The Atlanta Hawks battled back from an 18-point deficit before faltering down the stretch in a 104-93 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
This game can be viewed a couple of different ways. Atlanta continued to hang around throughout the game despite shooting less than 30 percent in the first half. They clawed their way back in it with a furious second half run after Cleveland had pushed the margin to 18 points. The Hawks tied the score at 86-86 with 6:29 remaining but were unable to take the lead when they came up empty on three straight possessions.
Al Horford ended the drought and put Atlanta in front 88-87 with a bucket at the 4:28 mark but J.R. Smith answered with a three-pointer on the next possession to put the Cavaliers back in front for good. Cleveland closed the game with a 17-5 run as Atlanta's offense once again sputtered under increased defensive pressure.
So on one hand, the Hawks showed that they can play with the Cavaliers on the road and that should instill some confidence heading into Game 2. On the other, Game 1 was there for the taking as the Cavaliers struggled to land the knockout blow after an eight-day layoff between the first and second rounds.
Hawks hold their own on the boards
One of the lasting memories of last season's Eastern Conference Finals was Cavaliers players like Tristan Thompson volleying the basketball off the board multiple times before securing an offensive rebound.
Atlanta won the rebounding battle in Game 1 48-44 and finished the game with five more offensive rebounds than Cleveland (15-10). The Cavaliers had a 14-12 edge in second chance points but there were a few key rebounds late that the Hawks were unable to grab. Mike Budenholzer talked about those missed opportunities with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore following the game.
"I think we can play better," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Obviously, Dennis had a great game for us but overall the whole group we can play better. Defensively we had some possessions where we gave ourselves a chance we just couldn’t come up with a couple of rebounds late when it was tied (86-86). We get a couple more of those rebounds and execute on the other end. For a Game 1, we’ll learn a lot and we’ll be better going forward on both ends."
Dennis Schröder sets career playoff-high in Game 1
Dennis Schröder shook out of a month-long shooting slump and made an impact for the Hawks in Game 1 finishing with a career playoff-high 27 points to go along with six assists. Schröder knocked down 10 of 20 attempts from the field and accounted for five of Atlanta's 11 made three-point baskets.
He was aggressive in attacking the basket and moved the basketball for the most part when he had no driving lane. However, he was still saddled with five turnovers with a pair coming in the fourth quarter as the Cavaliers were making their late push.
Schröder saw the bulk of the playing time late and Jeff Teague had an underwhelming performance with eight points and four assists but was just 2 of 9 from the field.
Hawks need Al Horford to step up on offensive end of the floor
Al Horford finished with 10 points in Atlanta's Game 1 loss and was just 4 of 13 from the field. He missed his first six shots from the floor and was held scoreless in the first half.
I have written many times that Horford's value goes way beyond the box score and he remains the defensive anchor for this Hawks team. However, there were stretches in Game 1 where Atlanta needed him to score and he was hesitant to take the shot.
Matchups are going to be a big part of this series and the Hawks are going to look to attack Kevin Love whenever he is on the floor. Atlanta tried to put him in a lot of pick and roll situations but when Horford or Millsap find themselves matched against Love, they have to be aggressive and look for scoring opportunities.
Atlanta's offense overall in the 2016 season can best be described as inconsistent. That isn't going to be enough to defeat a talented team like the Cavaliers in a best of seven series. For years, Al Horford's mid-range game was Atlanta's safety net on the offensive end of the floor. It was the place that they could go when they needed a bucket. They are going to need that again if they want to make this a series.