Cleveland — If you’re the Atlanta Hawks, it’s hard to be overly discouraged about any part of this game, except for the part about losing. Which is, you’d have to say, a pretty big part.
They answered the question, “Can you guys play with LeBron’s team?” Even after a wretched half, they could and they did. Dennis Schroder turned into Allen Iverson and scored 27 points and made six assists in 28 minutes and by his smallish self drove the Hawks from an 18-point deficit into a one-point lead. But here, after Al Horford’s hook put the visitors ahead 88-87 with four minutes left, is what the Hawks did:
Schroder missed from the lane. Schroder drove into a double-team and lost the ball to LeBron James. Schroder threw a crosscourt pass that James stole. Kent Bazemore missed a 3-point shot, after which Schroder missed a 3-point shot. After all that, the Cavaliers led 97-88 and the game was gone.
All that spread-the-wealth and pace-and-space stuff? The final minutes of Game 1 came down to a 22-year-old reserve guard trying to make plays. Granted, Schroder had made a ton of them to get the game into a winnable position. But nobody makes every play, not even LeBron.
As Bazemore noted afterward, the Hawks have gotten darn good at coming from way behind without actually winning. They overrode a 34-point deficit against Minnesota on Nov. 9 to take a one-point lead with 3:26 remaining; they lost by 10. Against Golden State on Feb. 22, they trailed by 23 points in the third quarter and took a fourth-quarter lead; they lost by 10.
In Game 3 of Round 2 last year, they trailed Washington by 21 points in the fourth quarter but forged a tie on Mike Muscala’s 3-pointer; they lost on Paul Pierce’s jumper at the horn. Now this. They play themselves out of a game, then clamber back, then lose.
There’s a part of me — and a part of you, I’d expect — that believes the Hawks should feel good about coming close in Game 1. They’re not apt to shoot much worse than 37.9 percent, and Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver aren’t apt to miss 32 of 42 shots again. But Schroder isn’t going to score a point a minute in every game from here on, either.
The lesson of playoff basketball is that there are no real lessons beyond the final score. When you have a chance to win on the road, you have to follow through. Kevin Love mightn’t miss nine of 14 shots in Game 2. The Hawks mightn’t outrebound the Cavs again anytime soon. It cuts both ways.
“We’re just settling into the series,” Korver said. “Are we over or getting to the hump? All I know is that we need to win a game.”
Yes. Take Game 2 here Wednesday and the Cavs will have cause to doubt. As it stands, Cleveland can look at this final score and say, “They made a great comeback and we still won by 11.” That’s eight in a row the Hawks have lost to this team over the past 49 weeks, and if all they do in this series is scare the Cavs, it won’t be enough. They need to win some games.
Had Game 1 ended after 44 minutes, the Hawks would have won it. It didn’t and they didn’t. Bazemore suggested it was “only a matter of time” before the Hawks turned one of these breathless rallies into an actual victory, and maybe he’s right.
But this is May, and the clock’s ticking. If they’re going to make this a series, they need Game 2.
Further reading: The Hawks throw a royal scare into King James’ crew.