The Atlanta Hawks face an uphill battle in their second round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the Cavs blew out the Hawks 123-98 in Game 2 to take a 2-0 series lead. That scoreline is kind to the Hawks, in all honesty. They were blown apart by the Cavs and their outside shooting, and deserved to lose by at least 30.
Before we get to that, we should recognise the situation the Hawks are now in: they’re in trouble, and history does not favor their side…
LeBron James has never lost a playoff series after taking a 2-0 series lead pic.twitter.com/qmq3kLakuK
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 5, 2016
I can’t find the stat that I saw on Twitter last night, but it was something like “the Hawks have never recovered from a 0-2 series hole in franchise”, but I may be mistaken… Either way, things could be a lot better.
Anyways, let’s get to Game 2. Funnily enough, there’s not much to really discuss but what there is to discuss, we’ll be spending a while on…
Cleveland’s NBA three-point record, and destruction rains in the form of threes
The Cavaliers shattered all sorts of three-point records last night. They made a record 18 first half threes in the first half, eclipsed the playoff record for threes in a game (set by Golden State in Game 4 against the Rockets this season) with 22, and then set an NBA record — for both the regular season and the playoffs — with 25 made three-pointers.
It’s one thing when one player is hot shooting the three, but it’s a whole other story if the entire team is hot as the Cavs were. 10 different Cavaliers hit at least one three last night and five players made multiple threes. J.R. Smith shot 7-of-13 from three, Kyrie Irving was 4-of-5, LeBron was 4-of-6, Kevin Love shot 3-of-4, and Richard Jefferson made both of his three-point attempts.
Yikes. That’s a hot shot chart.
Well, let’s not waste time here. Let’s get into this.
One of the things Coach Bud mentioned in his post game interview was getting back in transition — it wasn’t something the Hawks excelled in last night.
Here, Irving makes his way down the floor and no one picks him up, even as he arrives at the three-point line. Irving shoots an open and uncontested three-pointer and, luckily for the Hawks, it doesn’t go down.
You can see Horford point at Kyrie, urging someone to meet him, but no one gets close enough. The Hawks were very lucky on this occasion not to be punished for not picking up Kyrie in transition.
In this sequence, the Cavs are looking to push the ball off of the Bazemore miss. Richard Jefferson, the 35 (36 in June) year old Richard Jefferson, out runs the Hawks to the corner and Dellavedova finds him open in the corner for the three.
I can understand why Kyle Korver was unwilling to leave J.R. Smith — as Smith was on fire at this stage of the game — but on a night where everyone is one fire, you have to go and meet Jefferson in the corner to at least contest his shot. If you get there in time, you take away the shot altogether and force Jefferson to make a play.
Turnovers killed the Hawks last night, as the Cavaliers brutally scored 29 points of Atlanta’s 16 turnovers. Most of those 29 points came off of transition threes, here was one of them.
If you looked at most of the threes LeBron took last night you would’ve seen, judging off of their body language, that the Hawks were fine with LeBron taking that shot. They weren’t scrambling to contest his shots. If you look at the reaction of Bazemore, when Irving passes the ball to Love, that’s the reaction and scramble contest that would indicate that he has strayed too far away from Love. And Love punishes him for doing so.
LeBron, as he often does, caused issues with his penetration and playmaking. You just saw an example of his playmaking in that last clip with that insane pass to Kyrie underneath the basket, which led to an open Love three.
Here, LeBron’s penetration draws four Hawks near the paint, leaving Kyrie open in the corner for three.
Not sure what Jeff Teague is doing here and why he isn’t closer to Kyrie…
Out of a timeout, LeBron brings the ball up and his drive to the rim draws the attention of four Hawks. Bazemore is one of the Hawks drawn to LeBron’s drive, which has left Dellavedova wide open in the corner. Again, the scrambling reaction of Bazemore to contest Delly’s three is in vain, as he knocks it down.
Not much you can say about this one, you’d rather the ball was out of LeBron’s hands — especially near the rim — and in someone else’s. But, again, LeBron’s penetration created this problem.
There were some threes that the Hawks gave up due to their own mistakes.
Just before halftime, a poor job between Korver and Horford communicating about who to switch on to after a switch takes place leads to a wide open Kevin Love three.
