The Hawks’ season likely came to an end with about a minute remaining in the second quarter.
Yes, the game remained close throughout and even needed overtime to be decided. Yes, there is still at least one more game that needs to be played in this series. And yes, these Hawks have shown that — more often than not — they will fight when presented with adversity.
But when Al Horford was ejected for what the officials deemed as an elbow to the head of Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova, Game 3 was essentially over for Atlanta. The Hawks had their chances late, but nearly every mistake that the Hawks made can be linked to the absence of Horford. Jeff Teague was the only Hawk willing to shoot, Mike Scott was on the floor too much, and the Hawks being short the best body they had to box out Tristan Thompson all led to their 114-111 downfall against the Cavaliers.
“I did think he went at me but I should have handled it better,” Horford said on the season-changing play. “Shouldn’t have gotten caught up in that and it’s something I’ll definitely learn from.”
Regardless of the opinions of whether or not Horford should have been assessed a flagrant-2 foul and ejected, it happened, and the Hawks continued to push forward without Horford, Kyle Korver, and Thabo Sefolosha. Teague was forced to take over the offense and he did so to rather impressive results of 30 points, six rebounds, and seven assists.
“I thought Jeff was great,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. “His aggressiveness, his ability to get in the paint, make plays in the paint, make a few 3s. He was very good tonight. A lot of good plays by Jeff.”
For as good as Teague was down the stretch for the Hawks, he was simply outplayed by LeBron James. James started the game shooting 0-for-10, but without Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving, James was forced to continue captaining his offense until the end. James accounted for 27 points on 11-for-21 shooting, 10 rebounds, and eight assists after halftime, resulting in a history 37-point, 18-board, and 13-assist statline for the four-time league MVP.
“I was struggling earlier,” said James. “I missed a lot of shots that I know I’m capable of making, obviously. Missed a lot of layups. Missed a couple 3s, and my teammates kept me afloat.”
Paul Millsap, who has struggled at some points during the playoffs, was the best complement to Teague on offense for Atlanta. Millsap scored 22 points, including an 11-for-11 performance from the free throw line. Millsap played a team-high 46 minutes.
In the absence of Kyle Korver, who is out for the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury, Kent Bazemore played 43 minutes. Bazemore proved to be an effective substitute with 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Dennis Schröder only played 3 minutes, with Coach Budenholzer instead opting to play Shelvin Mack. Mack scored 13 points in 28 minutes.
Game 4 — and potentially the last game of Atlanta’s franchise-best 60-win season — will be on Tuesday.