The Atlanta Hawks were the top seed heading into their series versus the Cleveland Cavaliers but it did not seem like it. The Hawks had struggled to win series against the Washington Wizards and the Brooklyn Nets before facing the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs, on the other hand, had an easy matchup versus the Boston Celtics and got a little push from the Chicago Bulls. And even without the services of Love since the first series, it seems like the Cavs have taken it to another level and have blown through the playoffs. Some expected a good battle between both teams. After all, Atlanta was nicknamed “Spurs East” due to their ball movement and their head coach, Mike Budenholzer, who was a longtime assistant in the Spurs organization. But there were others that looked at this team and were waiting on the Cavs to taken them apart like they did to the Celtics and Bulls. Well, at this point we are still waiting on any semblance of a series to show up. The Cavaliers have handled the Hawks pretty easily through the first three games on their way to a 3-0 series lead. It’s hard to believe that the #1 seed in the East could be getting swept so late in the postseason and so soundly. But there are three big reasons why this is happening to them and why Tuesday will more than likely be their last game in the playoffs.
Like was mentioned before, the Hawks are a team that moves the basketball a lot. The constant cutting, movement and passing has led to the Hawks being able to find high-percentage shots created by all the action going on offensively. And as a result, the Hawks averaged 102.5 points per game and were a difficult matchup for teams due to their multitude of players that can step away from the basket and shoot a three pointer. But in the playoffs, it seems as if the movement has gotten worse and worse. They had some ball movement versus the Nets and the Wizards, but it seems as if that motion has come to a halt. Part of that is the defense of Cleveland, which has been the best in the postseason. But the Atlanta Hawks have to take most of the blame in this one. They have become a stagnant offense in the playoffs and it seems like Budenholzer cannot get them out of their tailspin. Instead of the ball movement that was attributed to their offense, the Hawks have now become a more isolation-oriented offense. And with that type of style, the Hawks will never win, as evidence by this series. The best thing for them to do would be to stop looking at the matchups and where they may have the size advantage. By doing that, maybe it will bring some of the focus back to what made the Hawks so dangerous this season. Of course it will be a little bit harder for them to attempt to dig out of this hole, but it is something that would not be deemed impossible either.
Another thing that has helped them into their 3-0 is their lack of rebounding. The Hawks have not been considered a team that has been great rebounding this season. In fact, they were ranked in the bottom half of rebounding this season (ranked 28th in the NBA). Atlanta was successful in the regular season despite the lack of rebounding on both ends of the court. But as the postseason has gone on, they have definitely been exposed in the paint. They came into this series versus Cleveland ranked as the 11th worst rebounding team out of 16 teams. A successful playoff team should never be that low and when they are, they should know that it will catch up to them. Well it took a while, but the Cavaliers have been punishing the Hawks on the boards this series. As it stands before Game 4, the Hawks are a have been beat on the boards every game and are an astonishing -41 on the boards for the series. Tristian Thompson, LeBron James and Timofey Mozgov have been tearing it up on the boards while the Hawks have been missing shots and missing blockouts on the offensive end as well. As a result, the Cavaliers seem to get more shots each game and they also seem to be the tougher team. The Hawks never adjusted to the physicality of the Cavaliers and it is evident not only in the rebounding, but the games.
But the biggest reason the Hawks are down is they have no superstar or star guy that takes over when times get tough. Taking a look at the teams left in the playoffs, they all have a guy they can go to when the offense gets tough and stagnant. Steph Curry (Golden State), James Harden (Houston) and LeBron James (Cleveland) have been coming through for their respective teams and carrying them when it is evident their teams need someone to step up. All three of these guys make plays and can elevate the roles players around them to new levels of productivity. For the Hawks, they have some good players, but not one that can make other teams pay no matter what they do. It is commendable they have made it this far without one, but for the future, Atlanta will need that one guy to take over and make their offense go. Al Horford is a good post player, but he is not taking over when the going gets tough for them. All the Hawks have to do is look at their opponent to see how much a star player can help in tough times. The Cavaliers have been playing without Kevin Love since the Chicago Bulls series and have been missing Kyrie Irving the last two games. But despite those absences, the team still wins and it is all because of the LeBron James setting the table. He has not only scored when they needed it, but he has also made players like Matthew Dellavedova and veteran James Jones effective on the offensive end by setting the table for them. Having that star takeover has gotten them through the absences and the tough times and that is something a team trying to win a title needs. And unfortunately for Atlanta, they do not have that guy.
As it stands, it looks like the Hawks great season is going to go by the wayside in embarrassing fashion. They more than likely will lose the fourth game in this series and be going on vacation earlier than they though. But most of it is in their own doing. Sure, there have been some questionable calls and there may be some plays that bothered the Hawks and made tempers rise, but the Hawks cannot blame any of those on the execution of their offense and lack of rebounding. The star power search is up to the front office of their team. And even though there is one candidate in Jeff Teague that could be a star for them, he unfortunately has not reached the level they want him to just yet. The season has been a whirlwind for the Hawks, but the time has come for them to head to the offseason and the Cavs are going to take them there with a broom in hand.