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Game 3 Preview: Hawks vs. Cavs

The Atlanta Hawks dropped Game 2 at home and head to Cleveland down 0-2. It’s now or never in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Joel Brigham profile picture
Updated 11 months ago on
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#2 – Cleveland Cavaliers

Fourteen times in LeBron James’ career, he’s started a playoff series up 2-0, and once he’s gotten to that point, he has never lost a series. Knowing that, it doesn’t look good for the Atlanta Hawks moving forward, particularly considering Games 3 and 4 are slated to take place in Cleveland. A sweep in this series isn’t completely out of the question.

Game 2’s big road win in Atlanta was the first time the Hawks had lost back-to-back games at home all season, and it was done in convincing fashion. LeBron, playing without Kyrie Irving, came one rebound short of a triple-double, putting up 30 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds in the win, and his influence here set up everything for the Cavaliers.

To start the game, James backed down the ailing DeMarre Carroll to score seven of the team’s first nine points. That muscle-based approach to offense proved successful later in the game as well, particularly when Atlanta tried the stringy Kent Bazemore on James. It didn’t go well for Bazemore, who looked like a flamingo guarding a rhino.

Once again, though, it was Cleveland’s role players that came through in this game. Tristan Thompson had another huge game, hauling in 16 rebounds (including five on the offensive glass), while Iman Shumpert shot the lights out, chipping in 16 points (including four three-pointers). Matthew Dellavedova played big minutes and even James Jones hit a handful of big shots.

They’re clicking at the right time, which is how they blew out the best team in the conference without two of their three best players on the floor. As long as they keep this up in Game 3, they should end up one giant step closer to the NBA Finals.

#1 – Atlanta Hawks

This one hurt, literally. Kyle Korver left the game toward the end of the third quarter with a sprained ankle and Al Horford looked like he hyperextended his knee a few minutes later at the start of the fourth. Add that to what is sure to be a very sore DeMarre Carroll, and the Hawks look about as banged up as they have all season.

Long before those injuries, however, the Hawks blew Game 2 by abandoning the spread-the-wealth offens they ran with aplomb all season long in favor of excessive isolation plays that led to bad jumpshots that did not go in. Atlanta shot 41.8 percent in that game, but it felt a whole lot worse than that. Players were throwing up jumpers all over the floor, and considering how much success Horford had toward the end of the second quarter and beyond, it may have been wiser to try running a little more offense through him in the first place. Assuming he’s healthy, expect Atlanta to do precisely that in Game 3 at Cleveland.

Otherwise, Atlanta finds themselves in the same bind as every other team that’s faced LeBron James in the postseason this year. They just don’t have anybody to guard him. Carroll gives it his all, but he’s no Jimmy Butler, and nobody else on that roster showed even minimal credibility in shutting him down. If they can’t slow him down at all, they’re going to have no shot, so the expectation for Game 3 needs to be more energy and aggression in defense, and more sharing the ball on offense. They must steal the next one to have a shot in this series, otherwise it’s over. It might be over already. Let’s see how the top-seeded Hawks respond.

Who Wins Game 3?

The Cavaliers are riding high and the Hawks are reeling. Couple that with the fact that this one’s in Cleveland, and it sure looks like the odds favor LeBron James and Co.

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Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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