Hawks blow golden opportunity and are running out of chances to make a move

Atlanta Hawks Trae Young

It’s been tough to buy into what the Hawks are selling through 60 games, even after their memorable run to the Eastern Conference Finals that took place just nine months ago. Injuries and COVID aside, Nate McMillan‘s squad has been way too inconsistent, particularly defensively, where effort has been a significant issue. As a result, the Hawks entered their matchup against the Celtics on Tuesday, essentially needing a win to keep their hopes of a top-six seed in the Eastern Conference alive.

Like so many games for Atlanta this season, things began about as well as they could, especially on the road against the NBA’s hottest team. Trae Young couldn’t be stopped, pouring in 20 first-half points. Bogdanovic also chipped in 10, and Huerter had nine, as the Hawks opened up a 14-point lead on the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Then the Celtics flipped a switch. Their suffocating defense stifled the Hawks during the entire second half. Boston began the third quarter on a 14-0 run to tie the game before Trae Young finally put one in the cylinder on a 36-foot three-pointer. It wasn’t enough to flip the momentum, though. The Celtics would go on to outscore the Hawks 31-13 in the third, and they never turned back in the fourth.┬áThe Hawks only managed to score 20 points in the final period, totaling 33 in the second half, as Boston cruised to a 107-98 victory.

The excuses are there for the Hawks. Once again, John Collins was unavailable, missing his sixth straight game. Onyeka Okongwu was also forced to leave the game after going into concussion protocol, and Trae Young was clearly hobbled in the second half after rolling an ankle earlier in the game. But on the other end, Jaylen Brown left the game in the first half for the Celtics and never returned, so they also weren’t at full strength either. High-quality playoff teams find ways to win throughout the season when they’re not one-hundred percent, which is what Boston did on Tuesday night, and it’s exactly why they now sit 6.5 games ahead of Atlanta in the standings.

The loss all but guarantees the Hawks will not finish inside the top six seeds in the Eastern Conference, but they still have the opportunity to make the most of their season. As Trae Young said after the game, if you give this team an opportunity in a seven game series, they can compete with anyone.

For the most part, I agree with this statement. The Hawks proved it last season. However, they’ve got a lot of work to do to earn that opportunity.

First and foremost, the Hawks need to make the play-in tournament. They currently are the tenth seed in the East, which is the final team to make the play-in, and the Wizards sit just a game behind them in the standings. However, the Hawks shouldn’t be comfortable settling for the tenth seed. At the very least, they need to have their eyes on the eighth seed, ensuring themselves multiple opportunities to make it into the big dance.

Photo: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

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