After another embarrassing loss to the Cavs, the Hawks are trending downward and have been one of the biggest disappointments of the 2021 NBA season. This is mostly thanks to injuries, as De’Andre Hunter still does not have a timetable to return, and he was playing the best basketball of his young career. Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Bogdan Bogdanović, Onyeka Okongwu, and others have also missed significant time. However, Lloyd Pierce has had some questionable moments, and it might be time to start thinking about life after him, especially if Travis Schlenk wants to save this season.
The Hawks had an ugly stretch of blowing massive 15+ point leads, but they started playing better as guys healed up. Trae Young‘s short slump while suffering through a hurt wrist undoubtedly played into a bad January, but he is back in form and guys like De’Andre Hunter and Clint Capela have been playing like All-Stars. John Collins has also been his typical efficient self, and Tony Snell has looked like a true sixth-man off the bench since returning from injury. It has been far from an ideal situation health-wise, but the Hawks were bolstered mostly through depth this offseason, and they’ve certainly had enough pieces to be in a better position than they are now.
Tonight’s loss against the Cavs was inexcusable, and with each passing game, it really does seem like coaching is playing a factor. Nate McMillan did much better in Pierce’s absence. In three games under the former Pacers head coach against the Celtics (twice) and Nuggets, Atlanta built two decent-sized leads in the fourth quarter — just as they did tonight — and they easily held them both while facing much better opponents.
The Hawks now sit at 13-18, and they have lost eight of their last nine under Pierce’s guidance. Atlanta’s also blown ten fourth quarter leads under Pierce. At a certain point, injuries aren’t an excuse. And the fact that McMillan was able to do in three games what Pierce hasn’t been able to accomplish over the last month only makes his seat even hotter. If Pierce can’t turn things around — and quickly — there’s no way Schlenk can keep him as the head coach without risking his own job.
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