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Hawks unable to hang with Cavaliers at home in lopsided defeat

An old friend was not so friendly in this contest.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks might have missed an opportunity to snag a rare win on the season with the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers having only a handful members of their NBA roster available on Friday night. The Cavaliers were easily the most active team at this week’s NBA trade deadline. But Cleveland got separation in the final minutes of the third quarter and eventually secured a 123-107 victory over the Hawks.

Players that did not play for the Cavaliers on Friday because they had been moved in trades this week or because they are injured, or both, include Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye (traded to the Lakers), Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose (traded to the Jazz), Dwyane Wade (traded to the Heat), Iman Shumpert (injured and traded to the Kings) and Kevin Love (injured). Collectively, those players have logged 5,270 minutes for the Cavaliersthis season which equates to the number of a minutes a five man team would need to play in order to cover 22 games.

Inbound players that were not yet cleared to play for the Cavaliers include George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Jr.

While most viewers might have been expecting a sloppy, disjointed performance from the make-shift Cleveland team, what was witnessed looked significantly more like a unburdened and very loose Lebron James. He had a triple-double, including tying his career high in assists with 17. He also logged more than 40 minutes of action despite entering play on Friday tied with Jimmy Butler of the Minnesota Timberwolves to lead the league with 37.1 minutes per game.

Former Hawks’ fan favorite Kyle Korver had a season high 30 points shooting 9 of 16 from the field including 7 of 13 from three point range. Korver spent the better part of the fourth quarter seemingly trying to tie or exceed his career high in three point field goals (8). At the end of the third quarter, Korver was 7 of 9 from the three point line. He would miss on all four of his fourth quarter attempts from deep before exiting with just under two minutes left in the contest.

“The first one, I think LeBron James drove it and collapsed the defense,” said Hawks’ head coach Mike Bundenholzer of the performance by Korver. “Ideally you want to stay more connected to Kyle. We had someone else out there showing a crowd and ‘v-ing’ back on the weakside help. We could’ve been more connected to him. And we weren’t as focused as we needed to be coming back in transition after the next possession. We missed a three and he caught a quick-screen situation. That’s the little stretch that just changed the game.”

“You have to give credit to Kyle Korver and the whole Cavs team, said Hawks starting point guard Dennis Schroder. “They did a great job moving the ball, and they hit some shots. Kyle Korver, we’ve known for a couple of years now. He hit some tough shots and you have to give him credit.”

A defender is going to have to work a little harder to get over a screen to have an impact on this play. Note: notice the subtle but critical hand-to-hand combat Korver uses to try to get some initial separation... we will come back to that.

A little better effort, same result.

Effort looks good, but you can’t ever go under on Korver.

Longer defender, good effort, does not go under... but it’s too late, Korver is already cooking.

Ignore the result here for a moment. Remember the hand-to-hand action? Dorsey is completely ready for that and doesn’t let Korver get his hands into his body.

Dorsey technically goes under (we’ll come back to that also) but notice how he does not let Thompson make himself wide.... Dorsey makes himself skinny and gets back with a solid contest on this play.

As Collins continues to grow on defense, he should learn how to help his teammate on a possession like this as to push Thompson away even just a bit from where he wants to set the screen on Dorsey.

The Hawks had difficulty during the entire game holding up when Lebron James was operating at the point of attack on the offensive end of the court. The 33-year-old future hall-of-famer, playing in his 15th NBA season and having logged more than 43,000 minutes in his career (just in the regular season), can still impose his will against teams whose rosters don’t include at least several experienced high level defenders.

“LeBron James is a great individual player,” said Budenholzer. “He sees the court, finds his teammates, scores himself. It tests your focus. It tests your attention to detail.” He added, “There was a lot of the game where we were good, where we were doing things at a high level. But we didn’t do it for the entirety of the 48 minutes and that’s the goal. We’ll work towards that.”

Hawks guard Kent Bazemore saw it much the same way his head coach did. “We definitely lost focus,” he said. “We have to learn how to follow directions for 48 minutes. Coaches work tirelessly putting together a game plan. Some nights we just go out there and don’t follow it. But that’s what happens when you have a young team. You have to roll with the punches. But it’s kind of frustrating when they’re doing everything we try to keep them from doing.”

