Ten observations from my couch watching Hawks 114, Nets 102 . . .
1. This was a very good win for the Hawks. The Nets have been better than expected and it’s impressive for the Hawks to win an afternoon game at Brooklyn while missing three rotation players on the frontline. So far the Hawks have defied my predictions of a collapse in the wake of the injuries to Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins . It’s almost as if being short-handed has forced the Hawks to really commit to being the kind of gritty, scrappy team they were talking about in camp.
2. The Nets don’t have much offensive talent but have managed to rank No. 19 in efficiency via volume three-points shooting and drawing lots of fouls. Taking away one or the other is key and the Hawks did that: the Nets got off 42 three-point attempts and made 17 but earned just 16 free-throw attempts before adding five more after the game was essentially decided. The Hawks kept the Nets out of the paint without fouling and never let Allen Crabbe get rolling (with Kent Bazemore especially doing good work against him).
3. By contrast, Brooklyn’s three-point defense was lacking and the Hawks ran lots of actions to take advantage. Luke Babbitt (20 points, 4 of 6 three-pointers) repeatedly shook free for open looks. Dennis Schroder got what he wanted in the mid-range but was just 9-for-21 from the floor while scoring 20 points.
4. The Nets have been a low-turnover team this year and the Hawks have forced a lot of them. Something had to give, and it wasn't the Hawks: 12 steals among 19 Brooklyn turnovers. Eight Hawks players had at least one steal with multiple thefts by Kent Bazemore (three), Taurean Prince (two) and DeAndre' Bembry (two).
5. With Collins and Dedmon out, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer opted to start Miles Plumlee at center. I think that’s the right move. Plumlee catches heat because of his burdensome contract. He wasn’t ready for the start of this season after an injury-plagued year in 2016-17. But, before that, Plumlee had been an efficient scorer around the basket and a good rebounder and shot blocker. Those are the things the Hawks most miss without Dedmon and Collins.
6. Among the healthy Hawks, Plumlee is the best candidate to score and defend in the paint. He appeared rusty in his first two games and early in this one but came alive in the second half with good work at both ends. Plumlee finished with six points on three shots, seven rebounds and three blocked shots in 19 minutes.
7. Budenholzer quickly replaced Plumlee with Tyler Cavanugh to play alongside Ersan Ilyasova. Then he put in Marco Belinelli for Ilyasova, leaving the Hawks with a point guard, three wings and perimeter-oriented Cavanugh. Budenholzer didn’t stick with that alignment very long but it’s the kind of thing he will have to do sometimes until Dedmon or Collins return.
8. The Hawks were cold shooting from the floor early. Ilyasova was part of that with five misses on his first five attempts but he also kept the Hawks in it during the first five minutes with four offensive rebounds (a couple were his misses) and five free-throw attempts (three makes).
9. Theoretically those small lineups should allow the Hawks to play faster. But after starting off crisply against the Cavs and sustaining it for the entire game, the Hawks bogged down early against the Nets. There was lots of perimeter passing without purpose and not much in the way of driving.
10. That all changed when the second unit started trickling in for the Hawks. Isaiah Taylor provided a spark with his speed, Marco Belinelli did it with crafty shot creation and Bembry got the Hawks going with deflections. Taylor is so fast, and he’s a good ball-handler. He’s also surprisingly strong for his size.
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