Pencil Game 3 on Sunday night against the Cavs into the section of demoralizing efforts for the Atlanta Hawks this postseason. Already down in the series 2-0 after dropping their first two at home, the Hawks had a chance to make things a tad bit more interesting.
Although Kyle Korver was lost for the remainder of the playoffs with an ankle sprain that will require surgery, there was still a chance for his team to put forth a valiant effort and knock Cleveland off of their cakewalk.
It was an overtime thriller at the Quicken Loans Arena that saw the home team execute better in crunch time and deliver a victory that increased their series lead to 3-0. No team in NBA history has ever overcome this degree of adversity in a playoff series, so this was indeed a crushing blow for the Hawks.
LeBron James began this game shooting 0-for-10 and was obviously plagued by conspicuous exhaustion. With the injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving and the brief two-game suspension to J.R. Smith, he has had to shoulder an astronomical load.
Irving missed his second-straight game dealing with some knee and ankle injuries and Matthew Dellavedova earned his second straight start.
It was also a game that wasn’t acceptable optically for the fans the filed into the arena, as it didn’t seem like the Cavs were playing with that level of urgency that led them to win the first two games. All of a sudden this was advantage Atlanta.
That was up until Al Horford was hit with a flagrant two foul that led to his ejection in the tail end of the first half. This was a contentious call that sparked debates as it pertained to whether Horford’s elbow was justified and if Delly could be deemed a dirty player.
But despite the Hawks losing Horford in the first half after his 14-point performance that led his team at the end of the second quarter, Atlanta played well enough to be up by as many as four points in the final minute of the game. This had the upset written all over it.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, the greatness of LeBron James reared its “ugly” head yet again. After an inauspicious beginning, he ended up with 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists. He went 1-of-6 from downtown, but made the one that counted the most. His three-point field goal in the final minute of overtime put the Cavs up by one, and they would never look back.
There’s no question that the Hawks have been disappointing to say the least in the Eastern Conference Finals so far. After winning 60 games for the first time in their franchise’s history, they were looked upon as a legitimate threat to dethrone the King in the East. Even if you picked them to lose this series, you probably surmised that they would at least offer some type of resistance. So far, that hasn’t been the case.
Spearheaded by the excellence of James and major contributions from Iman Shumpert, Smith and Dellavedova, the Cavs are primed for a trip to the Finals. This would be the first time Cleveland got there since 2007 during LeBron’s first tenure with the team.
Atlanta won 38 games last season, which was just enough to grasp the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. They were defeated in seven games by the Indiana Pacers. This year, they’ve made a significant improvement, but it won’t be enough to reach the ultimate goal.
They’ve squandered countless leads and chances. Between Mike Scott’s foolish three-point attempts at the end of Sunday night’s game and his egregious decision not to corral the offensive rebound off the Jeff Teague miss in the closing seconds of overtime, he was partially the blame and rightfully so.
Just think about this. The Hawks season may be over and they let their best chance to make the series interesting slip away. How did it end? Shelvin Mack hoisted up a contested three for the tie and missed, then after an offensive rebound shot a wide-open one and missed again.
When people expressed their trepidation about picking the Hawks to win the East, wasn’t this one of the reasons that was articulated? In crunch time, they are devoid of a go-to guy. And though Teague was phenomenal last night, the Hawks were unable to seal the game and it wasn’t because of a lack of opportunity.