It is now or never for the Atlanta Hawks.
Mike Budenholzer's team suffered a gut-wrenching defeat in Game 3 on Sunday night, and that placed the Hawks in a daunting 3-0 hole as Game 4 approaches on Tuesday evening. Realistically, Atlanta faces a nearly impossible challenge, as no NBA team has ever emerged from a 3-0 deficit to win a 7-game series, and that is the ominous backdrop for what could be the final night of the 2014-2015 season for the club.
Still, Game 3 presented some encouraging signs, even as the team largely operated without Al Horford. The Hawks went into Cleveland made the Cavaliers expend a great deal of energy, taking them to overtime despite several missed opportunities in the closing minutes. Horford hasn't been acquitted of wrongdoing for his Game 3 incident (don't get us started...), but no further punishment will be levied, meaning that the Hawks will have their All-Star center on Tuesday.
That, of course, is a positive sign for Atlanta, who led when Horford was dismissed to the locker room. Beyond that, it is simple to see the drop-off from Horford to any other big man, and with Budenholzer electing to deploy Mike Scott for 32 minutes in Game 3, the contrast was sharp. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff plays the rotation with the season on the line in Game 4, especially after a night when Dennis Schröder and Pero Antic were supplanted in favor of the aforementioned Scott and Shelvin Mack.
The "other" elephant in the room, though, is LeBron James. The former MVP submitted a historic performance in Game 3, going for 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists, and even as the Hawks played quality defense to hold him to just 14 of 37 shooting, James did everything possible to help the Cavs emerge victorious. DeMarre Carroll has (somehow) emerged healthy from the past two games, and he will have the first and longest crack against LeBron, but for the Hawks to win, they must contain James to a performance that falls within reason.
Simply put, the Atlanta Hawks have been out-played by the Cleveland Cavaliers in this series, and that is a harsh reality when trailing 3-0. This is a team, though, that has faced adversity and emerged from it each time during the 2014-2015 season, and it certainly wouldn't be a surprise if they snuck out of Cleveland with a Game 4 win in order to bring (at least) one more basketball game to Philips Arena this season.
Game Date/Time: Tuesday, May 26, 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM