The stats never tell the full story of a game, but there isn’t a whole lot about Wednesday’s Game 2 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks that can’t be discerned from a quick look at the box score. The big item will obviously be the three-point category; Cleveland broke the league record for triples made in a playoff game with nearly five minutes left in the third quarter, and then took down the overall single-game NBA record on a Dahntay Jones three with just over two minutes left in the game. The Cavs finished with 25 makes on 45 attempts from outside the arc, good for over 55 percent.
The game brings Cleveland’s percentage from deep up to 45.3 percent over six postseason games, and we all might as well sit back and watch the shooting clinic as long as it continues. It’s clear that barring some luck or a major regression, this Hawks team doesn’t have the horses to hang in this series. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are being shut down by a swarming Cavs defense, and J.R. Smith is only taking breaks from nailing every three in sight to lock down Kyle Korver completely. The discrepancy in shooting quality between these teams mirrors that of their overall skill level, and there’s clearly a mental element at play with Cleveland now riding a 9-0 run over Atlanta since last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
The Hawks won’t have a prayer at winning four of the next five, but saving a little face back at home will start with a renewed defensive effort. The Cavs have demoralized the league’s second-ranked defense so far, and while some of it was just ridiculous shot-making early on in Game 2, other chunks have been born of lazy Atlanta close-outs and low-IQ rotations. They’ll never fully shut down a humming Cleveland team, but more emphasis on the right reads and better intensity can at least make them work for it. The Hawks also need to be more decisive offensively – the plodding style they’re playing is making it easy for the Cavs to squeeze out their preferred options.
Cleveland’s cohesiveness and clear comfort as a group is a big plus as they approach a point where looking ahead is appropriate, as are a few other more granular elements. The Cavs have rebounded over a quarter of their own misses in two games against Atlanta, and are just decimals shy of that 25 percent mark for the entire postseason. Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love are wreaking havoc on defenses too focused on closing out to shooters and helping at the rim against LeBron – Thompson has secured over 19 percent of all Cavs misses while on the floor in this series. They’re overkill in these early rounds, but they could end up as lifeblood in a more competitive Finals series.
Also encouraging is Channing Frye’s play, another factor that could make an impact during the big games later on. Frye is spacing the floor and quickly finding a groove with LeBron as the frontcourt tandem for bench units, plus he has held up his end defensively. He’s relegated Timofey Mozgov out of the rotation, and will always be in the bag for Tyronn Lue should the Cavs ever actually trail in a meaningful moment over the next couple weeks.
Whether the Hawks can steal a game in this series might come down to Cleveland’s effort level and focus in Game 3 – they’re the better team and could get this closed out in four games to secure another long rest before the Eastern Conference Finals. However, a letdown wouldn’t be a huge shock either. It should be a more competitive affair than Game 2, at worst.
Game 3 Prediction: Cavs win a close game to go up 3-0.
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