In his post game comments, James seemed to be prepared to need to put together a solid performance to get out of the game with the victory. “We played together offensively and defensively,” he said. “The communication was very high. The ball was moving around. The ball was popping. Everybody felt like we were in a good rhythm. This team has played us tough every single season, no matter their record. Tonight, we finally played them tough. We played Cavaliers basketball.”

This possession might be an example of what the Cavaliers are hoping to execute with a younger, faster roster. A wing (Cedi Osman) sprints toward the strong side corner and the big (Tristan Thompson) sprints toward the rim. The result is that the Hawks’ five man unit has to cover those actions which opens up an uncontested three point attempt for JR Smith.

A significant amount of coordinated and constructive movement can be seen on this play as well. This is the type of play that had been incrementally disappearing from the Cavaliers offensive sets at the season progressed toward the trade deadline.

James pulls his defender, Taurean Prince, far to the right half of the offensive court (important). Smith runs off of well timed staggered screens from Osman and Thompson. Thompson demonstrates excellent attention to detail by legally getting back into the path Kent Bazemore, the chase defender.

It would normally be the responsibility of Taurean Prince to help with a “dig” once James gives up the ball. But Prince has been pulled too far away from the play to be able to provide any defensive help.

No player can create open three point looks in the weak side corner than Lebron James. On this play, the amount of stress he creates on opposing defenses is evident when he is operating at the point of attack.

Both MIles Plumlee and Ersan Ilyasova end up at the rim. Only one of the two should. But Lebron breaks down a defense in ways such that teams don’t have the time they normally have to communicate on a play like this.

Thompson is ready to screen Ilyasova if he has any intention of trying to get back out to the corner. If Dorsey is able to get to the corner in time then the ball just gets passed up to the wide open JR Smith.

Rookie Cedi Osman made his first career start in the game. The only players that logged significant time that had not spent the entire season with Cleveland was John Holland, who is on a two-way contract with the Cavaliers. He played nearly 14 minutes with all of them coming in the second half. He and London Perrantes, also on a two-way contract, had been called up from the Canton Charge prior to the game. Perrantes played the final 1:10 of action.

“It was my first game as a starter,” said Osman. “I just tried to do what I was doing when I was coming in from the bench. We played with great pace today. We played better defense I think, and with the new guys, we’re going to be a younger and more dynamic team with a lot of energy. So I’m really excited.”

Dennis Schroder led the Hawks with 25 points on 19 shooting possessions which was a nice efficient game on the offensive end. He had four assists and logged more than 26 minutes without committing a turnover.

He frequently got into the lane for effective looks. See his shot chart for the game:

Let’s take a look at one play.

There is quite a bit to take in here. Schroder has the mismatch on Green. Dedmon is on the corner thus Thomspon is out of the play. Collins is defended by Lebron so he settles into the “dunker spot”. Schroder knows Lebron is likely to conserve some energy on defense and thus with the opposing rim protector on the perimeter, he attacks with success.

Three other Hawks’ starters would score the double digits. Prince contributed 15 points albeit on 18 shooting possessions. He missed on all 9 of his three point attempts.

Kent Bazemore had 13 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Ersan Ilyasova contributed 12 points on just 8 shooting possessions.

Tyler Dorsey continued an impressive stretch of play. He had a career high 14 points and hit double digits for the third straight game. He could see even more opportunity should he continue playing well. It was announced earlier on Friday that the Hawks had reached a buyout agreement with the veteran Marco Belinelli.

Delaney has an open look at the top of the key on this play. But the mature veteran uses the opportunity to feed the budding three point shooter for an open look and Dorsey knocks it down.

The attention to detail from Dorsey is encouraging on this play. Notice how he very subtly opens his left hip a bit as to show his frame to Dedmon in the corner. Also the pass is coming from a big, notice how Dorsey prepares to catch the ball closer to his nose than his abdomen. This is impressive play.

The Cavs were just too much for the Hawks on this night but there were some positive flashes too. Stay tuned.

The Hawks will play three more times before heading into the all-star break. They host the Detroit Pistons on Sunday afternoon before playing in Milwaukee on Tuesday night and in Detroit on Wednesday night.