The Atlanta Hawks’ offense continues to put up points and they are doing so efficiently. But their defense remains a work in progress, to say the least. And it got quite the test in the 132-121 loss to Damian Lillard and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Lillard finished with 25 points and was a game-high plus-14.
It wasn’t so much how many points he scored, though. It was when and how he was scoring that made such an impact.
“There's multipliers,” Hawks head coach Quin Snyder said via the team on December 2. “Dame, Dame did some things, even when we guarded well, that we're taking the ball out of the net. And it just puts more pressure on us to have offensive possessions that we can get to the line, we can get an offensive rebound, where we don't just have to rely on making a shot.”
Lillard got a big helping hand from Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with a 32-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist triple-double – his first of the season.
But Snyder noted Lillard’s impact on the Hawks’ defense later in his presser.
“Defensively, playing Damian Lillard in pick-and-roll forces you to be up on the floor,” Snyder said. “So our backline is bigger. Usually, it's one of them that's up in pick-and-rolll defense. And it allows, even if Lopez is space, we can invert and we have more protection at the rim with more size. When our back line is smaller than that it's it's more difficult.
“It's finding minutes for those guys to play together. There's certain times in the game where that allows itself, and there's certain matchups where I think it pays dividends defensively. Tonight was one of those nights.”
The Hawks teased the combo during the preseason. But they have used it sparingly during the regular season, and for good reason.
Their net rating was minus-52.8 with Capela and Okongwu together, per Cleaning The Glass.
That was in 16 possessions and the results were similar in their possessions against the Bucks. Capela had 10 points, 17 rebounds (a season-high), four assists, three blocks, and one steal. Okongwu, coming off back-to-back double-digit scoring performances, had five points four rebounds, and three assists.
Quin Snyder cites Bucks’ ‘maturity’ in clutch after Hawks’ loss
“I think we were easier to guard during that stretch and, like I said, we didn't get to the line. We had tough shots. I thought they got better shots than we did that last four minutes. And sometimes those add up to an offensive rebound, free throw, slows the game down, you set your defense. And that's something – they're a mature team.”
The Bucks went 6-for-7 for 13 points while the Hawks scored seven points on 3-for-10 shooting over the final four minutes of the game.
“We just need to keep learning how to do that,” the head coach continued. “Particularly late in the game. The game's different. And we've done that. We've absolutely done that. We didn't do it tonight.”
The Hawks are 4-6 in clutch games – defined by the NBA as any game within five points in the final five minutes – this season. They are shooting 45.6% from the floor but just 28% from beyond the arc in those situations.