The Atlanta Hawks will look to get back on track in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals Friday night at Philips Arena.Game 2 is close to a must-win for Atlanta as heading to Cleveland with an 0-2 deficit would be a less than ideal situation.
However, there is plenty of uncertainty regarding Atlanta and the status of DeMarre Carroll who suffered a knee injury with 4:59 remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 1. The Hawks appear to have dodged a major bullet on Thursday when an MRI exam revealed no structural damage in Carroll's knee. The team listed him as questionable for Game 2 on their injury report and Mike Budenholzer wouldn't rule him in or out saying only that everything they had received back in regards to Carroll had been positive.
The longer Carroll is out, the worse the situation becomes for the Hawks who are also without Thabo Sefolosha for the duration of the postseason. Matching up with LeBron James is an iffy proposition for a healthy roster and Atlanta may have to do so without their top two wing defenders.
Even if Carroll is able to play it seems a good bet that Kent Bazemore's role will likely increase. Bazemore is a good defender and brings a lot of energy and activity to the Hawks' lineup but has been streaky at the offensive end of the floor. Bazemore put up a good performance in Game 1 off the bench finishing with 10 points and four rebounds on 4-of-5 shooting.
The situation gets tough behind Bazemore. It seems like a safe bet that Shelvin Mack could get some minutes along with more of the dual point guard lineup of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. Paul Millsap spent a stretch of Game 1 matched up on LeBron and will likely do so again in Game 2, especially if Carroll is out. Mike Budenholzer also has Mike Scott available, but he hasn't played in the last five games and has struggled so far in the playoffs. A potential combination of Millsap and Scott along with Al Horford seems unlikely especially given Scott's defensive struggles.
Despite the concern regarding Carroll, there are other areas that the Hawks need to shore up as well. One is rebounding where Cleveland finished with a 49-37 edge in Game 1. Atlanta has often struggled in that department, but part of it is by design. Still they need to be closer to even to have a chance in the series.
With as much focus as James demands on the defensive end of the floor, the Hawks can't afford big scoring outbursts from his supporting cast. J.R. Smith found a rhythm early in Game 1 and finished with 28 points and eight made three-pointers. Some of those shots were contested and defended well, but Atlanta has to find a way to take him out of his comfort zone because he is hard to deal with once he finds a rhythm.
Game 2 could be a pivotal moment for the Hawks in their postseason run. Win here and they are right back in the series, lose and they are facing a major uphill climb with the series headed back to Cleveland. Atlanta has made a habit of bouncing back this season. They will need to do that again on Friday with or without Carroll.
Game Date/Time: Friday, May 22, 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM