Kent Bazemore’s 22 Leads Hawks Over Sixers in 126-98 Rout

Led by points from Kent Bazemore, the Hawks easily defeated the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Point guard Jeff Teague led an efficient Atlanta offense | John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Point guard Jeff Teague led an efficient Atlanta offense | John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Through 10-plus minutes of play, the game looked pretty good for Sixers fans. The home team was up 21-15, the duo of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor were operating well on both ends of the court, and a balanced Sixers attack was executing well offensively.

Then the wheels fell off.

The Hawks ended the first quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 22-21 lead, and used a 12-0 run to start the second quarter to pull away. That 19-0 run was, which included 7 points each from Al Horford and Mike Scott, was, mercifully, broken up by a technical free throw off of a defensive three second violation, but the damage was done.

The Sixers used 5 offensive rebounds from Nerlens Noel in the third quarter to  propel them to a 15-2 run that briefly pulled them back to within 11, but it was short-lived. The Hawks answered that run with a 9-0 sprint of their own, quickly pushing the lead back to an insurmountable 20 point margin. The Sixers weren’t in the game from there on out and ended up falling to the Hawks by a score of 126-98.

“They get us chasing, they get us scrambling, and they have elite shooters at the end of it,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the game. “They’re a good example for us of what we hope to build sharing the ball and shooting the ball.”

Jahlil Okafor led the way offensively, scoring 21 points on 9-16 shooting to go along with 7 rebounds. The Sixers also got a strong game from big man Nerlens Noel, who finished with a game-high 13 rebounds to go along with 9 points, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 1 blocked shot.

The Sixers did some positive things offensively, including shooting a respectable 45.3% from the field and getting to the free line 25 times. It was the defensive side of the court that failed them.

“There were times tonight you’re sitting on the bench wondering who the group is,” Brown said after the game. “Nothing to me matters much unless we have that as our base, unless we have that as our mentality. Lots of times we do do that. Tonight we didn’t.

“I leave tonight very disappointed in our defense,” Brown continued. “We played with no spirit tonight. We played with no fight.”

The Hawks impeccable ball movement led to open shot after open shot, forcing the Sixers into defensive rotations their youth and inexperience were not able to overcome. The end result was the Hawks shooting 41.9% from three point range and finishing the night with 36 assists on their 49 made field goals.

“They definitely did a great job moving the ball. It seemed like every time we cut something off they would make the extra pass,” Sixers rookie big man Jahlil Okafor said. “A lot of credit goes to the Hawks. They’re a really good offensive team.”

The combination of the Hawks’ excellent ball movement and the Sixers’ propensity to turn the ball over — 22 on the night — led to 33 fast break points for the Hawks and 29 points off of turnovers. The Hawks lead the league in scoring off of turnovers, averaging 20.4 points per contest.

That was especially problematic for the Sixers in the third quarter, where the Hawks turned 10 Sixers turnovers into 17 points. The Sixers had only turned the ball over 8 times in the first half.

The Hawks were led by Kent Bazemore, who had 22 points on 8-15 shooting from the field. They had four other players in double figures, including 18 points from Paul Millsap and Al Horford, 14 from Dennis Schroder, and 11 from Mike Scott.

One bright spot for the Sixers was the play of second year forward Jerami Grant, who finished with 11 points in a 21 minute run off the bench, including a couple of tough finishes in traffic.

The road for the Sixers doesn’t get much easier, as they’ll play the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Wells Fargo Center this weekend, before taking on the Chicago Bulls next Thursday, also at home.

Quick Thoughts:

* It was nice to see Robert Covington get some garbage time late in the game. Covington had only played 2 minutes up until that point, and for good reason: he came into the game to start the second quarter and immediately looked like he was pressing, making some bad decisions in the process. He didn’t play great in garbage time, but perhaps the two made three pointers he had late could get him out of his slump. Covington hadn’t made a three pointer in his previous two games.

* The Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel lineup looked really good to start the game, and both of them came out with an energy they don’t always show when playing together, making strong defensive rotations and crashing the defensive glass. That fell apart in the second half, with Okafor struggling at times with his defensive rotations.

* Okafor had 21 points on 9-16 shooting, with 6 of his 9 makes unassisted.

* After averaging 19 minutes per game over his last two contests, Carl Landry appeared in only 6 minutes against the Hawks. There’s a little bit of a minutes crunch going on, especially with Richaun Holmes‘ strong play of late, and one that could get increasingly worse in matchups where Brett Brown will try to avoid having two big men on the court at the same time.

* Ish Smith finished with 12 points and 7 assists, shooting 6-10 in the process. He did turn the ball over 4 times, but the offense really fell apart when he was on the bench, as neither T.J. McConnell (0 points, 3 turnovers, -20 in 9 minutes) or Isaiah Canaan (5 points, 1-4 shooting, -33 in 16 minutes) were effective in a reserve role.

* Kent Bazemore finished the game with 22 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and a blocked shot. Over the past 4 games he’s averaging 20.3 points on just 13.0 field goal attempts per game, shooting 51.9% from the field and 50% from three point range in the process, while chipping in 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Bazemore, who signed a 2 year, $4 million deal with the Hawks during the summer of 2014, will be a free agent this summer.

* The Hawks had almost twice as many uncontested field goal attempts as the Sixers did, 50-26 in favor of the road team.

* Of the Sixers’ 5 worst defensive games of the season, two have come against the Hawks: a 130.4 defensive rating on December 16th and the 121.9 tonight.

Next up: Sixers vs Raptors, Saturday, 7:30 PM at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.