Five observations from the Hawks’ 135-130 loss to the Cavaliers Friday.
1. The Cavaliers set an NBA regular-season record for 3-pointers in a game with 25. That number should sound familiar. The Cavaliers set the NBA record for 3-pointers in any game (regular season or playoffs) with 25 during last year’s playoff series against the Hawks.
The Cavaliers had seven 3-points in the first, second and third quarters for a total of 21. Consider it a win that the Hawks only allowed four in the fourth quarter. The Hawks switched defensive coverages and the Cavalier took several bad attempts in the final period.
“The first three quarters they were breaking down our defense,” Kent Bazemore said. “They do such a good job of moving the ball and guys were knocking down shots. They made 25 3’s, which is incredible, and we still only lost be five and had our chances down the stretch.”
The Hawks have had trouble guarding the 3-point line all season. The Cavaliers just punch them in the gut from long-range.
LeBron James led the Cavaliers with six 3-pointers. Kyrie Irving had five and Channing Frye, Derrick Williams, Kyle Korver and Richard Jefferson all that three.
2. The Hawks made a fourth-quarter comeback that nearly won the game. They scored 42 points, a season-best for any quarter. Paul Millsap had 12 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. had 11 points.
After trailing by as many as 25 points, the Hawks closed to within a point, 124-123, when Millsap hit a step-back jumper.
The Hawks relied heavily on a group of Ersan Ilyasove, Thabo Sefolosha, Dennis Schroder, Bazemore, Millsap and Hardaway during the comeback. Hardaway played every minute of the quarter and Ilyasova played all but two seconds.
“All the pressure is off you when you are now that much,” Hardaway said. “You never want to be down like that from the jump. When you are ever in that position, you go out and play freely. You look up and you are down 10 with five minutes to go in the game. You start building life. The crowd starts getting into it. The energy starts to rise in the building.”
3. Korver delivered the knockout blow against his former team. After the Hawks had pulled to within the one point, the sharpshooter came off a screen, took a pass from LeBron James and hit a tough 3-pointer. The Cavaliers had a four-point lead and enough of a cushion to put down the Hawks’ comeback.
“I blame myself,” Hardaway said. “I know Kyle is great shooter. He came off that screen and I tried to contest the best I could. I was doing that the entire game. Kyle being Kyle, he knocked it down when it mattered most. That’s why he’s one of the best.”
4. The Hawks made their late run with Dwight Howard on the bench. The center did not play in the fourth quarter.
Although the Hawks held a 56-28 advantage in points in the paint, coach Mike Budenholzer went with a smaller lineup to combat the Cavaliers’ 3-point shooting. Millsap and Ilyasova served as the bigs.
“Guarding the 3-point line,” Budenholzer said of his decision to sit Howard. “To some degree, it feels like you are trading 2’s for 3’s. At some point we had to get better defensively, get better guarding the 3-point line. I think it’s pretty obvious that Dwight is going to do a good job of protecting the paint and go a great job at the rim. It’s a challenge for us and for him to find all the shooters.”
Howard was not in the post-game locker room following the game.
5. Bazemore played a lot at point guard during the Hawks’ late run. Backup Malcolm Delaney hurt his ankle earlier in the game, according to Budenholzer, and played just seven minutes.
“He said he was OK but in this game, in this situation, if you aren’t at 100 percent, I just went with a gut,” Budenholzer said. “Played Dennis a little more and tried to get Dennis a break and that group got going. I stuck with that group.”
Bazemore said he just tried to take an aggressive approach in his time at the point. And of course, fed Hardaway and Millsap.
“You never want to be down 25 to a team like that,” Bazemore said. “But fighting like that is something that you can’t coach. … We absorbed a lot tonight. LeBron hitting one-legged 3’s in the corner. Kyrie pulling up from the logo. These are huge plays. You have to realize that those guys are special and you have to keep playing.”