The Atlanta Hawks dropped Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals (93-104) on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers, as LeBron James led the way (as he so often does) with 25 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists. Kyrie Irving added another 21 points to Cleveland’s cause. The Hawks still have an opportunity to capture home court advantage when the two teams go at it again on Wednesday for Game 2.
There’s lots to get to today because, as always, the Hawks know how to make things interesting for Hawks bloggers/writers etc.
A very winnable game escapes Atlanta’s grasp
The Hawks had, somehow, managed to keep themselves within arms length of the Cavaliers (10-ish points) when they ought to have been down by at least 20. However, as much as the Hawks were one run away from making this a game, the Cavaliers were always one run away from blowing this game wide open.
And that’s exactly what happened in the third quarter, as a 12-4 Cavs run meant that the Hawks were suddenly trailing by 18 points, with the crowd fully engaged fresh off of a thunderous LeBron dunk that put the Cavs up 72-54. Now all of a sudden the Hawks have gone from within a run of being in this game, to being in real danger of being blown out in Game 1 — how was their response? Immediate. Mike Scott canned a three-pointer to immediately hush the home crowd, the Hawks got a stop the other way, and then Dennis Schröder drained another three-pointer. In the blink of an eye the deficit was just 12 and the Cavs called for a timeout.
Great initial response from the Hawks not bury their heads after what could’ve been a game breaker for so many teams. A power-dunk from LeBron that put the Cavs up by 18 in the third quarter, with the crowd going nuts. Many teams never recover from that, but I think Mike Scott (being Mike Scott and doing Mike Scott things) shooting and making that three was massive at that time for the Hawks. The crowd is instantly hushed after that shot, and that helps the Hawks in their quest to get another stop. It fuelled the comeback. Never change, Mike Scott…
After the timeout, the Hawks continue their comeback push with an 8-0 run to reduce the lead to just four heading into the fourth quarter, 70-74. In the fourth, five quick points from the Cavs made it a nine point game but the Hawks, again, rallied and eventually took a one point lead (88-87) with 4:28 remaining in the fourth. Forget the 18 point hole, the Hawks are now in a legitimate position to steal this game. But from then on it was all about the Cavs. They closed the game on a 17-5 run — with three of those five Atlanta points coming in garbage time off of a Lamar Patterson three — and the Hawks simply couldn’t execute down the stretch.
Despite all the things that were counting against the Hawks last night — the rough games (offensively) from Al Horford and Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver being limited to one shot, Jeff Teague not playing particularly great, and the Hawks being away from home — they had a shot of winning this game, and it feels like a case of a missed opportunity. While that is disappointing, the fact they were in with a shot of winning this game, despite everything, indicates how close these two teams really are to each other — perhaps closer than most people initially thought. And that’s certainly encouraging for the Hawks going forward.
Dennis Schröder’s big night, but a concern going forward…
Dennis Schröder has taken a lot of flack this season (which has and hasn’t been warranted at times), but there’s always a Hawks contingent that believe he should be “given the keys” to the point guard position. Last night, he backed that case with a very impressive performance. He led the Hawks with 27 points (on 10-of-20 shooting and 5-of-10 from the three-point line) and six assists, a playoff career high.
All that is great, fantastic even, but there’s a concern going forward. While he did get the rim a bit, this perimeter hot shooting is not something you should expect to continue. The Celtics were more than happy to play the percentage game with Schröder’s three-point shot (32% in the regular season) and let him fire away, and it worked in the sense that Schröder was ineffective from behind the arc as he shot 18%.
The Cavs were also happy to let him take that shot, as they ducked under screens, left him wide open, and backed away from him. Nine times out of 10 this works in favor of the Cavaliers, but last night was Schröder’s best night from behind the arc all season. But there’s no reason to believe this is sustainable. In fact, Schröder has had only eight games this season where he made three threes in a night. He never had a night where he made four three’s in a game this season, let alone five. It just doesn’t happen.
It’s not sustainable to rely on that going forward, no matter how well he shot in Game 1, and the Cavs should continue to play Schröder as they did in Game 1. It’s exactly like Marcus Smart going off against the Hawks — a 25% three-point shooter who the Hawks let fire away, because they knew the percentages, and Smart ended up making 34% of his threes. If he made them, he made them, but the Hawks would allow him to keep jacking away because the likelihood was that Smart was going to miss those shots.
It’s the same with Schröder and the Cavs. The Cavs, despite him hitting five last night, will continue to allow him to fire away from the outside and the percentages should eventually catch up.
Kyle Korver extremely limited
The Celtics and Brad Stevens believed they had limited Korver somewhat but, compared to what the Cavaliers did last night, they hand’t really. The Cavs held Korver to just one shot attempt. ONE. And he didn’t even make it. Korver did, however, hit three free throws, although he was pretty lucky to have the opportunity to shoot those, as it appeared that the foul took place before the shot attempt.
“They don’t leave Kyle anywhere. They’ll send two people at him, they’ll send three people at him and leave other people with opportunities. A lot of the shots we get, we’ll take. We’ll continue to take the same opportunities and if they’re going to run two, three guys at Kyle, other guys are going to have good looks and good opportunities.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
But we’ve seen in the past, even in these playoffs, how Korver changes the game even when he’s not getting the opportunities/making shots. When Avery Bradley loses Korver here, he screams out “Help me, Amir!” to Amir Johnson, who has to leave Millsap to help Bradley with Korver, and this opened an opportunity for Millsap for an easy bucket.
