Hawks suffer letdown loss to Cavaliers

CLEVELAND — After a stellar opening-night win, the Hawks suffered a letdown loss to the Cavaliers on Saturday, 101-95.

They just couldn’t get much of anything going against a struggling Cleveland team, which was on the second night of a back-to-back and missing Darius Garland (left ankle sprain). Despite a late burst of offense, which narrowed the deficit to three with about five minutes to play, their comeback attempt ultimately fell short.

Coming off a thrilling playoff run last season, this kind of game might be the biggest challenge for the Hawks (1-1), center Clint Capela (10 points, 14 rebounds) said afterward.

“The year after, the biggest challenge is those kind of games,” Capela said. “You’ve got to go right back to it. Every team’s going to be waiting on you. It’s not as exciting as the second-round playoffs to play, but you still have to bring it every night, especially this year. So I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge for us, to re-create that, to be like OK, now we’ve proved that we can do it, so now, regular season, we’ve got to bring it. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

The Cavaliers (1-2) had a size advantage and finished with 54 points in the paint to the Hawks’ 42. Ricky Rubio led with 24 points, eight assists and three steals, with Evan Mobley adding 17 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.

Per Hawks coach Nate McMillan, the team got distracted by officiating (the Cavaliers went 20-27 from the line and the Hawks went 9-15) in the third quarter, and also was thrown off some of the zone Cleveland started going to in the second.

“I thought it was the third quarter, I thought we got distracted by the officiating and we lost focus and in that second quarter. They mixed in zone, and I thought they caught us at a point where we got distracted, and we kind of weren’t able to play out of that the next two quarters, the second half,” McMillan said. “I thought just execution, defensively, we weren’t getting stops. They got the momentum. They pretty much kept that momentum for the rest of the game.”

Trae Young led the Hawks (1-1) with 24 points, seven assists and three steals (in the first quarter, Young made the 500th 3-pointer of his career, which tied him with Dominique Wilkins for the sixth-most in franchise history). Cam Reddish added 19 points and six rebounds off the bench, De’Andre Hunter had 12 points and three rebounds and John Collins, who got in foul trouble early, added six points and 12 rebounds.

Cavs 101, Hawks 95 (box score)

The Hawks clung to a narrow 55-52 lead after a messy first half, though they led by as many as 13 in the first half. But the second half started sloppily, too, with the Cavs going on an 15-0 run to take a 12-point lead, before Hunter finally stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer to make the score 67-58.

A nice finish by Reddish got the Hawks back within five, but they couldn’t gain much traction, entering the fourth quarter down 11. The third quarter was ugly, with the Hawks shooting 27.3% from the field and giving up 31 points.

The Hawks seemed to briefly settle down in the fourth quarter, with a jump shot by Hunter and layups by Young and Capela making the score 89-86, and Young making two free throws at the 1:16 mark to make the score 99-95. In the final minute Young had a turnover and Hunter and Reddish missed shots that could have brought the Hawks closer.

“We couldn’t get a shot to go and we made some bad plays,” Young said. “A lot of those fall on me. I’ve got to do better. I’ll be better... It was tough, they switched into that zone in the second half and kind of threw us by surprise, not that they hadn’t played it before, but that was just a long zone.”

Next up, the Hawks will return home to face the Pistons on Monday. Then, they’ll depart for a three-game trip to New Orleans, Washington and Philadelphia.

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