Game 1 of the Hawks and Cavaliers series looked like a disaster for Atlanta when DeMarre Carroll went down with a knee injury in the fourth quarter.
The arena was deadly silent. Carroll was rolling in pain on the court as players and coaches from both teams looked on with grave concern. As Carroll was helped off the court, everyone in Atlanta had one thought: it’s over. Without DeMarre Carroll, the team’s best perimeter defender and the team’s leading scorer in the playoffs, the Hawks had no chance against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But alas, a beam of hope has struck the ATL.
On Tuesday, it was announced that the MRI on Carroll’s knee showed no structural damage beyond confirming a knee sprain. Carroll’s status was updated on Wednesday by the AJC’s Chris Vivlamore:
Hawks call DeMarre Carroll a game-time decision
— Chris Vivlamore (@CVivlamoreAJC) May 22, 2015
With Kyrie Irving also being questionable for Game 2, the Hawks have ample opportunity to recover from the near disaster that was Game 1. With or without Carroll, here are the keys that the Hawks need to follow to improve in Game 2.
Go under on LeBron James initiated pick-and-rolls
LeBron James had success against the Hawks in Game 1 by getting into the paint, whether it be via post up or drive into the lane with the help of a screen. James often collapsed the Hawks’ defense and would kick out to an open 3-point shoot, which did not work as well as it could have due to the Cavs missing some open 3s. The Hawks cannot expect those misses in Game 2 and it would be prudent try and keep James as far from the paint as possible. One way to do this — which the Spurs have used to success in the previous two NBA Finals — is to make James a jump-shooter by going under screens. If LeBron beats you with jumpers, then you can live with that. If LeBron is surgically slicing up your defense by getting into the paint and making the right passes… there are few scenarios where you are going to win.
Along with this idea, the Hawks need to throw as many different defenders against James as possible, whether or not Carroll is playing. The idea here is to force James into making as many reads and decisions as possible, and to help keep those defending James as fresh as possible so they can contribute appropriately on offense and late in the game. Carroll was doing most of the work in Game 1 and the result was that he looked completely gassed as the game went on. In the absence of Carroll, the Hawks should use Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap, and possibly even Al Horford in a myriad of ways to help contain James.
While Pero Antic is the smarter defender, Mike Muscala is the better rebounder and overall offensive player. The Hawks were killed on the glass in Game 1, and more use of Mike Muscala should be at the top of the Hawks’ list as a remedy. If Carroll is out, we might seem more of Muscala as the Hawks shift to a jumbo lineup with Paul Millsap at the 3 position, but even if Carroll is playing, Muscala should be the first big man off the bench.
Make open shots
Atlanta 2-15 on open or wide open jumpers in the second half. (2 and 3s)
— Seth Partnow (@SethPartnow) May 21, 2015
It seems to have been the theme for the Hawks during the playoffs, hasn’t it? In games that have been close or games that the Hawks have lost, they have missed a ton of open shot attempts. No more. Simply put, this is the playoffs; at some point, either you are good enough to make those open shots or you aren’t. Time for the Hawks to prove which they are.