Court Vision: Hawks get back at Cavs with rout in Cleveland
Going inside the Hawks' 127-98 win over the Cavaliers on Wednesday in Cleveland for their 11th victory in 12 games.
During last Thursday's TNT pregame, Charles Barkley broke down the Eastern Conference's upper echelon teams and made no mention of the Hawks. He did give coach Mike Budenholzer a shout out, but said this team wasn't on that level.
He had reason on to be skeptical. Admittedly, Atlanta took advantage of a soft schedule that ranked 25th out of 30 teams and saw it feast on a down Southeast Division, going 5-2 in those games. Even Monday's win over the Bulls was discounted with All-Star Joakim Noah sidelined.
How about now as the Hawks bounced back from a 37-point loss the last time they were in Cleveland on Nov. 15 and ran over a team most believe will wind up as the East's No. 1 or No. 2 seed?
If there's any criticism, it's that we don't really know how well these teams match up given the nature of their two games.
The first time out, the Cavaliers jumped out to a massive lead behind their three-point shooting (more on that later) and this time the Hawks did the same (again, more on that later).
But maybe the most impressive part of this outing from the Hawks' standpoint -- besides "holding" LeBron James to 21 points, including four in the third quarter before he called it a night -- was the job they did on this sidekicks.
Kevin Love had 13 points and 10 rebounds, which equaled his points output in their last meeting, but this time he had a plus/minus of minus-20 and after plus-10 before. Kyrie Irving was also limited to nine points on 4 of 9 shooting and missed all three of his shots from beyond the arc.
The Hawks also made a point of feeding Al Horford and Paul Millsap inside against Love and dominated, as Horford had 20 and Millsap 14 and Atlanta held a 58-46 edge in the paint.
It gets no easier for Atlanta, which now faces the Western Conference's Rockets (18-5), Mavericks (18-8) and Clippers (17-7) over the next three games. But against a team that is on the tip of everyone's tongue when discussing the East's best, the Hawks impressed, the only question is whether it's enough to get them respect?
Jeff Teague watched from the bench with a strained left hamstring suffered in the first half of Monday's win over the Bulls, giving Dennis Schroder his first career start. It seemed a logical move, especially with the Cavaliers bringing the metahuman-level fast Irving to the proceedings.
Schroder was solid, but it was backup Shelvin Mack that provided the biggest spark as the Hawks claimed a signature win of the season.
"It felt good," said Mack, who came in averaging 3.8 points. "I've been struggling a lot with my shot but it felt good to see some shots go in."
Down 41-29 less than two minutes into the second quarter, Atlanta went on a 24-11 run that included four Mack three-pointers, the last of which gave the Hawks a 55-52 lead, their first since scoring the opening five points of the game.
Up 65-60 entering the third quarter, Atlanta never trailed again, largely behind the play of Mack, who scored 17 of his career-high 24 points in the third quarter.
The last time the Hawks met the Cavaliers, it was LeBron and Co.'s long-range shooting that set the tone for the doom and gloom.
Cleveland became the first team in NBA history to go 9-for-9 or better on three-pointers in the first quarter, a display that gave it a 41-25 lead after 12 minutes. In all, the Cavs hit a franchise-record 19 threes in the win.
The Hawks turned the tables on them and also underscored a defense that came into Wednesday sixth in the league, holding opponents to 33.4 percent three-point shooting.
The Cavaliers connected on five shots from beyond the arc with Matthew Dellavedova's 26-footer with 6:20 left in the third quarter, but would miss their next 11, not getting off the snide until James Jones with 6:56 left in the game. At that point, the Hawks were up 26.
Meanwhile, Atlanta was 16 of 28 from beyond the arc, and in a twist on the Cavs' success in that first meeting, became the first team in franchise history to hit nine threes in a quarter during the third in which Mack hit five, DeMarre Carroll had two and Kent Bazemore and Mike Scott added one each.
12 -- The Hawks hit 12 first-half three-pointers, which is the most of any half in franchise history.
2009 -- Atlanta's 127 points were a season-high and the most it has scored since erupting for 130 on Dec. 13, 2009 against the erstwhile Nets.