Blowout losses do happen in the long NBA season, so LeBron James didn’t seem too worried about the Cleveland Cavaliers losing 127-98 to the Atlanta Hawks at home, but their poor defending, not for the first time this season, seems to be much more of a concern for head coach David Blatt.
After taking a 50-38 lead midway through the second quarter, the Hawks, playing with Jeff Teague, started moving the ball like a finely tuned machine, creating open shots at ease, knocking down 12 3-pointers just in the first half. They outscored the Cavaliers 89-48 the rest of the way, and once again put a huge question mark over the defense of the Cavaliers, losing their third game in four outings since winning eight straight.
The surprising hero for the Hawks was Shelvin Mack with 24 points off the bench, connecting with six 3-pointers on six attempts. Atlanta finished with 16-of-28 from beyond the arc, as it looked like the Cavs were focusing a bit too much on the known names like Kyle Korver (1-for-3 from 3-point range) instead of everyone. As James mentioned later, the passing, movement and offense reminded him of how the Spurs conduct business. The Hawks’ head coach, Mike Budenholzer, is a former Spurs assistant.
We allowed them to get too many open looks. This is a well-coached team that we played. It reminds you of playing San Antonio, that system. They move the ball and get you in uncomfortable positions.
Aside from Mack having a rare night from the outside, the Hawks spread the ball and shared the scoring well, seven players finishing with 10 points or more. Al Horford had an easy day inside with 10-of-14 from the field to score 20 points, helped by Paul Millsap with 14 points and DeMarre Carroll with 13. Mike Scott was difficult to stop with 15 points off the bench and Dennis Schroeder, splitting the point guard assignment with Mack, added 10 points and 10 assists.
James finished with 21 points and so did Dion Waiters off the bench, but the key players were already resting by the time the fourth quarter began, as the Cavs started it behind by 20 points, as things continued to get worse. Only two teams in NBA history have lost home games by 29 points or more during the regular season and have gone on to win the NBA championship – both times it was the Boston Celtics, in 1968 and 1969. For James personally, this was the third worst home loss of his career, all coming while playing for the Cavaliers.
Another example of why to take the Hawks seriously, winning 11 of their last 12. They were blown out by 33 points on their previous visit to Cleveland, but playing this kind of basketball without their starting point guard goes to show how well coached they are and what kind of system they have going on. The Cavaliers have the individual talent, but their offense stutters as they lose confidence and their defense has been an Achilles heel all season long, without showing any consistent improvement.