The Atlanta Hawks’ season now hangs by a very fine thread, as the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied in the fourth quarter to take Game 3 (121-108) and, with it, take the commanding 3-0 series lead.
After the Hawks lost Game 2, I shared the stat that LeBron has never — in 16 playoff series — lost a playoff series after going up 2-0. History wasn’t kind to the Hawks then, and it’s not looking good for them now. No team in NBA history has ever recovered from a 3-0 hole and comeback to win the series 4-3. The Cavs will have the opportunity to complete their second consecutive sweep over the Hawks on Sunday afternoon. For the Hawks, Game 4 is do-or-die, even though the ultimately fatal blow was dealt last night.
Fourth quarter of doom
The Hawks entered the fourth quarter with a five point lead and a Kyle Korver three-pointer put the Hawks up 94-85 with 11:14 left. After the two teams traded punches for a couple minutes, the Hawks still led 101-93 with 9:14 remaining. Obviously, this was plenty enough time for the Cavs to mount a run, and mount a run they did. From that point, the Cavs finished the game on a 28-7 run, shot 56% from the field (9-of-16), shot 55.6% (5-of-9) from behind the arc, and made 5-of-6 from the free throw line. The Hawks, meanwhile, shot 21.4% (3-of-14) from the field, missed all four of their three-point attempts, and only shot two free throws making one (again, from the 9:14 mark).
Huge fourth quarter efforts from LeBron James (10 points, three assists), Kyrie Irving (12 points, two three-pointers), and Channing Frye (11 points, three three-pointers) led the Cavs to a 36 point fourth quarter, outscoring the Hawks by 19 points in the final period. Frye’s 11 point fourth quarter points were part of a 27 point display, while shooting 7-of-9 from behind the arc.
It was such a disappointing result for the Hawks, not only because the loss means that the Hawks are now 0-3 down, but because Hawks played a good playoff game. Think about how mad this is:
Scored 108 points in a playoff game
Shot 49% from the field
Shot 47% from three (making 16-of-24)
Scored 46 points in the paint
Scored 27 points off of the Cavs’ turnovers
Dished out 29 assists
Got a 19 points, 14 assists (with just one turnover) game from Jeff Teague
Al Horford shot 11-of-15 from the field
Kyle Korver hit five three-pointers and scored 18 points
Paul Millsap added 17 points
The Hawks had all of these things go for them last night and they STILL lost. That’s incredible. Normally if they do one of those things they win a game. So, for the Hawks to fill the stat sheet like that and still lose is gut wrenching.
It’s very unusual for Coach Bud to alter his starting lineup. Once he finds a group that works, he usually sticks to it, no matter what. Even through Kyle Korver’s horrible shooting drought, Kent Bazemore’s shooting drought, and Jeff Teague’s inconsistency, Coach Bud has always stuck to his guns.
Last night, he decided it would be better that Kyle Korver come off the bench, and Thabo Sefolosha started the game. While Kyle Korver added a spark off of the bench with 18 points, the change wasn’t game changing enough (at least in Game 3), as it was the Cleveland bigs that did the majority of the damage rather than primarily LeBron (even though he scored 24 points). Still, Sefolosha provided good perimeter defense, finishing the game with a plus/minus rating of only minus+1 in 29 minutes played, the best plus/minus rating of any Hawk who registered 25+ minutes.
Bud, however, saw enough to call the change “positive”.
“Overall, it was something that in our eyes was a positive.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
Expect to see Thabo back in the starting lineup for Game 4.
Another Cleveland three-point shooting clinic
After setting an NBA record for three-pointers made in a single game in Game 2 (25), the Cavs cooled off… Slightly. Cooled off in the same way that boiling tea cools off five minutes after you’ve poured it out. IT’S STILL DAMN HOT.
The Cavs hit 21 three-pointers last night, which would have tied the previous NBA playoff record that the Warriors owned had the Cavs not bested that record in Game 2.
