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Heartbreak: Hawks blow late lead to Cavaliers, 112-111

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An unfortunate sequence of events.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks visited the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday evening, in what was about as close to a “must-win” game as possible at this point in the season for the Hawks, as their schedule gets significantly more difficult following this game. It’s no exaggeration to say that coming into this game, the Cavaliers were playing bad basketball, sitting on a 10-game losing streak.

The Hawks were looking to secure a win as they head into the toughest part of their schedule. The Hawks lost the first matchup with the Cavaliers (Jan. 2) in a weak second-half showing in which the Hawks once held a 15-point lead in the third quarter.

Some added intrigue was in the mix for tonight’s game: Trae Young was snubbed in the 2021 All-Star Game that will be taking place in Atlanta.

Young’s motivation led to a good statistical game from him with 28 points and 12 assists, and the Hawks led for the majority of the second half, but they lost the game 112-111 in the final seconds on a Lamar Stevens game-winning dunk.

The Hawks started out strong defensively getting stops on six of the first seven defensive possessions of the first quarter (including forcing two turnovers and three blocked shots) leading to easy transition buckets. Check out this absolute gem of a pass from Trae to John Collins for the easy dunk in transition.

However, the Hawks offense dried up half-way through the first quarter, going on a two-minute scoring drought from 5:05 to 3:03. Meanwhile, Colin Sexton found his touch and scored 11 of his 15 first quarter points after the five-minute mark.

The Cavs enjoyed a 20-8 run, including an 8-0 run, in the latter half of the first. They did not commit a foul in the period. Things looked brighter for a moment, when Kevin Huerter probably got away with a travel on an impressive step-back 3-pointer.

Cleveland caught fire from beyond the arc hitting three 3-pointers to start the second quarter, so the Hawks found themselves in a ten-point hole (39-29) after just two minutes. Offensively, the Hawks suffered from turnovers and poor shot selection, scoring only four points in the first eight possessions of the period.

The Hawks had more to say, however, as they bootstrapped some tough buckets and fought their way to within three points with two minutes left in the half. Watch Clint Capela power his way to the rack and scoring in the paint, and then John Collins elevating for the tip dunk.

The Hawks finished the quarter on a 15-8 run, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with their opponent’s scorching hot shooting, and they took a three-point deficit into the half at 58-55. Cleveland shot an uncharacteristic 9/15 (60.0%) from three, they came into the game dead last in the NBA in 3P% at 33.5%.

Sexton led all Cleveland scorers with 18 points. For Atlanta, Collins and Young both contributed 13 points along with Kevin Huerter chipping in 11 of his own. Young also committed 4 turnovers in the first half.

The Hawks started the second half with Danilo Gallinari in the starting lineup and John Collins nowhere in sight, not even on the bench. Collins entered the concussion protocol and did not return to the game.

But that didn’t stop the Hawks from going on an early run, taking the lead at 63-62 on a Tony “Cheat-Code” Snell bail-out 3-pointer at the 8:47 mark.

The Hawks got into a groove offensively and were able to score easily on the Cavaliers defense. Young found his scoring touch, netting 8 points in the 3rd quarter, including this fantastic exchange on both sides of the floor.

Unfortunately, Cleveland also had no issues scoring the ball and they hung with the Hawks, trading baskets all the way through the quarter. The Cavs managed to tie the game at 84 at the end of the period, with Darius Garland hitting a last-second layup high off the glass.

The fourth quarter got off to a cagey start with both teams fighting hard for buckets. Skylar Mays emerged as an early spark plug scoring 5 points in the first three minutes of the quarter. Including this steal and run-out for the bucket in transition.

Atlanta found themselves with a four-point lead (99-95) going into their timeout at the 7:20 mark. In an unfortunate turn of events, including a lost shoe for Gallo, the Cavs found themselves shooting bonus free throws with six and a half minutes left, a less than promising development for the Hawks in a close game.

But, the man snubbed in the All-Star Game wouldn’t let that dampen his spirits, as he pulled this Collins-less offense along by sheer force of will. I mean, look at this tasty and-one and the sweet kick out to the human flamethrower Tony Snell.

The game stayed in the three to four point range for the majority of the final frame. In the final minute, the Hawks had a one-point lead when Kevin Huerter came away with a fantastic steal. That should have been enough to seal the game. Trae Young missed a difficult floater with 11 seconds left, the Cavaliers came down the other end and the Hawks defense completely missed Lamar Stevens for a wide open game-winning dunk.

With four seconds left, Young was unable to find a quality shot, throwing the ball to Tony Snell who found the ball still in his hands as time expired. The Cavaliers came away with a win despite leading for a total of 18 seconds in the entire fourth quarter.

The Hawks will look to bounce back on the second night of a back to back tomorrow against the Boston Celtics at 7:30 EST.