Kyrie Irving was ruled out just before the start of Game 2 due to knee tendonitis. Not long afterwards, DeMarre Carroll was ruled a go to start Game 2 against the Cavs.
It didn’t matter.
Without Irving, LeBron James steamrolled through the Hawks’ defense, making the Hawks look helpless as the four-time MVP carved through Atlanta with his passing and scoring to lead Cleveland to a 94-82 victory. Without Irving and Kevin Love — who is absent from the series with a shoulder injury — James put the team on his healthy shoulders and delivered with 30 points, nine rebounds, and 11 assists.
“I’ve got a good vocabulary, but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for that guy,” said Coach David Blatt on LeBron. “He’s just a great basketball player.”
James was particularly masterful at adjusting throughout the game, as his scoring early was soon replaced with precision passing as the Hawks’ defense collapsed around him. Eight of James’ first nine assists were on 3-pointers, as James expertly delivered the ball to the likes of Iman Shumpert, James Jones, and Matthew Dellavedova around the perimeter.
“I’m able to make adjustments through the game, just knowing how the defense read and react,” said James on the fluctuations in the way he attacked throughout the game. “Obviously, when you’ve got guys like [Shumpert], who shot the ball extremely well tonight, the defense start to go further and further way from the paint and I’m about to see creases. When they react to me, I’m going to find my guys.”
For the Hawks, the offense became an atrocity in the second half. Jeff Teague led the Hawks in Game 1 with 27 points, but he laid an egg in Game 2 when matched up against Dellavedova. Coach Blatt and the Cavs schemed well, as they went under screens to force the Atlanta guards into shooting jump shots that they are not comfortable with. Teague was 1-for-7 from the field in the second half and did not show the same effort in trying to get to the rim that he did in the first half of the game, nor in Game 1.
“At the end of the day, we went out there, and we didn’t have a lot of energy,” said Carroll. “I think that was the biggest thing.”
Despite his injury, Carroll led the team in minutes in Friday night with 34. Carroll was clearly hampered, however, as he had little to no lift when he attempted to jump. The most athleticism Carroll showed all night was on a run out in transition, where Teague was pushing the ball and Carroll was sprinting at his side, waiting for the drop off pass for an easy bucket.
Teague opted to go straight at the rim instead of passing. He the semi-contested layup, and the sequence best represented the overall failure in execution by the Hawks in the second half.
“I did feel like the ball was sticking,” said Al Horford on the team’s offensive troubles. “Credit to them and their defense. We got away a little bit there from playing Hawks basketball.”
Carroll piped similar remarks. “That’s what we said at the end of the game: that we played to much isolation ball. We didn’t play our team ball, and that’s what really hurt us.”
What also hurt the Hawks was an uptick in injuries, as both Horford and Kyle Korver were forced to leave the game at different points due to ailments. Korver’s absence became permanent, as an ankle sprain in the third quarter sidelined the sharpshooter for the remainder of the game. The absence was insignificant at the time, as the Hawks had stopped moving the ball, but the Hawks had schemed well in the first half to get Korver open shot attempts. Korver forced a few shots, but he did manage to put up 10 shot attmepts in the first half, which is uncharacteristic for the guard that averaged just eight attempts per game in the regular season.
Horford would return from his injury, which he described as an issue from getting hit on his right quad. Coach Budenholzer updated the press post game on their ailments, describing the injuries with cautious optimism that both would be ready for Game 3, which the Hawks — down 0-2 — will tackle on Sunday in Cleveland.
More reactions from Game 2 to come.