You're not going to believe this, but it seems like the Atlanta Hawks did not particularly enjoy getting absolutely strafed by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. Sure, the Hawks' wonderful Twitter account was able to find the gallows humor in being on the receiving end of an NBA-record 25 3-pointers, but apparently, the players on the court and on the receiving end of the bombs-away beatdown didn't find Cleveland's pursuit of net-scorching history quite so amusing.
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In the locker room after the loss, Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap said he was "speechless" over the Cavaliers' unbelievable shooting effort. Apparently, that didn't extend to a conversation with Cavs beat writer Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:
"It's a certain way of being a professional," Paul Millsap said to Cleveland.com. "I'm not mad about it, but just being professionals, man. If that's how you want to approach it, that's how you approach it. I think our team and our organization has class and I don't think we would have continued to do that, but other organizations do other things, so what can you do about it?"
Al Horford echoed his frontcourt mate's sentiments.
"We probably wouldn't do anything like that [if we were in that position]," he told cleveland.com. "... It's hard to say, but I would say no."
Well, I guess it's not that hard to say, then.
The Hawks' displeasure seems to stem from Cleveland's insistence on chucking from deep even after tying the second-largest halftime lead in NBA playoff history, tying the previous postseason record for 3s in a playoff game (set less than two weeks ago) less than seven minutes into the third quarter, and breaking it just 31 seconds after that. The Cavs headed into the fourth up by 36 and no Cleveland starter played in the fourth quarter, but Tyronn Lue's reserves still let 'em fly, hoisting 11 more long balls in the final frame. That, the logic goes, is unprofessional.
The same word, though, could be used to describe the Hawks' defensive effort on Wednesday. It would be a harsh assessment, to be sure, but difficult to argue with, as an Atlanta squad that finished the season ranked second in the NBA in points allowed per possession was totally undressed and destroyed from just about the opening tip. Coach Mike Budenholzer succinctly summed up the damage during his postgame press conference, according to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
“In transition we are not doing a good enough job,” Budenholzer said. “We need greater urgency and greater understanding in getting to all of their shooters. I think it starts there. Then in the half court, they are in the paint a lot. When you collapse and people help, they are making the extra pass and making shots. Then the third piece, several of them, obviously, J.R. Smith are hitting extremely difficult 3’s on top of those first two things.”
Yes, J.R. made some tough looks — as is his wont, of course — but with Atlanta failing to corral dribble penetration and staying at least one step behind the Cavaliers' ball movement, many of Cleveland's triple tries came without a hard closeout or a hand in the shooter's face. The Cavaliers attempted 45 3-pointers, and while the Hawks did contest 32 of them, according to NBA.com's SportVU player tracking data, that A) left 13 open and B) meant the Cavaliers were doing what they were supposed to do and beating the defensive effort on offer. What's wrong with that? With a full quarter left to play, should NBA players be expected not to take wide-open, in-rhythm 3s? More from Haynes:
"We ran our offense and got shots in our offense," [Cavs reserve Dahntay Jones] said to cleveland.com. "That's what we did. Mine were wide open. Both of mine were wide open, so I don't know what they wanted me to do. I didn't have to put the ball down or nothing. I was wide open for two of them.
"I guess it's a testament to, well, I don't know what it's a testament to. We were wide open. Really, I'm dead serious. I just sat in the corner. I sat there for two shots. We didn't even push the ball in transition. I really don't understand the logic but hey, it's just one game, buddy."
It's entirely reasonable that the Hawks wouldn't have enjoyed watching the Cavs both dominate them and dance while doing it:
... but, well, just because you don't like something, that doesn't mean somebody else is classless or unprofessional for doing it.
Making 3-pointers in the NBA is hard. Making 25 of them in a game is so hard that literally no other team in NBA history has ever done it. Doing it is awesome, and cool, and the kind of thing that should be celebrated, so the Cavs celebrated it. At the risk of oversimplifying things, it seems reasonable to subscribe to the Cam Newton Dancing line of thinking here: "I'm a firm believer, if you don't like me to do it, then don't let me in." Or, in this case, "then don't let a team just barely removed from making 20 triples in a game get 25 uncontested looks from beyond the arc." (Especially when, as Stephen Douglas of The Big Lead notes, you could argue that the Hawks aren't in a spot to cast stones here.)
For his part, Lue dismissed claims that the Cavs had done anything untoward in a Thursday press conference, according to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:
“That’s something the players felt like was in their grasp and they wanted to go for it,” Lue said Thursday about chasing the record in a blowout. “I don’t see anything wrong with it. We didn’t do anything malicious. I don’t think we did anything to rub it in their face. They felt good on the floor and wanted to go for the record.”
Clearly, the Hawks (or at least some of them) disagree. Whether or not you think they've got a leg to stand on, it ought to give Atlanta some extra motivation headed into Friday's Game 3. Then again, if you need a trumped-up chip on your shoulder to get properly amped up for a game you need to win to avoid falling down 0-3 and being put on the brink of not just elimination in your own gym, but of a second straight four-game sweep at the hands of the Eastern Conference's resident top dogs, well, you've got bigger problems than J.R. skipping or the Cavs' starters celebrating on the bench.
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