After a very encouraging four-game winning streak, things came to a crashing halt on Saturday night for the Atlanta Hawks. The Cleveland Cavaliers blitzed them in a historic way in the first half, and that was the story of the night as the Hawks slipped to 5-4 on the year with a 127-94 road defeat.
To put it mildly, things didn't start in ideal fashion for the Hawks. Cleveland leapt to an 11-4 lead out of the gate, and with LeBron James making his first four shots to score 11 of the team's 14 points, the Cavs were rolling. That didn't stop for the rest of the quarter, either, as Cleveland converted all nine of their three-point attempts on the way to a 78% overall shooting clip in the period, and even with the Hawks shooting 58% in their own right, the home team managed to build a 41-25 lead after 12 minutes.
For good measure, the Cavs converted their first two threes of the second quarter, totaling an absurd eleven consecutive makes from beyond the arc, and when the barrage was over, the Hawks were in a 22-point hole at 49-27. Cleveland continued to pour it on to the tune of a 41-8 overall run, also, and by the time Atlanta stemmed the tide a bit, the lead was 62-27, and that is a deficit that is virtually impossible to emerge from against a team with this level of offensive talent, regardless of how much time is remaining.
The Hawks managed to "climb within" 30 points by halftime, at a 71-43 margin. For the first 24 minutes, Cleveland shot 61% from the field in addition to 13-for-17 from three-point range, and not even a reasonably productive half from the Hawks offense could make things respectable. Atlanta shot 44% in their own right and snatched 10 offensive rebounds, but aside from Paul Millsap's 14-point, 5-rebound half, there wasn't a lot to be excited about.
To be honest, the second half was "better", but not by much. Atlanta did manage to cut the lead to 22 at 81-59 midway through the third quarter, and it was encouraging to see John Jenkins (who actually started the second half in place of Kyle Korver) knock down a few shots. However, that faint optimism was short-lived, as the Cavs zoomed to a 9-0 run to remove any hope, and by the time we reached the fourth quarter, there were no regulars being deployed on either side on the way to the 33-point margin of victory.
It would be a stretch to provide any positives from this one, but the aforementioned Jenkins scored 12 points in his season debut, and Mike Muscala added 13 points and 4 rebounds to take advantage of some extended playing time. Shelvin Mack also put together a strong stat line with 6 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds in 22 minutes, and Thabo Sefolosha scored 10 points, with 8 actually coming in the dreadful first half.
On the whole, Cleveland shot 61% from three (19 of 31), and it felt much worse than that. Some of that, undoubtedly, was the Cavs simply making shots as a very talented group, but in the same breath, the Hawks did not perform at anything approaching a "winning" level on this night. Back-to-backs are hard in the NBA, and facing an amped-up LeBron James is never fun, but 33 points is 33 points, and it could have been much, much worse.
The Hawks have a couple of days off following this disappointing performance, as the team returns home for its next contest on Tuesday against the struggling Los Angeles Lakers at Philips Arena. Stay tuned.