The Atlanta Hawks won't be playing another game in the 2015-2016 season. Despite a valiant effort in Game 4, the Hawks fell short against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers by a final score of 100-99, and for the second consecutive season, the campaign ends with a sweep.
In what looked a great deal like the rest of the series, the Cavs wasted no time bringing a barrage of threes to the table in Game 4. Cleveland connected on their first three triples on the way to a 13-8 lead in the early going, and a "here we go" feeling wasn't exactly out of place. Still, the Hawks responded with seven straight points to take the lead at 15-13, and later in the quarter, Atlanta raced to a 14-2 spurt that pushed their advantage to a game-best 39-27 margin.
The first quarter push was keyed by Paul Millsap, who scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds, and the work of Kris Humphries (6 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks) was also important to Atlanta's advantage. However, the Cavs would slowly climb back into the game in the second quarter, chipping away until Cleveland trailed by only two points (58-56) at the halftime break.
Cleveland converted on 10 of their 16 threes in the first half (sound familiar?), but the Hawks did manage to shoot 56% from the floor and the home team held their own on the glass as well. At the same time, there was reason for pessimism, simply because Atlanta probably should have held a larger advantage given how they played in the aggregate compared to Cleveland's performance.
The third quarter was something of a cruel awakening, but at the same time, the Hawks battled strongly to stay engaged. The Cavs strung together four (!) consecutive possessions that ended with a made three, including a barrage of three straight triples from Kevin Love. However, Atlanta held a six-point lead prior to that explosion, and the home team was able to stick close, using a series of mini-runs (including a five-point binge from Thabo Sefolosha) to finish the third period in just a four-point hole at 81-77.
From there, Dennis Schröder began the fourth quarter with five straight points, giving the Hawks a slim lead, and the two teams went back and forth for the majority of the closing period. Schröder, who played the entirety of the fourth, produced back-to-back driving finishes to give Atlanta the lead at 97-96 with just 90 seconds remaining, but there was plenty of game left.
After a bizarre sequence in which LeBron James failed to connect on four (yes, four) shots from close range, Paul Millsap was whistled for a controversial goaltending violation, giving the Cavs a 1-point lead with 1:15 on the clock. Then, Schröder attempted a lay-up that was blocked by Tristan Thompson, and James knocked down a contested jumper on the other end to put Atlanta in a three-point hole with just 39.2 seconds on the clock.
The Hawks then slashed the lead to just one point with a quick lay-up from Schröder, but after a stop on the other end, Atlanta came up empty in their quest for a game-winner. Schröder was tied up on his way to the rim, and after a jump ball against LeBron James, the ball rattled away and Paul Millsap was forced to generate a very difficult heave that may not have counted even if it fell through the rim.
There will be plenty of reaction in the coming hours and days, but for now, the Atlanta Hawks are left searching for answers as they approach an off-season that could foreshadow wide-ranging overhaul. Stay tuned and thanks, as always, for reading.