Swept away – again.
The Hawks were eliminated from the NBA playoffs by the Cavaliers for a second straight season. They fell - as they have in all four games during the series - because of a barrage of Cavaliers’ 3-pointers.
The Cavaliers took the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, 4-0, with a 100-99 victory Sunday afternoon at Philips Arena. They made 16 3-pointers in the clincher and 77 in the four games.
“It’s unfortunate,” Paul Millsap said. “We wanted to beat this team so bad. It left a bad taste in our mouth last year. This year, we thought we had them figured out and they do something completely different than they did last year. That’s the frustrating part about it.”
The Hawks go into a summer with several key personnel questions to answer. Al Horford and Kent Bazemore are unrestricted free agents. Jeff Teague has a year remaining on his contract at a very attractive $8 million and may be a tradable commodity. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said “we love our group” following the game. Still this could be a very different team next season.
“I actually feel better with how we played in this series this year than we did last year,” Kyle Korver said. “I know our record wasn’t as good as it was last year. Except for Game 2, we feel like we had our chances in each game. Basically, we have to get better at end-of-game situations, getting baskets and rebounds. We love our team.”
The Cavaliers are now 7-0 when leading a series 3-0 – and three of those victories have come against the Hawks (2009, 2015 and 2016). They became the first team to sweep the first two rounds of the playoffs since the Spurs did it in 2012. Budenholzer was an assistant on that San Antonio team. The Hawks have lost 12 straight playoff and 11 straight overall games to the Cavaliers.
Kevin Love hit eight 3-pointers Sunday on his way to a game-high 27 points. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving each added 21 points for the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers had a player make at least seven 3-pointers in the final three games of the series.
For the series, the Cavaliers were 77 of 152 from outside the arc and 81 of 191 from inside it.
James found many of those 3-point shooters as he drove to the basket and kicked out to the open man on the wing. Love was the beneficiary Sunday. He was 8 of 15 from 3-point range and 1 of 10 from anywhere else on the court.
“I’ll just say they are playing at a high level,” Budenholzer said. “LeBron James is a very unique and special player. I think we tried to take away significant parts of their team and significant parts of their offense. Our players executed everything we asked of them, I would say at a very high level. At some point, Kevin Love may be an option that they have to get to and he has to make enough shots for four quarters, for four games.
“… It’s really on me at the end of the day. Our players did everything I asked them to do. Love ended up with some open shots. He had a heck of a game.”
The Hawks were led by Dennis Schroder with 21 points as he played down the stretch in place of Teague. Millsap finished with 19 points, 17 coming in the first half. Thabo Sefolosha, starting in place of Korver, had 16 points.
The Hawks, who led by as many as 12 points, lost their lead in the third quarter. They led by five points, 96-91, with 3:04 left. The Hawks came back and Schroder gave them a 97-96 lead on a layup with 1:31 left. James converted an in-close basket when Millsap was called for goaltending with 1:16 left.
“Personally, I thought it was a clean block,” Millsap said. “Still do. Still will. All summer I will think about it.”
On the Hawks’ ensuing possession, Schroder had a layup attempt blocked by Tristan Thompson. James answered the defensive stop with a jump shot, near the end of the shot clock, with 39.2 seconds left for a 100-97 lead.
Schroder scored on a layup with 34.4 seconds left to pull the Hawks to within the one-point final margin. After a James miss, Schroder raced down court with 12 seconds left. He appeared to be bumped by Thompson and eventually had the ball tied up with 2.8 seconds left. The Hawks could not get a shot off after a Millsap steal on the jump ball between Schroder and James.
Game over. Season over.
“I just tried to be aggressive and get something out of it,” Schroder said. “I drove to the basket. They didn’t call it. We can’t take it back. We’ve got to live with that. I’ve got to make a better decision.”
The Hawks led by as many as 12 points in the first half and took a 58-56 lead into intermission. The Cavaliers made their first five 3-pointers of the game and were 10 of 16 from beyond the arc and 10 of 26 from inside it through the first two quarters.
“I felt like we went down swinging,” Bazemore said. “It was one of our better efforts of the four games. You have to give them credit. It seemed like they had an answer for everything we tried to throw at them. LeBron did a tremendous job of getting his guys shots. Love was on fire tonight. He did exactly what we dared him to do.”
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