There were four minutes and 56 seconds left in the third quarter when everything went horribly wrong for the Atlanta Hawks.
After a foul on Lou Williams by E’Twaun Moore, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer substituted Gustavo Ayon for Al Horford. The substitution created something of an extra large lineup with Williams and Ayon on the floor with Cartier Martin, Demarre Carroll and Mike Scott in Tuesday night’s game against the Orlando Magic. It got ugly. Very ugly.
The score at that point in the game was 67-66 in favor of the Magic; the Hawks had squandered a 57-49 advantage to that point, but it was nothing compared to what would happen next. For the rest of the quarter, the Hawks would score a total of seven points while surrendering 18 to the visitors from Orlando. And it didn’t stop there.
Atlanta didn’t score for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. At that point Orlando had added 11 points and increased its lead to a staggering 96-76 advantage. The game was out of hand before the starters even had a chance to get back into it.
At the 5-minute mark fans started heading for the exits.
“Obviously we didn’t play well,” said Budenholzer after the game. “In the second half Orlando raised their level and we didn’t respond to it.
The lineup wasn’t something that the Atlanta faithful had seen this much this season and Tuesday night’s results showed why. The Hawks ultimately lost 109-92. Budenholzer said the shuffle was designed to provide some protection for Lou Williams’ recovering knee.
Hawks center Horford called the Hawks defense during the stretch “inexcusable.” The loss dropped Atlanta to 8-7 on the season. They still have the third best record in the Eastern Conference, but it was the second loss in a row for the Hawks, who lost on Saturday night at Philips Arena to the Boston Celtics, 94-87. Atlanta lost control of that game in the second half as well and the team’s big man did not mince words in the locker room Tuesday night.
“We’ve got to get better on defense and that’s where it starts,” said Horford. “We need to look at ourselves in the mirror and be honest about what we’re doing.
“The real downers were the easy layups [Orlando scored],” he continued. “We don’t have the kind of team where we can take teams for granted. We’ve gotta play hard every night, otherwise every team in this league can beat you.”
The terrible stretch from the XL lineup ended what had been a particularly impressive night from Horford and point guard Jeff Teague, who each finished the evening with 15 points. Horford had scored 15 points by the end of the third and Teague had 13. Neither played much in the final quarter, as the lineup of Pero Antic, Dennis Schroder, John Jenkins, Martin and Ayon played most of the final period.
For the Magic, leading scorer Aaron Afflalo had another good night, scoring 26 points on 50 percent shooting (9-18). Rookie Victor Oladipo also played well adding 18 points in 29 minutes.
“We were just coming up short every time,” said Teague, “that’s how it felt. They played well, shot the lights out. It’s tough to beat a team when they’re scoring like that.”
One bright spot for Atlanta was that Kyle Korver continued his 3-point record chase, hitting one three-pointer on the evening to take his streak to 88 games in a row. Not much else went right for Korver. He was 1-6 shooting, all of which were threes.