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Peachtree Hoops: Hawks unable to answer adjustments in loss to Heat


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Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It was a very different game after halftime.

The Atlanta Hawks were unable to bounce-back from Friday’s loss to the Rockets, falling to a 106-98 defeat against the Miami Heat on Sunday evening at State Farm Arena.

John Collins led the Hawks in scoring with 23 points while also grabbing 14 rebounds in the absence of Clint Capela, who missed this contest due to dental pain. For the Heat — without Jimmy Butler — Bam Adebayo scored 32 points.

The first half of this game was one in the Hawks’ favor, building a double digit lead in the first quarter and when the Heat cut this to begin the second half, the Hawks used a 7-0 run to bring it back to nine points and give themselves that cushion — it would be the same margin they took into the halftime break.

When the two sides returned for the second half, one team stood head and shoulders above their competition and that was the Miami Heat.

The Heat brought a new-look defense to the game and employed it in the second half to devastating effect. The Hawks had absolutely no answer to this defensive scheme and attempted futilely to figure it out, the Heat ultimately making this a fairly comfortable win in the end with a 20+ point turnaround as they turned a nine point deficit into a 14 point lead in the fourth.

This game was decided by the Heat’s halftime defensive adjustment rather than what they did on the offensive end (though, Bam Adebayo’s 14 points in the third quarter did not help matters).

Let’s take a look at the second half clips to see what the Heat did and where the Hawks struggled.

With Adebayo anchoring the defense there seemed to be a little more emphasis on the big being in the paint in this initial defensive look (this would change) and the perimeter defense funnelling the man with the ball towards help, leading to this tough contested shot from Dejounte Murray:

The Heat’s help defense was swarming, as Trae Young finds as he drives into bodies and is cut off at the rim:

You can see at the beginning of this next play (might need to pause it) that the Heat ran a ‘no middle’ type zone with the big stationing himself on either side of the paint where he is ready to help or simply move to the middle if need be. Had De’Andre Hunter shed Haywood Highsmith on the dribble here, Adebayo would have been in position to help and contest, but Highsmith was up to the task and contests the shot well:

Looking out on the perimeter this time with Young handling the ball, he’s basically faced with three bodies off of the screen as the Heat’s positioning and communication on defense is just excellent, pushing Young to take a step-back three which is missed:

This next camera angle gives a good insight into the Heat’s defense. You can see Dedmon set himself on the right side of the paint area and is ready to step in or out. Caleb Martin points him to where the drive is going to take place from Hunter, Dedmon slides over to stop Hunter in his tracks. When Hunter pops the ball back out to Murray, Murray is instantly swarmed by two defenders and forced to pass to AJ Griffin, who gets a three away as the shotclock expires but can only draw air:

Out of the available clips from this game, I think the next clip is the best example of the Heat’s second half defense. You see how the Heat vacate the paint essentially, how they’re ready to switch or help or swarm out on the perimeter and if you do manage to get in behind Dewayne Dedmon was there to contest and he did a great job of this in this scheme:

The Heat essentially forced the Hawks to be a three-point shooting team, which is one of the greatest failures of this side so far this season to begin with, and despite shooting a tied season-best five first quarters the Hawks could not keep this going, shooting 10-of-36 in the end.

Again you can see the Heat’s zone at work and a decent look here for John Collins with Kyle Lowry a little late to switch on and contest:

Again, the zone is at work and Lowry is a little slow defensively here and it leads to a corner three attempt for Murray:

You can actually see what changed in the fourth in this exact same situation with De’Andre Hunter. The Heat allowed Hunter to drive into Dedmon, which was what Lowry should have done so he could cover Murray but the Heat catch a bit of a break there.

There was a lot of settling on the perimeter as the Heat’s perimeter and interior defense forcing a lot of three-point looks, some good looks for Atlanta and some settled looks. It didn’t matter though as the Hawks shot 3-of-19 from three in the second half for 15.8%. From the field, the Hawks shot 31% for just 38 second half points (an offensive rating of 79.2) after scoring 60 points in the first with relative ease. Oh, and two of threes came from Frank Kaminsky and the one from Murray came directly after Highsmith picked up an injury, was hobbling back on defense and he couldn’t close Murray down quick enough.

The second half could have looked a lot differently had the Hawks connected on even a few of their threes to help break the zone a bit or force the Heat to go away from it a little but there was no need for them to do so in the end. It was another reminder of the Hawks’ three-point woes so far this season — 27th in three-point percentage, 29th in attempts and tied-30th in makes with the Lakers.

As a fan of basketball it was beautiful to watch the Heat so connected defensively in this zone and to watch them execute defensively in the second half (they’re excellently coached and their use of zone is nothing new but it’s fascinating every time) and it was equally frustrating to see the Hawks, seemingly, do absolutely nothing to change their approach to this defense, akin to repeatedly bashing your head against the wall in hopes it’ll eventually crumble — it could happen, you could bash your head against the wall enough times and perhaps it’ll eventually fall but it’s highly unlikely, and a change of approach was needed and the Hawks did not do that and the result was as everyone saw in the second half.

Postgame, Hawks head coach Nate McMillan discussed what the Hawks could have done better against the zone in the second half.

