In a contest that was never close in the first 45 minutes, the Hawks gave a valiant effort trying to somehow squeeze out a victory against a team that broke a record in the game.
Instead, an old friend knocked down a dagger jumper — a record-breaking 3-pointer — to help edge out the 135-130 win for the Cavaliers on Friday night at Philips Arena.
Kyle Korver’s 3-pointer gave Cleveland 25 for the night — breaking the regular season single game record for most made by a team. The only other time a team made 25 3-pointers in a game was also by the Cavs ... and also against the Hawks ... last year in the second round of the playoffs.
“A lot of credit to Cleveland ... the way they shoot the ball, the way they move the ball,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “You come in wanting to take away the 3-point line. It’s a lot harder the way that LeBron James and Kyrie Irving create attention. We’ll get better. We’ll learn from tonight.”
James and Irving combined to score 81 points in the game on 28 of 48 shooting from the field. After Korver’s 3-pointer, Irving scored the final eight points to ice the game with a layup and a perfect 6 of 6 shooting from the charity stripe.
The comeback became possible thanks to the lights out play from Tim Hardaway Jr. He scored nine of Atlanta’s 13 points in the span of just more than two minutes that started the Hawks’ 21-7 run, cutting the Cavs lead to one point. Shooting 13 of 20 from the field, Hardaway Jr. finished with a career-high 36 points.
“Just being in attack mode,” Hardaway Jr. said about the key to his career-high night. “I forced a couple here and there and they got on me about it, but they still told me to get aggressive. At the end of the day, we got an L in the column, so let’s move on to Sunday.”
Despite the struggles defensively, the Hawks were efficient offensively, and Budenholzer was happy with the effort on the offensive end.
“I thought it was everybody,” Budenholzer said. “Take nothing away from Timmy. Timmy was amazing. But I thought Paul Millsap did a lot of things. I thought Kent Bazemore basically played as our point guard for the last six minutes. I thought he got us into stuff, got us to the right spots, got it to Timmy coming off some pin-down situations. I thought all five guys out there (in the final minutes) were really good ... Thabo (too).”
Along with Atlanta’s offense closing the gap late, the defense picked up its efforts in the final quarter, limiting the Cavaliers to just four 3-pointers made after they had 21 in the first three periods. The Hawks went with a smaller lineup in the frontcourt with Millsap and Ersan Ilyasova, and no true point guard in the backcourt.
“We had a little bit of a smaller group out there,” Budenholzer said. “Ersan and Paul as the bigs. It felt like we maybe kept them in front of us a little better. Maybe we can go back and learn, watch the film of the fourth quarter.”
“I think we changed our approach to the game,” Ilyasova said. “Obviously we tried to be more aggressive on our pick-and-roll defense. We started to switch. That’s why we eliminated those 3-point shots they had made early in the game. We should be more aggressive from the beginning of the game.”
The loss dropped the Hawks to 34-27 on the season and 2 1⁄2 games back of the Raptors for fourth place in the East. Atlanta will have a day off before hosting the Pacers on Sunday afternoon on the front end of a back to back that will feature the Warriors at Philips on Monday night.