Here is the new game story on the Hawks’ loss to the Grizzlies Thursday night with post-game quotes:
Larry Drew was afraid it would happen.
The Hawks coach issued a warning to his team. It didn’t help
Drew feared a letdown against the Grizzlies after his team’s recently completed 4-1 road trip had them tied for first in the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference.
The letdown came in a big way Thursday night in a 96-77 loss to the Grizzlies at Philips Arena.
“When you come off a road trip like that the tendency is to have a letdown,” Drew said. “I was afraid today would happen. We weren’t sharp tonight. I’m not going to blame it on the road trip. Everybody else has to do it. They go off on long road trips and come back and play. We can’t use that as an excuse. The start of the first quarter that team just manhandled us. They played with physicality and we were a step slow in everything we did.”
The Hawks held a seven-point lead early in the first quarter. It was gone before the end of the opening period. By halftime, the Hawks trailed by 10, 53-43.
The culprit was turnovers. The Hawks committed eight in the first half which led to 14 points. The Grizzlies lead the NBA in steals at 10.48 per game, nearly matching that total in the opening 24 minutes. Rudy Gay became the Grizzlies’ all-time leader in steals with three steals in the first half as he surpassed Shane Battier (523).
The Hawks finished with 15 turnovers leading to 19 Grizzlies points.
“They are a team that is very active,” Drew said. “They are aggressive. They play good help defense and they gamble a lot. It’s nothing that we had not talked about. We didn’t do a good job of handling the pressure. We were very casual with the ball. We just weren’t sharp offensively. We got behind and then we started trying to do it ourselves. We fell even further behind.”
The Hawks (16-7) had a three-game win streak snapped and lost for only the second time at home this season. After winning their previous two games by 22 and 23 points respectively, they were on the losing end of a blowout.
Gay led the Grizzlies (12-10) with a game-high 21 points. Tony Allen (18), O.J. Mayo (18), Mike Conley (15) and Marc Gasol (11) all finished in double figures.
Smith finished with 11 points for the Hawks, which lost to the Grizzlies for the first time in five meetings. Joe Johnson added 10.
The Hawks have held opponents to an NBA-low 19.5 points per game in the first quarter this season. The Grizzlies surpassed that by taking a 21-19 lead. They went on an 18-7 run to end the second quarter and took the double-digit lead into intermission.
The Grizzlies scored the first four points of the second half, the last two on a steal and layup by Mike Conley that had the Hawks Zaza Pachulia and Josh Smith exchanging words during a timeout. The start was part of a 24-8 Grizzlies run, as the Hawks missed their first seven shots, to grow the lead to 26 points at 77-51.
“It was obvious,” Pachulia said. “They had a better effort than us, talking about offensive rebounds and steals. That was the story. We gave the momentum to them. Any team gets a steal and a layup, they get more energized and they get the momentum.”
It would get worse as the Grizzlies led by as many as 30 points.
“They came out and out-played us,” Willie Green said. “We know we are a better team than that. … Once they made a run, it just seemed like we couldn’t get off our heals.”
The Hawks lost center Jason Collins to a left elbow injury in the first quarter. Collins was injured diving for a loose ball when his arm was pinned by the Grizzlies’ Dante Cunningham. He went to the locker room and following an X-ray was diagnosed with a sprained elbow.
The Hawks had to play Grizzlies center Gasol with Pachulia, who picked up two early fouls, and Ivan Johnson. The Grizzlies finished with 58 points in the paint.
“We look at the game and let’s be real about what happened,” Drew said. “I could have talked about plays that hurt us or strategy that didn’t work. I just told them ‘Guys, we got out-toughed.’ That’s something I haven’t seen in a while, where a team comes out and from a physical standpoint plays with more physicality.”
The Hawks’ four-game homestand continues Saturday night against the 76ers.