The Atlanta Hawks seemingly caught a break when Kyrie Irving was a late scratch for Game 2, but LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were far too much for Atlanta, winning 94-82.
Sans Irving, James came out in straight attack mode from the opening tip. He bullied the hobbled DeMarre Carroll to send a message at the start: this was his night. He finished with a stellar 30 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds.
It was admirable of Carroll to start just two nights after suffering a gruesome-looking knee sprain. Unfortunately, he was largely ineffective. James had his way with him when he didn’t settle for long jumpers. He scored only six points in 34 minutes.
As expected, Kent Bazemore played a prominent role off the bench. LeBron was literally offended by Bazemore guarding him and loudly told both Bazemore and the TNT crew that he was way too small for him. After a particularly testy sequence, Mike Budenholzer moved the wiry reserve off James. Bazemore actually had some nice minutes a little later in the second quarter, scoring seven points in 12 minutes.
Al Horford survived another injury scare, but he had a brutal night. He scored 12 points and grabbed only six rebounds and the Hawks were outscored by an eye-popping 27 points in his 30 minutes. The next worst starter in plus-minus was Kyle Korver at -12. Horford is really struggling against the springy and athletic Timofey Mozgov-Tristan Thompson duo.
Korver suffered a sprained ankle himself late in the third quarter and did not return to the game. He did show some signs of a breakout early on with eight quick points to start the game. The Cavs tightened up their defense on him, though, and Korver only scored four more points. He forced several ugly shots before twisting the ankle.
The Hawks are in serious danger if Korver’s ankle is an issue. Even when he’s not knocking down shots, the Cavs respect his shooting to an extreme degree that opens the floor for the rest of the Hawks. On one fast break, Atlanta got a free layup because the Cavs had to step out to a trailing Korver. They made the right play!
Thompson had a whopping 16 boards in a game-high 41 minutes. He’s been fantastic throughout the series and is well on the way to a big payday after the season. Iman Shumpert and JR Smith figure to do the same, although Smith finally cooled off Friday with just one triple. Shumpert was phenomenal though, scoring 16 points in 34 minutes. The Cavs were +27 when he was on the floor.
Atlanta’s reserve bigs continued to be a major problem for Budenholzer. After Pero Antic picked up two quick fouls, including a questionable flagrant against James, Budenholzer gave Mike Scott a crack. He contributed six points and seven boards in a hearty 26 minutes, but the experiment was not successful.
Scott is notably poor on the glass, a disaster against the offensive rebounding machine that is Cleveland. When tasked with guarding James Jones, Scott routinely yielded open threes. That’s literally the only thing you can’t do when Jones is in.
Mike Muscala didn’t get in until garbage time, and it’s fair to assume he’ll get his chance sometime in Game 3 if things don’t turn around soon. There really aren’t any great options for Budenholzer past Horford and Paul Millsap, who has had his own struggles.
Things are looking pretty dire for Atlanta as they head to Cleveland down 2-0. Kyle Korver, Al Horford, and DeMarre Carroll should all be playing in Game 3, but none of them figure to be healthy. Jeff Teague, 5-16 in Game 2, is inconsistent offensively, while Paul Millsap hasn’t played well on that end in quite a while. On top of that, LeBron James has hit a comfort zone within Cleveland’s blatantly simple isolation offense. The Hawks need an utter and complete turnaround.