up on the boards -- not necessarily the complete fault of the two Atlanta bigs -- and they also committed six turnovers. It was simply an off night for the two All-Stars.

From a big-picture perspective, the questions on whether the NBA's winningest team were bound to follow that type of performance. After all, this did happen in the first meeting as well for Horford and Millsap (23 points on 29 percent shooting).

Still, the Hawks have dealt with quality post teams already this season (Clippers, Blazers, Bulls, etc.), and while the Horford-Millsap combo wasn't prevalent in every one of those matchups the team was up for challenge. For the all talk about the Hawks lacking a rim protector, they protect the rim fairly well while creating mismatches all of the floor on the other end. Things simply did not go their way in Memphis.

"I think our group has found a way. On different nights, it's different people," Budenholzer said. "Some nights our bigs have big nights, other nights our wings and point guards. I think our group really competes hard on the defensive end, really gives ourselves a chance. I don't think -- we weren't at our best tonight."

3. Zach Randolph and Jeff Green added to the mix

The last time these two teams met, Randolph missed the game and the Grizzlies had yet to acquire Green via trade with the Boston Celtics. They are a different team with those two in the rotation, and while Tony Allen, Marc Gasol and, especially, Mike Conley arguably played a better game, their presence this time around did help tip the scales.

The Grizzlies are now 12-2 since adding Green to the mix. It's not that the Hawks will need to find an answer for Memphis's size and athletecism, it's that the entire league needs to find a way to slow them down.

Green and Randolph pooled together to score 22 points and 21 boards.

The Hawks hung around with quality bench play, outside shooting the exploits of All-Star point guard Jeff Teague, but the Grizzlies were dominant on the interior. The Green-Gasol-Randolph frontcourt remains a problem for the Western Conference. 

3: The Grizzlies only knocked down three of their 13 3-pointers, but all three came from Mike Conley and Jeff Green in the fourth quarter.

36: The Hawks' bench wings and guards -- Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott -- combined for 36 points.


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