The odds are against the Hawks. In NBA history, only 18 teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. Of course, one of those teams was the Cavaliers, who recovered from the early hole to defeat the Warriors in last year’s NBA Finals.
The Hawks faced an uphill climb after they dropped a 114-107 decision in Game 1 on Sunday. Since 1984, teams that take the opener of a seven-game series win the series 80.7 percent of the time. The odds increase to nearly 95 percent for those winners of the first two games.
The Hawks are home now, but in the big picture they will have to win four of the next five games. That’s against a Wizards team that has won the past five games versus the Hawks, including regular season and playoffs.
The Hawks had chances in the first two games. It is there they find a glimmer of hope. They trailed Game 1 by five points with two minutes to play. They led Game 2 by three points with six minutes to play before the Wizards went on a 16-4 run.
“We had a chance in both games,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We gave ourselves a chance on the road in the playoffs. Nobody likes the result. Nobody feels any better but the fact that you are there and you have an opportunity, you have to keep building on it.
“You have to take what you do well and build on that and improve. Know that we did have a chance in both games. But credit to them. They found a way to win them both. Now we have to go home and do the same.”
If the Hawks are to defy history, they will have to stop the Wizards’ backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal. They tried in vain in the first two games.
Wall has been the Hawks’ nemesis. He scored game-highs of 32 points in each contest. He has 23 assists and has shot .477 from the field (21 of 44) and .667 from 3-point range (4 of 6).
Beal has combined to score 53 points, shooting .438 from the field (21 of 48) but not particularly well from 3-point range at .286 (6 of 21). He is a combined plus-35 for the series.
Both guards took over when needed. Wall scored 15 third-quarter points in Game 1 when the Wizards built a lead the Hawks could not completely overcome. Beal scored 16 fourth-quarter points in Game 2 as the Wizards rallied from a small deficit.
“He has played well,” Budenholzer said of Wall. “I think the free-throw line is the biggest thing. Can we keep him from shooting 15 free throws (as in Game 2)? Going into Game 3, maybe we will throw him some more looks. There are more things to do.”
The Hawks talked before the series of building a wall of players to combat Wall’s ability to get to the basket, should he beat the first line of defense. Presumably, center Dwight Howard would be the last line of defense. However, Howard did not play the final 15 minutes of Wednesday’s game, including the entire fourth quarter. Howard answered several postgame questions about the outcome and his playing time by saying simply, “I don’t know.”
Budenholzer said it was a “gut feel” to leave Howard on the bench down the stretch as he tried to counter the Wizards small lineup which was necessitated by foul trouble.
The Hawks face a must-win in Game 3. No team in NBA history has ever won a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games.