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Nets encouraged, but still winless vs. Hawks

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

ATLANTA -- It was an encouraging performance. In the end, though, it was still a loss.

Nothing has changed.

The Brooklyn Nets have yet to play a perfect game against the Atlanta Hawks this season -- and they are winless in five tries against them in 2014-15 as a result.

"As I told the team after the game, if you don't believe you can play in this series, you should believe it now," Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins said after his eighth-seeded Nets showed guts and guile in a 99-92 Game 1 loss to the top-seeded Hawks on Sunday.

"We played hard. I had no fault with the effort of our guys. We just have to be smarter and execute better."

Before the first-round series between the two teams even began, Hollins admitted that the 38-win Nets had no advantage over the 60-win Hawks.

Early on, he was right.

The Nets trailed 32-20 after a first quarter in which they had six turnovers, no assists and missed all six of their 3-point attempts. The high-octane Hawks dictated pace, using dribble-drive penetration and back cuts to get easy baskets. Their motion offense was indeed poetry in motion.

The Nets, who were able to use their size to their advantage, finally began to settle in at the start of the third quarter. They started getting stops on defense and gaining confidence on offense. They were within striking distance in crunch-time, but Kyle Korver (21 points, 5-for-11 3-point range) or Jeff Teague (17 points, 6-for-12 shooting) always had an answer.

Overall, Brooklyn shot 5-for-20 from beyond the arc, went just 15-for-22 at the free-throw line and committed 17 turnovers, which led to 24 Atlanta points.

Like other quality opponents of late, the Hawks took away Brook Lopez (17 points, 14 rebounds) and made the Nets beat them from the perimeter. Lopez, who scored most of his points on putbacks and second-chance opportunities, attempted only seven shots, making six of them. Brooklyn needs to find a way to get its most dominant interior threat more touches in the paint.

"I feel like we can play a lot better," said Deron Williams (13 points, two assists), who missed an off-balance, contested 3-pointer that could've gotten the Nets within two with 55 seconds remaining. "But their defense is so good against our first actions. We're not gonna score [with] our first pick-and-roll. We have to as a team swing the ball, swing the ball again, and maybe drive it. We just can't try to come up, screen-and-roll, one pass, shot. That's just playing into their hands and giving them what they want."

The key to every best-of-seven playoff series is making adjustments. This one is no different.

"We just gotta find some actions that work for [Brook]," Williams said. "Because we definitely need to get him the ball -- that little pocket pass that we were getting the last half of the season [for him to get push shots] is not there against these guys. They're doing a good job of taking that away, but like I said, swing, swing and then maybe post him up on the other side. Those are things we can do to get Brook involved, and we need to get him more involved."

That the Hawks shot just 43 percent from the field, went 10-for-30 from 3-point territory, gave up 12 offensive rebounds and 54 points in the paint and still won speaks to their resolve. Paul Millsap (six points, 2-for-11 shooting) looked rusty in his return from injury, Al Horford (10 points, 10 rebounds) tweaked his finger yet it didn't matter. "D-and-3" ace DeMarre Carroll (17 points) was his usual solid self, while speedy backup Dennis Schroder (13 points) also made his impact felt off the bench.

Atlanta shot 46.6 percent from the field in the regular season and 38 percent from 3-point range. It stands to reason that the Hawks will hit those numbers more often times than not for the rest of the series.

Joe Johnson, the former Hawk who was booed mercilessly by the home crowd despite bringing the franchise back to prominence and making multiple All-Star teams during his seven-year tenure in Atlanta, scored 17 points but missed all six of his attempts from deep.

"It didn't affect me," Johnson said of the boos, which have become customary if not confusing given all that he accomplished there. "I pretty much expected it."

Hollins indicated that he might start Bojan Bogdanovic or Alan Anderson, who just returned after missing the past seven games due to an ankle sprain, in place of rookie Markel Brown, who was benched after playing six minutes in the opening quarter. It's safe to assume Anderson will see plenty of time chasing Korver off screens.

It may to prove a short series. But if the Nets have any plans of becoming just the sixth team in NBA history to pull off an 8-over-1 upset, they're going to need to play at least one perfect game before they play four of them.

"Win. We gotta win. That's all there is to do, and then you know you can do it," Williams said. "I feel like we believe we can do it, and that's where it starts is just believing."

He added: "That's five losses in a row now. [Game 1 was] encouraging, but at the same time almost is not a win. So we gotta play better."