For a moment, it looked like the Atlanta Hawks were intent on making this a series. However, another poor fourth quarter performance has them looking at a 3-0 deficit after a 121-108 loss.
"I'm proud of the way our guys competed. I'm proud of the effort," Mike Budenholzer said following the game. I think you have to maintain....be very, very good and very, very sharp for 48 minutes. I think that a lot of the game, we were. But it's going to take more of the 48 minutes, a team that makes less mistakes. We just have to keep striving for that.....find a way for Sunday and bring the same mindset that we brought for this game."
Atlanta led 91-85 at the end of the third quarter and had a 103-99 advantage with eight minutes remaining. From that point it was all Cavaliers who outscored the Hawks 36-17 in the fourth. Cleveland finished the game with a 22-5 run with Atlanta making just two of their final 12 shots from the field.
"It's interesting. Going back through some of the plays that happened through the course of the game. I would actually phrase it as if you make a small mistake, they can make you pay," Budenholzer answered when asked about the mistakes his team made defensively.
"So if somebody's open, they find them and right now, that guy is shooting it and making it at a higher percentage. I don't think that there is a big area or a big mistake. I think you have to be more perfect and more connected with their shooters all the time. We were better there. We just have to be even better."
Cleveland set an NBA record in Game 2 with 25 made three-point baskets. They were nearly as good in Game 3 going 21 for 39. The biggest lift however came from an unlikely source in Channing Frye who netted a playoff career-high 28 points off the bench.
Frye finished the game 10 of 13 from the field and 7 of 9 from three-point range and the Hawks had no answer.
Still, as good offensively as Cleveland is, Atlanta's problems in these playoffs and during the regular season have come at the offensive end of the floor. You can play a defensive possession perfectly and talented scorers like LeBron James or Kyrie Irving can still score. However, the Hawks have shown no such ability and long drawn out stretches of offensive futility have cost them in this series.
Atlanta was shooting 53 percent from the field through three quarters. Their offense ground to a halt in the fourth where they connected on just 7 of 20 shots (35 percent) to go along with four turnovers.
"I can't speak for their defensive adjustments," Budenholzer said when asked about his team's offensive struggles late. They may have changed some of the matchups switched a little more. We'll look at the film. There are a few players or a few opportunities that we feel good about. We have to score better. We have to execute better down the stretch."
Hawks switch up starting lineup/rotation in Game 3
Facing a must-win situation, the Hawks elected to switch up their starting lineup and rotation for Game 3. Thabo Sefolosha replaced Kyle Korver in the team's starting lineup with Kent Bazemore shifting to the shooting guard position.
The move seemed to free up Korver who responded with his best game of the postseason with 18 points including five made three-pointers. However, Bazemore finished with just three points in 31 minutes and made just one of his five attempts from the field.
Budenholzer also shortened his rotation and inserted Kris Humphries into the equation. Humphries was a mainstay in the Hawks rotation during the final weeks of the regular season but had vanished so far in the playoffs. He finished the game with nine points and four rebounds in 20 minutes of action off the bench. The Hawks essentially shortened things up to just eight players. Mike Scott logged just five minutes while Tim Hardaway Jr saw just three minutes of playing time.
What adjustments the Hawks have left remain to be seen.
"You have to change. We're in the playoffs. We're fighting for our playoff lives right now," Al Horford said when asked about what more the Hawks could change and adjust prior to Sunday's Game 4. "At this point, we have to do some changes because what we've done hasn't worked. We felt good about tonight, but we had some mistakes that cost us. I personally, on the defensive end, I know I had a lot of little mistakes. I could've been better and in these kind of games against this kind of team, you can't afford to do that."
Unfortunately for Atlanta, the writing is on the wall in this series. The Hawks owe it to themselves and their fanbase to go all out for a victory in Game 4 but any chance at making this a competitive series went up in smoke with this loss.