The first game took place on November 16th in Cleveland. It was a night the Hawks and their fans would like to forget. The Cavs hit their first 11 threes of the game and had a comfortable 28 point lead at half. The Hawks never were able to recover and were blown out 127-94. It was an embarrassing night for the Hawks, but it was only the 9th game of the season and the Hawks were far from hitting on all cylinders. The game might have been the best game the Cavs have played all season. It showed everyone what they can do when they are playing at the top of their game. There are very few teams that can match the Cavs talent, however, there are many teams that can out execute the Cavs. The Hawks will have to do the latter if they want to win this series.
The second game of the season series took place on December 18th in Cleveland. The Hawks were definitely starting to click as the season was kicking into gear. The win was the Hawks 11th out of their last 12 games. The 127-98 victory for the Hawks featured an unlikely hero. Playing without Jeff Teague, Shelvin Mack received increased minutes and made the most of them. Mack scored 24 points off the bench, and was 6 for 6 from behind the arc. The loss was the largest of the season for the Cavs, and their Head Coach David Blatt called it “embarrassing”. This game was almost a complete contrast of the first game between these two teams. The Hawks got on a roll and were able to run the Cavs out of their own home building. Both of these games showed what they can do when they are playing at their best, but what happens when both of these teams are playing well. Who has the edge?
The third game of the series took place on New Year’s Eve. The game would not feature each of the team’s best players. The Hawks were without starting center Al Horford due to illness and the Cavs were without Lebron James due to numerous lingering injuries. The Hawks were able to take advantage of their home floor and Lebron James’ absence on their way to 109-101 victory. It was the second win of the Hawks legendary 19 game win streak. Kyrie Irving dropped 35 points in the losing effort. This was the first competitive game of the regular season series. Unfortunately, it is hard to take too much from it when both teams are missing their most important pieces.
The final game of the series took place in Atlanta on Dominique Wilkins night. The Hall of Famer was honored by the Hawks and his statue was unveiled in front of Phillips Arena. The Hawks also honored him with a 106-97 victory and this game was the most telling of all. The Hawks employed a new strategy to send multiple defenders at Lebron James nearly every time he touched the ball. The strategy worked to perfection, as he only got off 13 shots and turned the ball over 9 times. Budenholzer is a coaching wizard and I expect him to throw numerous different looks at Lebron over the series. Look for the Hawks to employ the same type of aggressive defensive strategy in the playoffs and win this series.