“They did what they normally do, they changed the defense ,” said McMillan. “That’s the way they’ve been playing. What we have to do, our guards have to make sure we get down there and get organized and get to our spots and run our sets. I thought they caught us a couple of times without a balanced floor and that zone became a stop sign — it can’t become a stop sign. I thought we did a pretty good job in the first half attacking it: attack the gaps, make two play you, you play from inside-out. The second half it became a stop sign and we’re trying to run maybe a zone offense or— we just weren’t aggressive enough. You’ve got to be aggressive agains that. Our man and our zone sets will work against that.”

I agree with McMillan from the sense that the second half there was quite a bit Young/Murray iso’s and while part of that is what the Heat forced them to be both could have made better decisions offensively in the second. Young scored 22 points but on 4-of-16 shooting from the field and 1-of-8 from three, while Murray scored 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting and 2-of-8 from three.

Young had started this game off well, scoring 11 points in the first quarter, but was unable to maintain it, with McMillan citing aggressiveness again before talking about the Hawks’ tendency to get a bit down when their offense rhythm is off.

“We have to be aggressive,” said McMillan when asked about sustaining the hot starts for Young and Collins. “We can’t get down when we’re not making shots or when we’re getting shots or if the offense is not in a flow. We have a tendency at times, when the shot is not falling, to get down and that is the time when you’ve got to make sure that you pull together and maybe you go over and grab a teammate who may be struggling. We’ve got to keep our heads up, continue to play, continue to work together.”

While Murray’s and Young’s usage rate increased in the second half, the usage rates for Hunter and John Collins decreased significantly in the second half. Again, part of that is Miami’s defense forcing the Hawks into that but it is somewhat reflective of the iso natures of Young and Murray and how they tried to break Miami’s defense on their own at times but to little avail.

Not having Clint Capela in this spot really hurt Atlanta on both ends of the floor but more so defensively, as Bam Adebayo feasted inside, scoring 32 points on 13-of-20 shooting, 14 coming in the third quarter.

“They hurt us with the same play,” said McMillan of Adebayo. “We didn’t cover that play properly and we didn’t make adjustments to the same play. They got maybe six, eight points off of the lob and that was poor execution on the defensive end of the floor.”

I believe this is the play in question:

Bam sets a down-screen for Tyler Herro and the rotation is miscommunicated between Okongwu and John Collins:

I’m not sure who’s at fault really for these — is it Collins for not rotating when Okongwu is helping on the ball-handler? Or is it Okongwu for not sticking with Bam and allow and trust Collins to be the help defender for the ball-handler and step up?

Regardless, I’m sure Adebayo was delighted Capela wasn’t involved because it certainly made his night easier. The Hawks have to hope Capela will be back soon because — while they did a better job on the glass last night — his presence is sorely missed on the defensive end.

Okongwu stepped into the starting lineup this time — the Hawks, for some reason, not wanting to deploy Collins at the 5, both to start or during the game (they did late on when the game was essentially over) — but this wasn’t the only adjustment that was made to the rotation.

Two-way guard Trent Forrest made his first Hawks appearance this regular season, featuring in place of Aaron Holiday in the rotation, who was a DNP-CD

“I wanted to give him a try,” said McMillan of playing Forrest. “He’s been doing some good things for us in the G League and felt we needed another big guard out there. Aaron’s been doing some good things for us but we talked about giving Trent an opportunity tonight. I thought he was pretty good as far as defending and giving us some size out there on the floor in the backcourt with Trae and DJ.”

Forrest was solid and I’d like to see a little more of him. Frank Kaminsky’s two threes were a bonus for the Hawks but the failed spin move in the second half kind of summed up Frank Kaminsky as a whole, while AJ Griffin was 0-of-6 in the second half.

McMillan also returned to his preseason/very early season rotation for Young and Murray, where Young plays all of the 1st and 3rd quarters, while Murray plays all of the 2nd and 4th quarters.

For the starters, obviously Young and Murray ultimately struggled — though Young did dish out a season-high 14 assists and was strong from a playmaking perspective — but De’Andre Hunter was solid (especially in the first quarter) and John Collins played well, scoring 23 points on 11-of-17 from the field to go with those 14 rebounds.

All-in-all, a disappointing loss for the Hawks for a few reasons.

They were the superior side in the first half, making the second half Miami turnaround all the more irritating for them. They also showed that the acquisition of Murray did little to help in this matchup, at least at this stage in the season. The acquisition of Murray was supposed to help Young in a possible playoff scenario — like they faced in Miami earlier this year in the playoffs where they made life just as difficult last night offensively in the second half as they did during that series. From that point of view, it felt as though not a lot had changed offensively. It was also disappointing to see Nate McMillan seemingly not make an adjustment to Miami’s halftime adjustment defensively, similar to the playoffs. I do wonder if the coaching staff thought Miami’s defense was something the Hawks could eventually play their way out of but it was clear even watching this live that they weren’t going to.

The Hawks won’t face off against the Heat until March and it’ll be a very different set of games by then — for better or for worse? Only time will tell.

Credit to Miami though; they are a treat to watch defensively just because you never know what you’re going to get and whatever scheme they come out with their execution is usually great and to watch all five guys buy into that and operate on a string to execute it...it is fun to watch. They deserved to win that game; they brought their adjustments and the Hawks did not.


The Hawks (11-9) are back in action tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers (11-9) on the road. The Sixers are also on the second night of a back-to-back, taking a 30 point victory in Orlando without Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.

Until next time...

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