Previously, on The Hawks and The Cavaliers …
Any amount of good cheer that was supposed to emanate from Atlanta’s first hosting of a Conference finals game since the Nixon administration was shot to bits in a chaotic second half. Cleveland Cavalier supersub J.R. Smith went off to the tune of 28 points in Cleveland’s 97-89 win, with 17 of those points coming in the second half and 24 of those tunes coming from behind the three-point line as he tied an Cavs playoff record with eight three-pointers.
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His explosion came just before a frightening knee injury to Hawks swingman DeMarre Carroll. Carroll, who was the team’s leading playoff scorer, top three-point shooter and ace defender heading into this series, planted on his left knee during a Eurostep move on a drive to the basket in the fourth, only to fall hard to the floor after his left knee gave out. Initial fears about a torn ACL (or worse) were scuttled on Thursday as an MRI revealed no structural damage, but he is still only listed as “day to day” and questionable for Friday’s Game 2.
The Hawks did well to compete early and even stage a late-game comeback following Carroll’s injury. The team made 10 of its first 13 shots before Cleveland’s defense got its act together, and Jeff Teague (27 points on 24 shots) stayed aggressive throughout; despite some iffy playmaking and shotmaking decisions. Carroll and fellow forward Paul Millsap combined to miss 13 of 18 shots and hoped-for X-factor Dennis Schroeder missed eight of 10 looks off the bench.
LeBron James, meanwhile, went all LeBron all over ATL, scoring a game-high 31 points while adding eight rebounds and six assists. In one game, James’ team stole the home court advantage that Atlanta spent the whole of the autumn and winter earning, while looking all the more like a world-beater despite the injuries that continue to plague the team.
Three Things to Look For in Game 2
Kyrie vs. Kyle
Korver simply cannot get open. Cavs guard Iman Shumpert did fantastic work in replicating the off-ball focus that Washington’s Bradley Beal showcased in the Conference semifinals against Korver, as the three-point legend was unable to find space either in transition or the half-court. Korver hit half of his four three-point shots, but he managed just nine points and seven rebounds overall, a bit of a waste considering he was on the court for a full 36 minutes.
Kyrie Irving had a full five days off and six days between games after leaving the first half of his team’s Game 6 victory over Chicago on May 14 with a right knee injury, so it was assumed that the time off would allow the point guard some needed space to rest his aching right foot and two injured knees. Irving wasn’t terrible in Game 1, but his 10 points on 10 shots in just 26 minutes were hardly what anyone expected, even while acting mindful of what Irving is gutting his way through.
Irving, who is listed as "questionable" for Game 2, is aware of his shortcomings at this point, via Shaun Powell at NBA.com:
"I just don't have it right now," he said.
If Korver can find some room to work, or if Irving can get back to that flat-footed dominance that served him so well in parts of the Chicago series, either team could find a tipping point in Game 2. Something will have to go wrong defensively for either to go off, though, and that’s just so damn sad.
This is who LeBron James is, now, which is frustrating. It’s hard to argue with the results, his team now has a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals and James is dropping knockout box score stats with regularity, but it is just fine to miss the darting and diving LeBron that led Miami to titles in 2012 and 2013.
Typically, teams love to see James working by his lonesome, because being beaten by the spectacular is nothing to be ashamed about. LeBron managed 31 points in Game 1 and famously sealed the game with a spectacular dunk to end things, but if the Hawks can find some quirk in their defensive alignment and shut down his helpers, this sort of pound-foolish play might catch up to Cleveland.
“Might.” It is LeBron, after all.
As of Friday morning DeMarre Carroll hasn’t officially been ruled out of Game 2, and his knee injury has “only” been classified as a bone bruise, but it’s hard to see how someone who had to be carried off the court and needed crutches to leave the arena is going to make it back in 48 hours’ time. Carroll was walking without crutches at team shootaround on Thursday, but that hardly promises much.
Carroll missed 12 games this season, mostly due to Atlanta resting starters. His place in the lineup was taken by Thabo Sefolosha, who was allegedly taken from us by the NYPD after a broken right fibula ended his season. Several times down the stretch of the season reserve swingman Kent Bazemore replaced DeMarre in the lineup, which is a bit of a warming sign as he contributed 10 points on 4-5 shooting and four rebounds in just under 16 minutes in Game 1.
Bazemore will be likely charged with guarding LeBron, a task that fell to Paul Millsap late in Game 1. Millsap, save for one play, did a terrific job on the Cavaliers star, but his presence is needed on the glass – where Cavs forward Tristan Thompson again played brilliantly in Game 1, reeling in five offensive boards and 10 overall.
Some worried about Dwight Howard potentially hurting his Rockets in Game 2 while attempting to play through a sprained knee, and in spite of his team’s loss Dwight responded expertly with a 19-point, 17-rebound game. Sitting Carroll for a contest, especially in light of his responsibilities with LeBron James, might be the best move in this instance.
Which is a shame. Because a national audience was just starting to get wind about how fantastic a player DeMarre Carroll is.
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