And it wasn’t J.R. Smith who did the three-point damage this time around, he only hit two. Kyrie Irving chipped in with four three-pointers, but it was mostly the Cleveland bigs who did the three-point damage. Channing Frye hit seven, and Kevin Love hit five. 12 of Cleveland’s 21 threes came from those two men.
Channing Frye hit some threes that he probably shouldn’t have hit, but he made them anyways and you just have to live with those. Kevin Love’s threes, however, came about a little differently. Most of his makes — and attempts for that matter — came because he was wide open. Why was he wide open? The Hawks decided to employ part of their Isaiah Thomas strategy on Irving. Double team and trap him off of pick and rolls.
Here, the Hawks (for a second) double Kyrie off of the pick and Kyrie is forced to give the ball up. LeBron’s penetration draws Millsap toward the paint, leaving Love open in the corner. LeBron finds Love, and he hits the three.
This first three marked for the first three points of Love’s 13 point first quarter.
In this sequence, the Hawks try to trap Kyrie off of the pick set by Love. Irving manages to get the ball to Love, Millsap does a good job of meeting Love but he is scrambling somewhat, and a nice shot fake from Love loses Millsap and he steps into the three-pointer.
Cleveland’s shot fakes have caused problems for the Hawks in this series, and this one gives Love a wide open three.
Similar to how Kyle Korver is guarded by the Cavs (at least in Game 1), when Tristan Thompson is on the floor the Hawks ensure they have a body on him at all times, because he’s such a threat on the offensive glass. When Thompson sets a pick, he’s not looking to fade to the three-point line as Frye and Love do, instead he’ll roll to the paint/rim. When the double on Irving comes after this pick, Thompson dives toward the paint. Because of Paul Millsap’s commitment to the trap, Humphries has to cover Thompson in the paint, leaving Love open in the corner. After Irving fires the ball to Thompson in the post, Thompson sees Love open in the corner and finds him.
On this occasion, Love misses the shot, but it’s another open three-point attempt for the Cavs, created by the Hawks doubling down on Kyrie.
This strategy worked against the Celtics because they had no players who could consistently hit outside shots/create plays when Bradley went down. It did have Kyrie rattled at first, as he shot 2-of-8 for four first half points.
“I see that they’re blitzing me and I’m coming to the bench and kind of looking for answers for myself. They took me out of a rhythm I’m usually in coming into games.” — Kyrie Irving
Kyrie, eventually, got going in the fourth quarter and finished with 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting.
Ultimately, this strategy cannot work against Cleveland, as they have players who can outside shots consistently (and some) and create plays for others.
Cleveland’s ball movement also created good three-point looks. Here, good ball movement from the Cavs — as well as Al Horford’s decision not to guard Frye on the three-point line — creates a wide open look for Frye, which he knocks down.
The lineup of Frye and Love created all sorts of problems for the Hawks, who simply weren’t prepared for the lineup. All variations of lineups that featured Love and Frye registered positive plus/minus ratings, and the lineup of Irving, Smith, LeBron, Frye, and Love registered plus-16 in just 5 minutes of play.
“We didn’t prepare for that (Love and Frye lineup). They took advantage.”
“They really just got hot. Part of it had to do with Love and Frye playing out there at the same time. We didn’t prepare for that and they took advantage. If they keep shooting it like that, they’re going to be unstoppable.” — Al Horford
And when those two were firing, it opened up opportunities for LeBron and Kyrie to get to the rim.
“The lineup with Kevin and Channing really gave them problems. It opened up the floor for Kyrie and LeBron to get to the basket. If their bigs help then Kevin and Channing will be wide open for shots.” — Coach Ty Lue
Al Horford is right though, how are teams going to beat this Cavs team if this shooting continues?
Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding…
Oh my goodness… The rebounding… It was bad last night for the Hawks. They were out-rebounded 55-28. No, that’s not a misprint, 55-28. That’s a difference of 27 in favor of the Cavs, and that’s just not going to get it done.
The Cavs also snatched 18 offensive rebounds, with Tristan Thompson nabbing nine of those as the Cavs scored 18 second chance points. It’s very simple, if you can’t rebound the ball you’re begging for trouble. The defensive possession isn’t over until the rebound is secure.
