The Atlanta Hawks are all but done in the postseason, trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers 0-2, finding it impossible to slow down LeBron James from scoring or assisting his teammates in what’s turning out to be a very one sided series.
More bad news for the Hawks, besides the two losses at home in which the score at the end of the games was lying a little bit about how un-close the games really were? Kyle Korver, with an ankle injury, is out for the playoffs. Sure, he wasn’t shooting or playing nearly as well as he had during the regular season, but here goes another perimeter player the Hawks could have really used as they keep running out of things that work for them.
James, averaging 30.5 points per game, is doing anything he wants to on the court. He’s also required to do a little bit of everything. With Kevin Love out and Kyrie Irving not playing in game 2 and doubtful for the rest of the postseason (he’ll probably play, but his knees are keeping him from being his “true” self), James has more ball handling duties (which he doesn’t mind), some minutes at the ‘4’ and covering for everyone who makes a mistake on defense, letting his lazy stretches stay in the past.
Obviously, it’s more than James. The Hawks are getting crushed on the boards by Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov. The perimeter defense from Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova is keeping the Hawks from developing any kind of combination, passing and motion offense they’re used to seeing. They’re not getting open looks. We’re not seeing big men role to the outside and create mismatches. The whole functionality of the offense that did so well in the regular season has been disrupted, almost destroyed.
Head coach Mike Budenholzer is no longer talking about the adjustments (although he’ll try to make them) or a certain style. It’s about his players falling short in simpler, yet more trivial and important things. Screens, setting them and getting around them. Making the pass count. It sounds simplistic, maybe too much. But beyond the strategy, planning ans x’s and o’s, it’s about players making plays. And the Hawks don’t have that going for them at the moment.
David Blatt has been under a lot of scrutiny this season. For being the rookie head coach (in the NBA at least, despite the wealth of experience he has in international basketball, not to mention success), for being someone who is coaching LeBron James. Erik Spoelstra survived that baptism of fire (Witcher getting to me too) to win two NBA championships. Blatt seems to be on the right path to stepping out of the shadow of player a bit too overbearing for anyone. Because of how good he is, but also because of his ego, which comes with the talent.
We’re a step away from this series being over. The Warriors have done it to the Rockets, the Cavaliers, with less flash, are about to do the same to the Hawks. Just like the Hawks came back and controlled the series against the Wizards by going out of their way to win something that wasn’t their style, it’ll be about finding and tapping into something inside them and finally, maybe, somehow, slowing down James.