The Atlanta Hawks dropped their second consecutive game as they fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers 121-114 at Philips Arena on Thursday night.
For the Hawks, they were led by Dennis Schröder’s 27 points while Ersan Ilyasova added a season-high 22 points (more on him soon).
For the Cavs, they were led by LeBron James’ 24 points, 12 assists and six rebounds, while Kevin Love added 25 points and 16 rebounds.
A missed opportunity down the stretch
We’re jumping right to the fourth quarter today. If you need to catch up for the rest of the game, you can check out the recap.
Two Ersan Ilyasova free throws bring the Hawks — who were chasing the game for pretty much all of the second half — within a point of the Cavaliers at 113-112 with 2:37 remaining in the game.
Dwyane Wade commits the offensive foul on an illegal screen, and the Hawks have the opportunity to take the lead. They come, move the ball, LeBron gambles for a steal, doesn’t get anything and this leaves Dennis with a great shot just above the free throw line which falls agonisingly short:
Really, really, really tough to see that shot fall that short at that time of the game, and it would prove very, very costly…
The Cavs, still controlling their own destiny in this game, come up the floor off of this miss with James. James drains some clock before shooting a contested three and swishes it right in front of Kent Bazemore:
Ain’t no defense for that — nothing Baze could’ve done more there. That’s just one of the greatest players of all time hitting a clutch, contested three-pointer, and it puts the Cavs up by four points with a hair under two minutes remaining.
The Hawks come the other way and, after giving the ball up briefly, Dennis make a great cut toward the basket, catching James unawares. The man with the ball now, DeAndre’ Bembry, attempts to find Schröder inside but the pass is deflected by Wade and Dennis was born a few inches too short to get to the airborne ball ahead of LeBron James:
This was the right play to make from Bembry, and give credit to Wade for getting his hands to it, this was a big deflection.
Wade is rewarded for his efforts as he gets the opportunity to drive into the lane and hit the floater, taking the Cavs lead to six:
Firstly, this not a missed call for a charge, in case you thought it may have been.
A few things happen here that go unnoticed. Firstly, the excellent recognition by Wade himself, who recognised that Dennis was positioning himself for a charge, so Wade adjusts accordingly and decides to float this shot home rather than drive any further, as Schröder was waiting for him to do. Wade is already on the way down when contact is made with Schröder, so it’s not an offensive foul on Wade. In fact, Dennis is lucky not to get called for a foul here, as he doesn’t allow the airborne player (Wade) space to land.
But the big kicker isn’t the no-call for an offensive foul, it’s the fact that the Cavs are up by six points in the blink of an eye after the Hawks had a golden opportunity to take the lead.
And this was basically game/set/match — Schröder’s missed shot down one point was the key here. If he makes that shot, who knows how this game ends. It’s a make or miss league and if you don’t take the opportunity in front of you it can prove costly, as it did for the Hawks.
So, another loss, but Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer was happy with his team’s performance and defense, despite giving up 42 first quarter points, 63 points at the half and 121 points for the game.
“A lot of good basketball out there tonight,” said Bud. I’m proud of the way the guys competed – their activity and their togetherness.
“A lot of times defensively, even though they scored 121, I thought the defense … hopefully we made them work for (the 121). We made them go to things a little bit different. They’re a good team. They find ways to make baskets. Second and fourth quarter, the defense in those quarters, a lot of good stuff against a good team. I’m proud of the effort tonight.”
The Cavs were winners of nine straight games coming into this game (now winners of 10 straight) but the Hawks did a good job competing even though they just fell short.
“I think they played great, but we competed and did everything we could,” said Dennis Schröder postgame. “We played together as a team. A couple of possessions we didn’t but you have to give them credit for tonight. They played great.”
The Hawks were also suffering through injuries heading into this one — starting center Dewayne Dedmon was ruled out for 3-6 weeks with a leg injury. And, just as they’ve said all season, when the Hawks play together and move the ball, they can hang with many teams in games, shorthanded or not.
“We’re coming along,” said DeAndre Bembry. “We’re injured, we have a lot of bodies down, and we still had fight. When we play together, we can play against anybody. That’s what that shows. When we play together, we play very well. That’s what we did tonight.”
“ . . . Mentally, we’re still good,” continued Bembry. “We know we can play against anybody. We just have to try to finish out games better.”
It is another loss and that can be frustrating, but the Hawks are playing hard and played a very good Cavaliers team close for four quarters, made them adjust to them (we’ll touch on that soon) and stretched them at times, particularly in the second quarter.
“They have multiple guys who can shoot the basketball and put it on the floor so when you’re closing out, they can make plays,” said Cavs head coach Ty Lue.
“So, it’s a tough team and we knew it coming into tonight, but I liked the way we kept our composure. I thought, you know, on the defensive end, they jumped it up a little bit – putting a five on a point guard, put him on a three-man – It was kind of different for us, but I liked our composure. I thought we kept our composure. They got off to an early lead and we just kept chipping away.”
When you can make things “different” for a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers, you’re doing something right. And that’s encouraging.
