The Atlanta Hawks had plenty of chances to win, both in regulation and overtime, but the deciding play of Game 3 took place shortly before halftime. In the midst of a loose ball scrum, Matthew Dellavedova rolled into Al Horford‘s knee, prompting an elbow in response from Horford. It’s unclear off replay if Dellavedova had any intention of hurting the Hawks’ star center, but after Atlanta lost Kyle Korver to an ankle injury via a similarly questionable play from the Cleveland guard, it’s hard to blame Horford for reacting.
Unfortunately, the referees ruled Horford’s response a flagrant two foul, ejecting him from the game. Horford had 14 points in 19 minutes that the Hawks were +4 in before his ejection. The Cavs won in overtime, 114-111, to take a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Fair or not, Dellavedova is quickly developing a reputation as a dirty–or at least reckless–player after a more blatantly intentional play against Taj Gibson last round. Gibson was ejected for his response in that game as well. Adding insult to injury, Dellavedova poured in 17 points in his 45 minutes on Sunday.
LeBron James was the star of the night, turning in a historic performance. After missing his first 10 shots, LeBron finished with 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists. He made 14 of his last 27 and battled through a late foot tweak and some cramps. James quite literally put the team on his back Sunday.
Jeff Teague did his best to duel with James, scoring 30 points with seven assists. Cleveland has resorted to daring Teague into shooting threes to wall off his relentless drives to the dish. It worked for the most part, though Teague did knock down a critical three late in overtime.
Interestingly, Dennis Schröder lost pretty much all of his playing time to Shelvin Mack. Mack had an efficient 13 points in 28 minutes while Schröder played just three. Mike Budenholzer finally benched Pero Antic as well, with one offensive possession in overtime saving him from a DNP.
Mike Scott received the bulk of the extra frontcourt minutes with Horford out, and he didn’t deliver. Scott missed all five of his three-point attempts and only scored eight points in 32 minutes. He grabbed nine boards, but his missed threes early in the shot clock in crunch time were brutal for Atlanta. Several other boneheaded plays late also marred his night.
DeMarre Carroll did a far better job guarding James than his stat line would indicate. Carroll forced LeBron into bad shots all night and did all he could to stop the bulldozing drives that the King is known so well for.
Atlanta reserve Kent Bazemore also turned in an admirable effort in Korver’s absence, even scoring several points in a row during one crucial late stretch for the Hawks. He’s just not strong enough to convert around the rim or hold his ground against bigger wings.
Paul Millsap had a bounce-back game, notching 22 points on only 11 field goal attempts. He made all 11 of his free throw attempts and added nine rebounds. His game just doesn’t lend itself well to late game isolations, an issue Atlanta has with most of its go-to scorers.
In the end, LeBron was far too much for the Hawks in Game 3, and he continues to elevate the play of his teammates. 13 of Cleveland’s 14 three-pointers came from Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and James Jones. While struggling with his shot throughout the night, James turned in a transcendent passing night. He was a machine on the glass. And he still found a way to pour in 37 points.
Sometimes, you just have to live with the NBA’s best player willing Cleveland to a victory. Unfortunately for the Hawks, they’d painted themselves into a corner by losing both games at home. Down 3-0, their season is now over; the question is when, not if.