The rebounding and second chance points margin didn’t ultimately matter in Game 2 because the Hawks were already down by 40 points after Cleveland’s three-point barrage, but it does absolutely matter when it’s a close game as this game was (until the end). I honestly think Tristan Thompson is in the Hawks’ head. They just cannot deal with him. It reminds me how messed up the Portland Trail Blazers’ front line got when they were faced by Bill Laimbeer in the 1990 Finals.
Tristan Thompson has that Hawks front line all messed up. I mean, Al Horford grabbed one total rebound. ONE. I love Al Horford, I think he’s just exceptional and an underrated elite big man in this league, but how on earth do you play the center position, play for 31 minutes, and secure one total rebound?? It just doesn’t make sense.
And because Thompson is all over the place, the Hawks have to send a to cover him at all times. So on any pick and roll with Tristan Thompson, you have to send another big over to help if he’s ducking to the rim. With good ball movement — as the Cavs have shown they are capable of — that opens up three-point opportunities for Kevin Love, for Channing Frye, a lob for LeBron, and at times a lob for Thompson. And it most definitely opens up three-point opportunities if you’re doubling/trapping Kyrie Irving as the Hawks did last night.
Again, this was one play from last night where the Hawks had to send a man to cover Thompson, which left Love open in the corner.
And when Thompson does grab an offensive rebound/is found underneath the rim, it takes as many Atlanta bigs as possible to stop him scoring right underneath the basket. As such, there’s someone open in the corner, and it’s one of the Cleveland bigs who can shoot, in this case it’s Kevin Love.
The Hawks, however, did have some sort of retaliation waiting for Thompson…
Hack-a-Thompson in heavy effect
For the first time in this series, Coach Bud and the Hawks unleashed the ‘Hack-a’ strategy on Tristan Thompson, sending him to the free throw line often. The Hawks fouled Thompson off the ball before the Cavs even inbounded the ball, immediately sending him to the free throw line even though the Hawks weren’t in the penalty.
Coach Lue, strangely, liked the strategy the Hawks implemented.
“I like the fouls. He’s going to get us one or two points every time because Tristan is going to make one or two every time. I like that, coming out of a timeout getting at least one point or two.” — Coach Ty Lue
Thompson shot 5-of-12 from the line on the night, and the strategy didn’t really pay off. At times, it sucked the flow and energy out of their home building that the Hawks had going for them. Especially since the Hawks were ahead when they were sending Thompson to line. However, as the Hawks are now absolutely desperate for a win, look for the strategy to continue on Sunday…
More Kris Humphries, less Mike Scott [ 🙁 ]
OK, OK, the sad face is just a joke. I’m, personally a big fan of Mike Scott, and the fact he played just five minutes last night made me sad. Joking about Mike Scott aside, we finally saw some more Kris Humphries last night. The action we were promised by Bud before the series started.
Humphries had obviously showed something to Coach Bud in Game 2 (where he scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds) to convince him to play him some meaningful minutes in Game 3, and he got the call as the primary backup big in place of Mike Scott, who played five minutes last night.
Humphries played decent enough — he was the only Hawk to register a positive plus/minus rating (plus-12 in 19 minutes played) and he put up nine points and four rebounds. He played well, and helped with the rebounding at times. He also destroyed Kevin Love with the “killer” crossover.
Alright, it was a bit of a slip from Love, but it was glorious to watch. Way to go, Hump. We’ll see you in Game 4.
Oh, and that wasn’t enough for Kevin Love…
Harsh no call for Love, but a nice poster for Al’s collection.
On the brink…
The Hawks will have the opportunity to starve off elimination — for one game at least — on Sunday afternoon. Even if the Hawks do crash out in this round, I think it’s so important for the Hawks going for to at least take one game away from these Cavs. If the Cavs complete the sweep on Sunday, that’ll be 11 wins in a row against the Hawks. They need some sort of success against this team, and Game 4 is their best shot.