These are the types of mistakes you can address and adjustments you can make if you’re the Hawks. How can we better deal with LeBron’s penetration? How can we be better in transition? How can we defend better on switches created by screens?
These things you can improve on, however, there’s no adjustments for things like this:
And certainly not this:
These are well contested shots, how do you defend against this type of shooting? The simple answer is you can’t. Sometimes the offense is just better than the defense. It didn’t matter that the Hawks contested 32 three-point shots (out of the 45 threes that the Cavs took), the Cavs still made 25 of them. Rebounding doesn’t matter when your opponent makes an NBA record of threes. Rebounding doesn’t matter when your opponent shoots 56% from three on 45 attempts.
“If they shoot the ball like that I don’t know if anyone can beat them, to be honest.” — Kyle Korver
Coach Bud acknowledged that there’s a lot of things the Hawks need to do better, as the series shifts to Atlanta.
“We’ve got to take care of the boards, take care of everything. There’s a lot to take care of.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
Paul Millsap, meanwhile has already moved passed Game 2.
“They came out, heated up, stayed hot, set a record. Enough said. Move on to the next game.” — Paul Millsap
All the Hawks can do now is go home, make adjustments, and pray that the Cavs don’t come out as hot in Game 3.
Contrast in ball movement
Watching this game again today, you got a sense that the Cavs offense looked like the Hawks’ offense last night. The registered 27 assists last night, and some of their plays looked like something the Hawks would run.
Penetration collapses the defense, the penetrator (LeBron) kicks the ball out to three-point shooter in the corner (Delly) in the corner, Delly passes it to Shumpert (the open man behind the three-point line), Shumpert puts the ball on the deck and drives toward the paint (collapsing the defense some more), and he finds the open Richard Jefferson open behind the three-point line and he knocks it down.
Tell me this isn’t something the Hawks would do? Instead of LeBron penetrating it would Teague/Schröder, and they would find a shooter (maybe Korver) in the corner, Korver would make the extra pass Delly did to someone like Paul Millsap, who would put the ball on the floor, would and find another open man (say, Bazemore), and Baze knock it down.
Not convinced? How about this one?
Look at all this ball movement, all this man movement, and look what it results in: an open shot. No one stood still on this possession and the end result is an open three-pointer. Is this not what the Hawks offense strives to be?
How about this one? Ball movement and penetration collapses the Atlanta defense, and the result is an open three-pointer for J.R. Smith.
(Can’t deny that J.R. Smith’s shot form is pretty sweet.)
Meanwhile in contrast, Atlanta’s offense was a long way off Cleveland’s last night. While you have to give credit to Cleveland and the great defense they played, at the same time you have to say the Hawks were not great offensively. Let’s have a look at the — at times — challenged Hawks offense from last night.
In this sequence, once Sefolosha moves to the corner and Horford gives the ball up to Schröder, the only movement that takes place is a Mike Scott screen and Al Horford hovering up and down the three-point line. Not a soul to be seen in the paint, and no movement from Sefolosha or Bazemore. All this possession is, is Dennis trying to shake Kyrie, failing to do so, and finds an Al Horford three-point attempt, which I’m sure the Cavs are just fine with him taking.
And then off of the miss, Smith hits a contested three. Not an ideal sequence.
Maybe not the best example, but how about this one?
Off of the miss, Paul Millsap takes the ball up the floor and goes straight at LeBron — one of the strongest players in the league — to post him up in an isolation play. No pass, no other movement to give Millsap an option, this is just a bad possession.
If you think about it, the Cavs Hawks’ed the Hawks last night with their ball movement, man movement, and creation of open shots because of those two things. They also registered 27 assists last night, also Hawks like.
Ummm… Game 3 is in Atlanta?
OK, OK, there’s a few positives.
- The Hawks shot 41% from behind the arc last night and Thabo Sefolosha made both of his three-point attempts. That’s good to see, because Thabo has been struggling throughout the playoffs with his three-point shot, so it was good to see him nail his two attempts.
- The Hawks also got to the free throw line 30 times last night, converting 27 freebies. Paul Millsap has been enjoying the benefit of the whistle, as he has shot 16 free throws in these first two games.
- Kyle Korver took six more shots in Game 2 (seven in total) than he did in Game 1 (one), that’s a good thing right?
- Game 3 is on Friday night, and it’s simply a must-win game under ALL circumstances, for obvious reasons.