The Atlanta Hawks left it on the floor on Sunday night.
It wasn't enough.
The Hawks and Cavaliers needed overtime to decide Game 3, but in the end, it was a superhuman effort from LeBron James and faulty execution from Atlanta in the final moments that allowed the Cavaliers to take a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals by a final score of 114-111.
With their backs against the wall, the Hawks came out of the gate flying. Atlanta raced to 10 straight points to claim an early 12-4 lead, and on the defensive end, the team was flying around while holding the Cavs to just 1 for 10 shooting in the early going. In addition, Al Horford got things going from an individual standpoint with 8 early points, and everything was going well.
In fact, there was even history to be made, as LeBron James missed his first ten shots, marking the first time in his NBA career (regular season included) for this "feat". Unfortunately, the Hawks led by only three points at the end of the first quarter (despite 22% shooting from Cleveland), as the Cavs made four threes and dominated the glass to the tune of nine offensive rebounds.
The second quarter was marked by a real back-and-forth, as the Hawks went on a 7-0 run early, the Cavs responded with a 12-2 spurt to take their first lead since the opening moments, and Atlanta (mercifully) countered with an 8-2 of their own to reclaim the advantage. Still, the biggest play of the half (and the game) was yet to come.
Matthew Dellavedova knocked down a three to bring the Cavs within one point at 48-47, and on the ensuing possession, he was tangled up with Al Horford. Video of the play can be found here, but in short, Horford was ejected after landing on top of the Cavs point guard following a roll-up on his leg. Regardless of interpretation, this was an enormous swing for the Hawks, who lost their best player at a time when they held a 1-point lead nearing halftime.
Without Horford in the lineup, the Hawks had some issues in the third quarter. LeBron James, in predictable fashion, took over the game in the second half, and it began with separate 8-2 and 9-2 runs in the third quarter. Atlanta did scrap to remain within five points to begin the fourth quarter and even slashed the lead to three with a bucket on the opening possession, but Cleveland put together a 7-0 spurt without James on the court, and is never a pleasurable experience.
Still, the Hawks got off the mat again, eventually reclaiming the lead (!) at 97-95 after Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore converted seven consecutive free throws to cap a 13-2 run. Then, after the Cavs tied the game on a LeBron lay-up, Bazemore and JR Smith exchanged threes to take the score to 100-100, leading to a timeout with 3:17 remaining and the game in the balance.
Jeff Teague took matters into his own hands following the timeout, scoring the next four points sandwiched around DeMarre Carroll taking a picture-perfect charge against LeBron James. That sequence gave the Hawks a 104-100 lead with 1:38 on the clock, and the Cavs called for timeout in response.
Seemingly on cue, the game wouldn't end, as the two teams misfired in unison to allow overtime. The Cavs made just 2 of 4 free throws in the final seconds, including misses from LeBron and Iman Shumpert, while the Hawks missed two bunnies (Teague and Carroll) before an inexplicable sequence that saw Teague attack when a 4-second differential on the shot clock and game clock with a lead. In the end, the Hawks had the ball with the shot clock off and a tie score, but Atlanta elected to run a full-fledged iso-Joe "set", and Teague's jumper came up begging at the buzzer to send things to OT.
Sadly, the overtime period did not go the way that Hawks fans would have preferred. Atlanta missed nine consecutive shots (including the end of regulation), but in actuality, that didn't burn the team, as Teague converted a three to take a 111-109 lead with 55 seconds remaining. That thrill was short-lived, as LeBron James (yet again) made the biggest play of the night, knocking down an immediate answer from three point range, and after a stop on the other end, James put the game away with a lay-up with 12 seconds on the clock.
The final possession netted two good looks from beyond the arc for Shelvin Mack, but each went begging, including one as the buzzer sounded. In the end, it was an excruciating defeat that places the Hawks in a 3-0 hole.
More to come, but many pundits will proclaim this series over at this point, and it would be a tough argument to oppose.