The Atlanta Hawks lost a heartbreaker last night at Philips Arena, as they were defeated 110-108 by the Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime. LeBron James led the Cavaliers with a LeBron-like/playoff-like stat line of 29 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists, three steals, and one block. Kyrie Irving also added 20 points the Cavs’ cause.
The Hawks were led by Paul Millsap’s double-double — 29 points, 12 rebounds — and Jeff Teague’s 28 points and nine assists.
A valiant effort
A valiant, heartbreaking, terrible, then amazing, spirited, sometimes passionless, sometimes passionate game. So many contrasting emotions.
The Hawks were looking good with a lead of 19-14 in the first quarter until the Cavaliers ripped off a 13-0 run near the end of the first quarter to give themselves a nine point lead heading into the second quarter. OK, a nine point deficit — not too bad. It’s not ideal but it’s fine.
What wasn’t fine was the Hawks’ effort in the second quarter. They looked as though they were afraid to drive toward the rim and, as such, settled for a lot of jump shots. Here is the Hawks’ second quarter shot chart. Warning, there’s a lot of red.
Looking at that, the shot chart actually doesn’t reflect how poor the Hawks offense was in the second quarter. It looked so much worse watching the game. The Hawks shot shot 5-of-19 (28%) in the second quarter. But worse than that was their effort, which certainly came in question in that second quarter — they looked awful. In fact, it looked so bad that…
(Tweets posted as the Cavs were destroying the Hawks in the second quarter)
I mentioned that the Hawks settled for jump shots, but even when they did try to score at the cup, the Cavs’ defense was strong. Let’s give the Cavs credit — their defense was pretty good in the first half. They made life very difficult for the Hawks, who missed 16 straight shots and went field goal for a stretch of nine minutes. As a result, the Cavaliers were able to stretch their lead to 21 points.
But a 7-0 Atlanta run to end the second quarter gave them life — the Cavalier lead was just 14. 14 points almost seemed kind to the Hawks, given their terrible shooting — 30.2% from the field and 16.7% from downtown.
Per Chris Vivlamore of the AJC, Paul Millsap challenged the team at half time to be more physical.
Millsap elaborated in his halftime speech after the game.
“As one of the leaders it falls on me to set the tone. Going out there getting hits on guys, boxing guys out, attacking, driving, being stronger all together. I think that’s what we did in the second half to get back in the game.” — Paul Millsap
An 11-4 run to begin the third — 18-4 stretching back to the end of the first half — pulled the Hawks to within five points, and the game was back on. The energy that you wanted to see the Hawks show in the second quarter was there, they came out as the more aggressive team. And Paul Millsap was at the heart of it all. His 29 points, 12 rebounds performance was one of his best performances of the season.
The two best teams in the Eastern Conference last year went toe-to-toe, with the Hawks eventually recapturing the lead later that quarter. Some key plays in the fourth quarter later (which we’ll get to soon), the game eventually went to overtime. There, the Cavs were able to execute and get the stops they needed to see themselves through.
Although the result was gut wrenching for Hawks fans, they can be proud of their team for their effort — they took the best team in the East right to their limit.
“We are right there. We are a play or two away from doing something special. A lot of our losses have come down to one play. We’ve just got to make it.” — Paul Millsap
Coach Mike Budenholzer commented on the difference between the Hawks’ first and second halves.
“I just thought the toughness and the competitiveness that we needed to have from everybody just wasn’t what it needed to be in the first half. At the same time, only being down 14, we felt if we went out and played harder and competed harder, naturally you start playing better. When you compete, you start playing better. I think that’s what happened at halftime and the second half.”
The Hawks were obviously disappointed with the result. Not only in the fashion this game was lost, but losing two in a row to the top two teams in the Eastern Conference — the Cavs and Raptors.
“Obviously, these games you can gauge where you are at and we lost them both. There are definitely a lot of positives we can take from the second half and overtime. But we lost them both. You’re right. We’ve got to be better. But I think it’s all there. I really do. There are a few plays there, even in the fourth quarter, we had the ball and we were up and we ended up giving them a lob dunk at the end. Those are the plays we have to be better at. We can’t give those plays up. That’s where our growth is, I think.” — Kyle Korver
At the end of the day, they Hawks have just suffered two losses to two of the best teams in the East, but the spirit and fight they’ve showed in both of these games — coming back from a blowout in the fourth quarter vs. Toronto to make it a game, and mounting a comeback from 21 points down to take the lead and take the game to OT against the Cavs — have been fantastic. Teams really learn and grow from games like these. It can only make the Hawks stronger and wiser for the post season that is awaiting them.
Key plays down the stretch
The last few minutes of regulation in this game felt like a playoff game, with a storyline that playoff games tend to create. We’re going look at the plays in crunch time — what went for, and against, the Hawks. The good plays and the bad plays.
This first clip comes late in the fourth quarter with the Hawks leading by two points and in possession of the ball. A made field goal at this stage of the game would be huge — surely giving the Hawks the confidence to see the game out.