Not sure what to say, really, other than LeBron James is amazing at basketball — 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting for ‘Bron, 12 assists, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
The thing with LeBron is that he can have such an impact on the game even when he’s not scoring, and this hurt the Hawks big-time last night. The Hawks, at times, would double LeBron in the post but this, obviously, opens up lanes/opportunities for others, and with the passing abilities that LeBron has, he just punishes you for almost anything you do.
When he drives by the on-ball defender and the help-D isn’t good enough:
When you don’t put a body on him:
When you don’t get your defense sorted in transition:
And when you leave him all alone to shoot a shot he has been hitting 42% of the time this season:
(Check out the cold stare right to the Hawks bench as soon as he hit that shot as if to say ‘You really going to leave me open like that?’)
LeBron plays chess while everyone seemingly plays checkers. He’s incredible, and we’ll talk about him more in a bit…
Cleveland’s Dennis Schröder adjustment
In the first half, Dennis Schröder was just torching José Calderón, who could not stay with Schröder to save his life. You can watch all of Dennis’ highlights below, many of which include Calderón getting blown by for layups.
The Cavaliers had to do something — Schröder was torching them at the rim (the Cavs’ help defense was also pretty bad) and scored 17 first half points.
After Dennis got to the rim again, the Cavs took a timeout and decided they couldn’t even wait until halftime to make an adjustment.
So, what did they do? They put LeBron James on Schröder.
And that’s how the Cavs started the third quarter, they started Jeff Green ahead of starting point guard Calderon to begin the second half, and LeBron played point/guarded Schröder.
It was a great adjustment — Schröder only scored at the basket once in the second half, and it was only when the game was out of reach at the end of the fourth quarter.
When you play defense like this, it’s going to be hard for anyone to score:
Ignoring the horrible, horrible foul call (Dennis, on replay, clearly tripped) this is just insane defense, and defense similar to this kept Schröder out of the paint in the second half and limited Dennis to 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting in the second half.
Even assigning LeBron onto Dennis before the end the first half really set the tone for the rest of this game — it was huge.
“Well, we ended the half the right way,” said LeBron postgame. “We closed the half the right way. It started with our defensive intensity. I just wanted to try to take the challenge against Schröder.
“He is one of the fastest guys that we’ve got in our league. Once he gets a head full of steam down, he can finish at the rim and he was kicking our butts in the first half. So, I tried to use my intelligence against him.
“With the help of teammates, I tried to do a good job on him. I felt like if I could turn his water down some, then it would have an effect on the rest of those guys, and also an effect on us offensively, and it was just that – exactly what happened.”
LeBron’s teammates asked James to guard Schröder, and LeBron was happy to oblige as his teammates ramped up their offense, allowing him to focus more defensively.
“ . . . My teammates asked me to take the challenge,” said James. “I wanted the challenge and, I was just there for it, but more importantly, my teammates were there for me on the other end. They started knocking down shots, especially in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter. It allowed me to focus on my defense.”
Dennis described being guarded by LeBron as “amazing” but it didn’t net the win.
“It’s amazing when the best player in the world tries to guard you and tries to stop you,” said Schröder. “All that matters is the win. We didn’t get it. We just have to get better.”
A critical adjustment made by the Cavs and it helped net them their 10th straight victory.
José Calderón, meanwhile, still got to play, but only when Dennis was on the bench. When he came in, José went out…
The real return of Ersan Ilyasova
This is the Ersan Ilyasova everyone was expecting to see this season.
Ilyasova’s season so far has been one of disruption. From injuries to personal bereavement, it’s been tough for Ersan this season. But last night he played his best game of the season, scoring 22 points off the bench on 8-of-11 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 from three, and looked like the real Ersan Ilyasova.
As well as the threes falling so was he, as he drew the charges we’re used to seeing from Ersan.
He just looked like Ersan llyasova, something he didn’t look like for the beginning of this season, even when he did play.
“One of Ersan’s best games on both ends of the court,” said coach Bud of Ilyasova. “Taking charges, getting rebounds, saving balls. Just a lot of good things. And obviously, when he makes shots, it’s huge for us. It’s great to see him play like that.”
Big night from Ersan, as he helped lead that Hawks bench unit keep up with the Cavs’.
Injuries — coming and going
It never stops, does it?
Luke Babbitt made his return to the court — and the starting lineup — after missing three games with back spams while Isaiah Taylor also made his return as the backup point guard after missing the last five games with an eye injury.
Of course, to make up for this (because the Hawks can’t have everyone healthy at the same time, can they?) Dewayne Dedmon was just ruled out for 3-6 weeks and John Collins left this game late on with a shoulder injury, of which we have no update from.
Collins had slid over to the starting center spot, but this latest injury leaves his status unknown heading into Saturday’s contest with the Brooklyn Nets…
It would be disastrous for the Hawks to lose Collins for an extended period of time.
Cleveland’s three-point shooting
It wouldn’t be a matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers without the Cavs hanging 1,000 threes (or 18 in this game) on the Hawks.
Another 18 for the Cavs as they shot 18-of-39 from three, with Kevin Love hitting four threes while James and Wade both sank three apiece.
The Hawks (4-17) are back in action on Saturday as they take on the Brooklyn Nets in the first of a ‘home-and-home’ with the Nets, who visit Atlanta on Monday after the Hawks take them on in Brooklyn on Saturday.