This is for all those Hawks fans who say “bench Korver”. No. What he gives Atlanta, whether he’s shooting or not, is so valuable. With him on the court, the opposition always in fear of leaving him and that’s something you can only say for a handful of players in this whole league.
It’ll be up to Coach Budenholzer to figure out how to get Korver some more open looks. Maybe he should take a leaf out of Golden State’s book with a whole bunch of moving screens (topical joke, har har har)…
Tough shooting night for Atlanta’s All-Stars
It was another night to forget on the offensive end for Al Horford, whose shooting woes continued last night as he shot 4-of-13 from the field.
It’s really worth mentioning that during the Boston series, Horford was listed as “probable” with a groin strain. He says he’s OK, and his movement seems to be fluid enough, but it’s hard to tell if that’s really bothering him and whether or not it’s majorly contributing to this rough stretch, or if it’s just a regular shooting slump. Either way, he’s having a hard time out there. So was Paul Millsap in the first three games of Boston series, then he poured out 45 points… There have been a few bunnies that Horford has missed, and I honestly think there’s nothing to worry about here. Those swooping efforts across the lane will start going down.
As for Atlanta’s other All-Star, Paul Millsap did score 17 points, but needed 19 shots to do so. Despite not shooting the ball too well, Millsap was getting the benefit of the whistle and went to the line eight times. Though, he did leave three of those eight at the line and those are the points you need to cash in on, especially if you’re a good foul shooter as Millsap is.
The thing is though, Millsap and Horford — while they can score — are not All-Star attackers, but All-Star defenders and, no matter how badly they may struggle on the offensive end, their greatest contribution is what they’re able to do on the defensive end. They’ll bounce back. Or, at least one of them will.
Hawks out-rebound Cavs, but Tristan Thompson strikes again
Blasphemy! Hawks out-rebounded the Cavs?? I know, hard to believe, but it’s true! The Hawks actually out-rebounded the Cavs last night — 48 rebounds to Cleveland’s 44, and 15 offensive rebounds to Cleveland’s 10. Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore both collected double digit rebounds (12 for Bazemore, 13 for Millsap, and 12 offensive rebounds between them) as the Hawks exercised some of their rebounding demons that had haunted them from last year’s conference finals, where the Cavs destroyed the Hawks on the glass.
While the Hawks didn’t win the game, they can take encouragement that they are a better rebounding side than last year. That said, they’re not a great rebounding team, but good enough to not be blown away by the Cavs.
As always, however, Tristan Thompson proved to be a thorn in the Hawks’ side, as he snatched seven offensive rebounds last night. The thing that Thompson does to separate himself from others is that he’s so willing, when he collects the offensive rebound, to give the ball back to his teammates on the perimeter when other players often look for their own offense when they grab an offensive rebound. How many times have you seen, even in the playoffs, Bismack Biyombo try and get his own after he grabs the offensive rebound? What normally happens with Biyombo in that case, when he grabs a rebound, is he tries a bunch of pump fakes to free up space to dunk, gets clobbered, and goes to the free throw line where he clangs one or both of the free throws. With Thompson, he’s not the most spectacular offensive player and instead of searching for his own, he puts the ball into the hands of those who are so much more capable than he is. And that’s the threat.
Coach Ty Lue used the perfect word to describe what it feels like to concede offensive rebounds over and over again. Demoralizing.
“When teams play great defense for 24 seconds and he comes up with those rebounds it’s just demoralizing to a team because now they have to come out and guard us again. That’s what he’s done for us the last two years. We know what he does and we know what he brings and he knows who he is.” — Coach Ty Lue
Boom. “He knows who he is”.That’s what makes him deadly. He’s still grossly overpaid, in my opinion, but there’s no denying that he is talented at what he does and the fact he knows who he is on a LeBron James team makes him an huge threat.
Coach Bud knows, however, that the most important thing is to stop the ball going through the net first, and then worry about Thompson when that goal has been accomplished.
“It’s more important that we make them miss first, that’s our priority. Then we have to have all five guys in there getting after (the ball). Credit to him, he’s a good player. He plays off their penetration and their shots well.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
It’s good to see Atlanta rebound well and hang with the Cavs in this area of play. It’ll be interesting to see if it was a one off, or a trend.
Weird lineups and rotations — many questions
What is going on with these weird lineups and rotations that Bud is rolling out in these playoffs??
In the second quarter we saw a lineup of Jeff Teague, Dennis Schröder, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, and Mike Muscala. How many minutes do you think this lineup saw in the regular season? You guessed it, ZERO. What is this? What a great time to try this lineup, wouldn’t you say? Second round of the playoffs against the Cavs sounds about the right time, right?
There are lots of other questions:
Bud said that Kris Humphries would have a role in this series, yet he didn’t play in Game 1. Was he saying Humphries would appear so that the questions about Humphries would stop, or does he have legitimate plans to play Hump in this series? Is he waiting until the Cavs are out-rebounding the Hawks by 20 to bring him out? Is Bud ever going to shorten his rotation, as is customary in the playoffs? We’re still seeing 10 man rotations, and players like Muscala and Hardaway are not contributing enough to warrant being out on the court. The Hawks are better off with 6 more minutes of Sefolosha guarding LeBron James than Tim Hardaway Jr. shooting 0-of-4 from the field. Is Bud just hoping that THJ catches fires from outside in one of these games, for some offense off of his inconsistent bench, to warrant keeping him in the game? I’m beginning to think so, since the only offense that comes off the bench comes in the form of the inconsistent Schröder and Scott.