Cleveland – Two ways of looking at Game 1: That the Atlanta Hawks fell way behind the No. 1 seed on the road and still had a chance to win, which would be a positive development given their history against this opponent, or …
That the Hawks flubbed their moment to steal a road game against an opponent coming off an eight-day layoff and aren’t apt to have another such moment.
Nobody – from Mike Budenholzer to LeBron James to Reggie Miller to yours truly – knows which appraisal will hold weight. Tonight’s Game 2 will give us a better idea. (Budenholzer, who coaches the Hawks, said at practice Tuesday that the doings of Game 1 weren’t “encouraging or discouraging.”) But here are a few things we can know for sure, or almost for sure:
1. The Hawks cannot beat the Cavaliers if Kyle Korver takes one shot.
2. The Hawks cannot beat the Cavaliers if Jeff Teague makes two baskets.
3. The Hawks cannot beat the Cavaliers if Al Horford has 0-fer halves.
4. The Hawks cannot beat the Cavaliers if Paul Millsap needs 19 shots to score 17 points.
5. The Hawks cannot beat the Cavaliers if more than half their 3-point baskets – seven of 11 in Game 1 – come from non-starters.
Much of the pre-Game 1 media blather concerned the Hawks’ improved defense. And yes, they did finish the regular season ranked No. 2 (behind San Antonio) in defensive efficiency. But it’s not as if they went from lousy to superb: They were seventh-best in defensive efficiency last season. The number that saw a radical change was offensive efficiency – from tied for sixth last season to 18th this time .
When the Hawks get going – as happened in the second and third quarters of Game 5 against Boston – they can still score a flurry of points. Trouble is, they don’t get going as much as they did last season, when they went 60-22 and were the East’s No. 1 seed. The Cavs scored 30 points in both the first and fourth quarters of Game 1; the Hawks didn’t score 30 in any quarter and broke 25 only in the third.
Cleveland made only 44.7 percent of its Game 1 shots – Kevin Love missed 13 of 17 – but trailed for only 45 seconds. Both times the Hawks nosed ahead, the Cavaliers responded with a trey. What kept the Hawks in the game was the Cavs’ inability to guard Schroder, and that was actually part of the plan.
In the concerted attempt to limit Korver , Cavs coach Tyronn Lue (former Hawk) told reporters Tuesday that he was content to have his defenders “go under” screens involving Schroder , which left the 22-year-old German open for 3-pointers. (He made five, prompting a fan in Section 128 to scream, “Stop switching!”)
Cleveland tweaked its defense late – desperation had taken hold – and the game’s biggest sequence saw Schroder back Kyrie Irving into the lane but dribble into a trap. LeBron stole the ball with the Cavs leading by two. Budenholzer said afterward that his team’s spacing was substandard over the final 3 ½ minutes.
But enough of Game 1. Game 2’s tonight. Long ago, Knicks coach Red Holzman told Larry Merchant that the odd-numbered games in a series are important but the even-numbered games are crucial. (Except for Game 7, which is an entity unto itself.) For the visiting team, this even-numbered game seems particularly massive.