Jeff Teague brings the ball up, and feels out the defense with a little drive. Kevin Love leaves Al Horford — not wide open, mind you — to help Kyrie with Teague. Teague kicks the ball out to Horford, who hits Love with a “show and go” move, and drives toward the basket. He spins his way to the middle of the paint and attempts a baby hook. Usually, from that range, that shot is money in the bank — but on this ocassion it’s short and the Cavs control the rebound.
This a tough blow for the Hawks — a high percentage shot isn’t converted and the Cavs have the chance to tie/take the lead.
But there’s no time to rue the miss because the Cavs come right back at the Hawks. LeBron and Love try to get something going, but good defense from Millsap cuts off LeBron from driving to the rim and he’s forced to give the rock up to Love. Love can’t attempt a clean look as Bazemore meets him on the three-point line. Love returns it to LeBron, who drives toward the rim. Love heads toward the corner, and he is found with a sweet pass by the penetrating LeBron. Love rises to take the shot, but he is rejected by Bazemore.
What a beautiful, clutch block by Bazemore.
But the possession is not over. It’s still Cavs ball with seven seconds on the shot clock. They take a timeout to draw something up. The teams return, and LeBron is inbounding the ball. Kent Bazemore does a great of job making it difficult for LeBron to inbound the ball with his constant movement. The rest of the Hawks do a great job taking away any other opportunities for LeBron to find a teammate. In the end, LeBron tosses the ball cross-court, and the pass is stolen by Jeff Teague who pushes it forward.
We’ll pause there, real quick. A fantastic break for the Hawks. After Horford missed the easy bunny, the Hawks have the ball back, their two point lead intact, and a chance to add to it with 1:10 remaining. OK, let’s continue.
Teague pushes the ball up the court, but pulls it back when he is cut off by Kyrie. Teague bounces the ball to the on-rushing Millsap, who swings it to Sefolosha on the right wing. Sefolosha is semi-open, and takes an ill-advised shot with 18 seconds left on the shot clock and it doesn’t go. If he had made the shot, the place would’ve gone mad and no one would’ve cared that it was a bad shot to take with 18 seconds on the shot clock. But he missed it and, although hindsight is 20-20, it was a bad shot to take given the context of the game.
OK, he took a bad shot and missed it. But you have to get back on defense — you’re still up by two points with a minute left.
Paul Millsap doesn’t realise how far Tristan Thompson is ahead of him, and the three-point threat of Love draws Horford away from the rim — where Thompson makes a run toward. LeBron throws the ball up, and Thompson throws it down. By the time Millsap has changed gears to try and catch Thompson, it’s too late. The ball had already left LeBron’s hands and Thompson has thrown it down and it’s a tie game in a blink of an eye.
While Millsap did lose track of Thompson, what no one will talk about is that Love’s ability to draw Horford away from the rim (with his three-point threat) really allowed this play to happen. If that’s Omer Asik out there instead of Love, he’s headed straight to the paint where Horford would’ve followed him. But because Love is a three-point threat, Horford has to stay with him, leaving Thompson with a free run to the rim.
Coach Bud calls for a timeout after this play.
Out of the timeout, the Hawks run 1-5 pick and roll with Teague and Horford. Teague is doubled on the pick and Horford rolls toward the rim, where he is met by Thompson. Teague finds Horford, and he tries to hook it in once more. But his shot is well contested by Thompson and it’s off. Did Horford see Millsap wide open in the corner? It’s hard to say. Not to say Horford should’ve passed it to Millsap, he was entitled to take the shot he did. Just posing the question…
The miss marked the second miss shot by Al Horford in crunch time, who was not happy with his performance last night — shooting 5-of-17 from the field.
“There is a big disappointment. I’m personally disappointed with shots that I’m normally able to hit didn’t go down. We had our opportunities. We just didn’t get them to go down.” — Al Horford
Anyways, the Cavs pull down the rebound and go the other way. LeBron pushed it, sizes up Bazemore, flattens him, and scores the layup — no charge is called, much the crowd’s displeasure. ESPN’s Hubie Brown is also up in arms that no charge is called.
All of a sudden, the Cavs are up by two points with just 40 seconds left, but there’s no time to wallow. Coach Bud elects to not call a timeout, and the Hawks try to reply immediately. Teague sizes up Irving, tears right past him, and lifts his layup high off the glass — leaving Thompson with no chance of blocking it. The layup drops, and it’s a tie game with 29 seconds left.
Should that have been a charge? The league says yes, it should have been. In their Last 2 Minutes Report, the league confirmed that the Bazemore was in a legal guarding position, and LeBron should’ve been called for an offensive foul. It offers little solace now, however. The two points counted there and then, and the Hawks lost the game.
The Hawks could’ve been shook by that non-call and shook by the fact the Cavs just took the lead as a result. But they didn’t. The Hawks came right back at the Cavs and tied the game. Excellent decision from Bud to not to call a panic timeout. Many coaches would, having lost the lead with just 40 seconds left.
