The Cleveland Cavaliers came into Atlanta and snapped the Hawks' six-game winning streak with a 113-111 victory that came on a last-second Alonzo Gee put-back layup. The Hawks led for the majority of the game, and held the lead at the end of the first three quarters of play; unfortunately, those aren't the ones that count. Defense was clearly not high on the priority list for either team as both shot the ball extremely well, and seemed to be able to get open looks at any time (so long as they somewhat ran their sets). The Hawks shot 48.7% (38-78) from the field and 60% (12-20) from three point range. The Cavaliers shot 48.2% (41-85) from the field and 43.5% (10-23) from deep. The biggest discrepancies (as they have been all season) came on the glass and from the free throw line. Cleveland dominated in both areas out-rebounding the Hawks 49-28 and 18-10 on the offensive boards. They had as many offensive rebounds as the Hawks had defensive rebounds (In the words of Sir Charles, that's turrible). The Cavaliers made two fewer free throws than the Hawks did, but did so on 10 fewer attempts. Cleveland shot 95.5% (21-22) from the stripe, the Hawks free throw woes continued shooting just 71.9% (23-32).
Despite the Hawks inability to keep the Cavaliers off the boards, or to convert on enough of their free throw attempts, they still dominated the majority of the game. They took an 11-point lead into halftime behind an inspired performance from Ivan Johnson that included a 30-foot three-pointer to beat the buzzer (Fun Fact: Ivan now 3-9 from deep in his career). Ivan came in with three minutes to play in the second quarter and the Hawks were down by four, but his energy and defensive effort seemed to lift the Hawks and Ivan finished that three minutes an incredible +15 (He finished the game with nine minutes of play, and was +18).
The third was a sloppy quarter from both sides, with the Cavs cutting the Hawks 11-point lead down to one before Atlanta made a run at the end of the quarter to push it back to nine; and that's when the fourth quarter happened. The Cavs beat the Hawks 31-20 in the final period, with the Hawks offense going sour in the middle of the quarter. Not helping the Hawks in the fourth was the incredible (and surprising) play of Jeremy Pargo, who had 10 points in the quarter. Pargo went on a tear from the 5:15 mark to the 2:04 mark in the quarter where he scored eight points that took away a three point deficit, and turned it into a six point Cavs lead. Jeff Teague was guarding Pargo during that stretch and talked about that run after the game.
"He made some shots, I mean he's a capable player. He got to the rim, it's all my fault he got to the rim. I got to get under the pick-and-roll a lot faster, but some of those shots were some lucky shots, I'm just gonna say it, I mean he hit a double-pump almost three-pointer. When a guy gets hot, a guy gets hot."
While he did hit one crazy shot (Teague bottled him up at the top of the key and he double-pumped, stepped under and hit a leaner), the other three were pretty easy looks that came from sloppy defense, much of it from Jeff. Larry Drew was much more blunt about it when I asked about what they could've done against Pargo down the stretch.
Atlanta pushed back though, despite falling behind and were down four with 25.5 to play, when Josh Smith hit a three from the wing to cut the deficit to just one with 18.1 to play. The Cavs hit their foul shots and had a 111-108 advantage with 15.8 left in the game. During the Hawks timeout, Larry Drew drew up a great play off the inbound. Lou Williams cut towards the basket from the wing, turned back to the corner and got a great down screen from Smoove (who picked Lou's man and Josh's man trying to help) leaving Lou wide open for a game-tying three.
Cleveland called timeout and drew up an isolation play for Dion Waiters at the top of the key, where he pulled a three with 2.9 on the clock. That three nearly airballed (after the game he vehemently denied that saying that it definitely hit rim...it did Dion, but barely) and fell into the arms of Alonzo Gee under the hoop, who put it back up for the game-winner with 0.4 seconds left. Josh Smith came off the floor and in the tunnel told the team that it was his fault for not boxing Gee out. However, it's tough to say that considering he was in good position had the ball hit the rim with any real force to protect it from being rebounded or tipped in, but either way, it was a heart-wrenching way to lose.
"Coming in the tunnel, I heard Josh Smith mention that it was his fault, he didn't box out at the end," said Larry Drew. "I told Josh, you know what, it wasn't your fault, that game should never have come down to the last play. If we would've shown up the way we know we're capable of, it wouldn't have come down to the last play."
The Hawks put forth their worst defensive performance of the year, and one of their worst rebounding performances (Magic and Rockets dismal as well). The game was very reminiscent of the Rockets game as they were torched on pick-and-rolls (especially in the fourth) and seemed for the first time since the opening night to be struggling with defensive rotations, coming partly from sluggish play and partly from poor communication. As for the overall defensive performance, Al Horford talked about getting too caught up with running with the young Cavs.
"I think we got baited into playing that up-and-down, high scoring game. We've been doing a better job defensively, and just playing with them at that pace. That's us in a way, but we're also a defensive team. We kind of got away from defending the ball."
The Hawks will have a lot of time to think about this game and the way they played before they get a chance to redeem themselves Wednesday against the Nuggets on ESPN. They will not hold another official practice until Monday, to let the guys heal-up mentally and physically. Drew hopes that they can turn it into a positive and will re-focus the guys (he said pre-game that the focus has been too inconsistent to this point, which came back to haunt them).
"As I told the guys after the game, maybe we needed a game like this. We've been home for a little while, we've dodged a couple bullets with some teams, Washington came in here and we were in a similar scenario. Charlotte came in here [and put us] in a similar scenario, and maybe we needed this."
At first impression, it seems as though that will be the case. The vibe in the locker room was more angry at letting this one get away than being defeated (I can speak on last year and after losses the locker room was a depressing place). Tonight they guys seemed angry and, as Jeff Teague said, "I think everybody wants to play tomorrow, these guys are hungry, they want to get back on the floor and get a win; I know I am, I'm looking forward to seeing Cleveland again. I mean we're going to learn from this and only get better."
A much better attitude than previous years, but they'll have to translate that to the floor when the Nuggets come to town, and while they're struggling (got thumped by the Lakers late Friday), they still have a lot of talent, length, and rebounding ability. The Hawks resolve will be tested, and that game, on national television, could tell an awful lot about this group.