Atlanta Hawks fall to Cavaliers in third game of preseason

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Marring what was otherwise a dream start, the Atlanta Hawks dropped their third game of the NBA preseason against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, losing 99-105.

Whether they were affected by jet lag due to the long flight from their historic preseason games in Saudi Arabia or simply outclassed by the Cavaliers, the Hawks came up just short in Cleveland. The team was held to 34 percent shooting from the floor over the course of the full 48 minutes, which isn’t conducive to winning many games.

Given that it’s NBA preseason, any results – positive or negative – should be taken with a grain of salt. Players are trying out new things, lineups are being experimented with, and there are too many variables that simply aren’t present in regular-season games.

However, it is also important to reflect on these games to see where areas of improvement can be targeted given that the regular season is less than a week away.

What are the major takeaways from the Atlanta Hawks’ third preseason game?

The glaring issue on Wednesday that coach Nate McMillan will look to fix with his team is the fact that the Hawks put up only 99 points on the night. For a team that is expecting its high-powered offense to carry them through many games this season, putting up 99 points against a team that isn’t particularly good at defense, especially at the guard positions, will be a concern.

Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland were the primary defenders on Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. While Garland deserves credit for bringing his poor level of 0.9 defensive win shares from 2020-21 up to 2.5 in 2021-22, he is still only a serviceable defender at best. For Trae Young, possibly the best offensive player in all of basketball, to be silenced by Garland all night is very unlike him. Donovan Mitchell, who is extremely undersized for a shooting guard at 6’1″, also gave Dejounte Murray a rough time.

The Atlanta Hawks backcourt combined for 31 points, 6 rebounds, 10 assists, and nine turnovers on 28 percent from the field and 33 percent from behind the arc. They also contributed to a collective -12 in the plus-minus of the box score.

For Young individually, his 3-17 shooting on the night is some of the worst we’ve ever seen from the superstar. It was definitively his least effective night since he shot 1-12 against the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs. As has been shown when Young has games like those, the Hawks aren’t likely to beat the better teams in the conference.

It wasn’t like the rest of the team shot particularly well either, though. The most efficient player was John Collins, who shot 6-10 from the field. Off the bench, the most significant performance was once again AJ Griffin, who shot 3-5 from three-point range and 4-10 from the field, garnering him 11 points. Jalen Johnson was also promising in his first game of the preseason, putting up eight points and 11 rebounds and contributing to a +13 plus-minus in the box score. Outside of these three and the backcourt, the rest of the team shot 33 percent from the field.

It’s perfectly fine to want to chalk this up to a lack of proper sleep, players being in and out of health for some of the preseason, or the skill of the Cleveland Cavaliers. In fact, it’s entirely possible that, especially with the Atlanta Hawks’ young bench, the team takes some time in the regular season to fully get going. If there’s anything to take away from a loss like this, that may be the safest one.

There are certainly positives to take away as well. The highly-talented Cavaliers were held to 105 total points, which is significant for the Hawks, a team that looked to improve its defense in the backcourt with the acquisition of Murray. Garland and Mitchell were inefficient in their own rights, combining to shoot 34 percent on 47 shots. The fact that

the Hawks scored 99 points with the nightmarish game from Young and were still in the game until the end is a genuine hopeful sign that they may be able to stay alive against anyone on any night.

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With all things considered, this has been a successful preseason so far for the Atlanta Hawks. To go 2-1 against teams that will likely be in the upper half of the Eastern Conference standings towards the end of the season is nothing short of impressive.