Coming out of that timeout, LeBron puts on his cape and activates hero mode — the ball doesn’t touch any other Cavalier hand, apart from his own, once he receives it from Kyrie. LeBron is guarded by Sefolosha, who does a great job making sure any shot LeBron takes is a tough one. And sure enough, he forces LeBron to go right and shoot a fadeaway shot that misses. The Hawks control the rebound, and a timeout is called.
No bench player played extensive time in the second half for the Hawks, but Coach Bud trusted Sefolosha to guard LeBron and make life tough for him — which is all you can ask for when guarding LeBron — and his trust was not misplaced.
Final clip, and the final play of regulation.
Atlanta has possession of the ball with 4.9 seconds left. The game is tied and the Hawks can go for the win. The ball is inbounded to Teague, who doesn’t seem to recognise how little time he actually has. Once he receives the ball, he has to make his move. But he takes too long to do so, and when he does he is cut off by Iman Shumpert who ensures Teague does not get a shot away — with a foul? That’s right. The league, today releasing their Last 2 Minute report, say a foul should have been called on Iman Shumpert.
Now, did it really matter? Yes and no. No in the sense that the Hawks were not in the bonus and the foul would not have sent Teague to the free throw line — the Cavs had a foul to give. In a sense, yes. There was still time on the clock to, maybe, engineer something. But the Hawks haven’t been great in game winning/tying situations this season.
What interests me here is how angry Teague was after the play. It’s unusual to see him that visibly angry on the court.
The Hawks had their chances to win this game down the stretch. They came up with some great plays on both ends — Jeff Teague’s game tying layup and his steal, Kent Bazemore’s block, and Sefolosha’s defense on LeBron. But they also came up with some bad plays — Horford couldn’t get two shots in the paint to drop, Sefolosha took an ill-advised shot, and the last possession of regulation. Then there was the incident they had no control over — the charge call that should’ve been given but wasn’t.
“It’s all about details. It’s all details. I think it’s something we have to keep on growing in. We’ve got to keep on staying focused. You have to make the right play, the little nuances, the play within the play, we have to keep on getting better at those. I think it’s all there for us. We have to keep finding ways to get good shots and shoot them with confidence.” — Kyle Korver
“We’ve got to do better. It’s as simple as that. It seems like one or two plays, if we can be the team on the other end of that, we’ll pull games off.” — Paul Millsap
Very poor bench play
The Hawks bench has been for the most part, this season, but last night they laid an egg. In the first half (just the first half) the bench combined for minus+54 in +/- rating — “led” by Thabo Sefolosha’s minus-19. The bench was awful in the first half. They couldn’t hit a shot, and couldn’t slow down the Cavs as they raced to a 21 point lead.
Do you think that +/- rating is bad? Remember, that was only the first half. Do want to know their combined +/- rating for the entire game? Are you sure? Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Minus+90. Ouch.
Bud was clearly very displeased with his bench. In the second half and overtime period, the combined minutes played that the bench amassed was 23:41. That’s the amount of time the entire bench played in the second half and overtime period. For reference, every single starter (bar Jeff Teague who played four seconds less than that bench total) played equal to/more than that amount of time in the second half and overtime period.
Dennis Schröder in particular was bad. I tried to defend him in the first half by saying he was the only player — during the Hawks’ FG drought of about nine minutes — who tried to get something at the rim rather than settling for jump shots. But defending him was futile — he was just bad last night. 2-of-7 shooting, one assist, and five turnovers… Even worse for Dennis, the Cavaliers scored 10 points off of the turnovers he committed.
In the fourth quarter, Schröder attempted a pass to Mike Scott — only for it to picked off by LeBron, who raced down the other end and dunked it to put the Cavs up by nine with 9:54 remaining. Coach Bud was incensed, and immediately called a timeout. When the teams returned to the floor, both Schröder nor Scott rejoined the action, nor would they see any more action for the rest of the game. Yanked quicker than a fish on the end of a fishing rod.
That play summed up Atlanta’s bench last night — rubbish. Good thing the next game is Phoenix at home.
Kent Bazemore’s scary falls
Kent Bazemore had himself a great game last night — seven points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks, and an admirable job defending LeBron. He was great, however, he was very lucky not to be injured in some capacity after last night.
That is some fall, look how high he is up in the air and comes down right on his back — unable to break his fall. You would think that’s enough for one game, but there was more punishment ahead for Bazemore — a nasty landing after securing a huge rebound.
You could tell, straight away, that was a bad landing.
Thankfully he was OK after that fall, and OK after x-rays on his wrist came back negative.
“…Everything is fine there (his wrist). I’ll be a little sore.”
“It (the first quarter fall) was scary. But being proactive, staying in the weight room, doing the right things to take care of your body you absorb some of those scary things. … I wanted to dunk it on him but he was in the right place. LeBron James probably doesn’t practice taking charges. Bad execution” — Kent Bazemore