The Cleveland Cavaliers took a commanding three games to zero lead over the Atlanta Hawks Friday night following a massive late-game comeback. The Cavaliers remain undefeated in this post season, improving to a seven and zero record following their sweep of the Detroit Pistons in round one.
Cleveland has now won 11 straight games against Atlanta in the playoffs as they seek their third straight sweep against the team, including the 2009 playoffs and last year’s Eastern Conference finals. This game marks Atlanta’s first attempt to bounce back at home against a scorching Cleveland team that has let up no ground to their opponents in these playoffs.
The Hawks have struggled to slow down Cleveland’s three ball after the team hit 15 in game one and set an all-time NBA record with 25 3-point makes in game two of the series. Additionally, Atlanta’s starters have not managed to find a flow through the series, struggling greatly to capitalize on their field goal attempts.
Game summary-runs and comebacks
Atlanta started game three with an adjusted lineup, moving Thabo Sefolosha into the game for Kyle Korver in an attempt to slow down LeBron James. The change benefitted the Hawks early as they jumped out to an early lead with strong defense and an increased pace. Kevin Love, however, halted Atlanta’s run, scoring the first 13 points for the Cavaliers. Love’s hot shooting contributed to Cleveland’s mid-quarter 17-5 run that propelled them ahead of the Hawks. Although Atlanta started the game strong, they ultimately trailed the Cavaliers at the end of the first quarter, 31-28. Cleveland has scored in the 30’s in all three first quarters of this series.
Cleveland’s steady lead did not last, as Atlanta persistently fought back behind Kyle Korver’s bench contribution. Korver ended the first half with 13 points off four 3-pointers, following three combined field goals in the first two games of the series. Jeff Teague added 12 points, and Al Horford dropped 15 in response to the previous struggles of Atlanta’s starters. Love, who started the game hot for Cleveland, was unable to score in the second quarter. The Hawks went into the half with a comfortable 63-55 lead.
Atlanta held a double-digit lead for a good portion of the third quarter. Cleveland was unable to make traction with the Hawks’ lead in the third, as Korver and Horford continued to perform strongly. The Cavaliers were not done as they regained the advantage off the 3-point shot behind strong showings to start the fourth quarter from Kyrie Irving and Channing Frye. Quick scoring from the duo, who combined for 11 of Cleveland’s 21 3-pointers in the game allowed Cleveland to jump back into the lead.
James returned to the court, ultimately allowing Cleveland to secure the comeback victory over a demoralized Hawks team. James and Irving ended the game with 24 points, and Frye led the team with 27 off the bench. Atlanta’s stars put on a strong showing, as Horford led the team with 24, Teague added 19, and Korver responded with 18, but they were unable to gain momentum over the Cavaliers, who seem to have taken all steam out of the struggling Hawks.
Cleveland is now averaging over 20 3-pointers a game in this series, and the Hawks have not been able to slow down the hot-shooting Cavaliers. No team has ever come back to win a series from a three game deficit in the playoffs, and Cleveland is sure to make that task difficult for Atlanta if they continue to shoot the ball at such a high percentage. Cleveland must consider making changes, however, after the Hawks made 16 threes in this game and held a large lead for a good portion of the game.
Game four will be played in Atlanta on Sunday.