So much for that imminent showdown between the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers. But it’s not only Kevin Love’s injury and J.R. Smith’s suspension that could keep everyone’s Eastern Conference favorites from meeting next month. Shockingly and suddenly, Atlanta is in an even more precarious position than their counterparts from Northeast Ohio.
Led by a throwback performance from Deron Williams, the eight-seeded Brooklyn Nets evened their first round series against the one-seeded Hawks at 2-2 with a 120-115 overtime victory at Barclays Center. Just as troubling for Mike Budenholzer’s team as the loss itself? The way with which it transpired.
Plagued by a vexing inability to connect on makable attempts in Games 2 and 3 versus Brooklyn, the Hawks knocked them down on Monday night – for the most part. They shot 48.4 percent from the field and 13-of-33 (39.4 percent) from beyond the arc en route to 27 assists. Atlanta seemed like its regular season self offensively for a large portion of Game 4, but couldn’t quite live up to that billing when it mattered most late in the extra session: Kyle Korver missed three consecutive triples with his team down three and under a minute left on overtime’s clock.
What’s hurting the Hawks most right now, though, is its performance on the other end. The Nets had just nine turnovers and drilled 14 of their 31 three-point tries in Game 4 – only one fewer long-range bomb than they’d made in the series’ previous two contests.
And it was Williams who played hero, harkening back to his early days as a superstar with the Utah Jazz and face of his current team’s move to Brooklyn. In addition to scoring a postseason career-high 35 points, the 29 year-old dished seven assists and swiped three steals. It was his deep shooting that helped prove the Hawks’ undoing more than anything else, though, and none of his treys were bigger than this one as the Nets trailed by two with approximately two minutes remaining in regulation.
But Williams didn’t even take a shot in overtime. Brooklyn spread the wealth late, as Thaddeus Young, Joe Johnson, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Brook Lopez took advantage of Atlanta’s shaky defense for baskets in the game’s additional five minutes.
With the series tied at 2-2 and headed back Phillips Arena, is there any reason other than home court to believe the Hawks should be favorites in the coming best-of-three? They supplied little reason for optimism while taking a 2-0 lead over the Nets, and almost none whatsoever once the matchup moved to New York.
Make no mistake – Atlanta is still more likely to advance from this confounding first-round tilt than Brooklyn. But long-term, the team’s struggles lend credence to the doubts of so many who pointed to its supposed lack of postseason experience as justification for potential struggles.
The Hawks just aren’t the same team that we saw for the first few months of the regular season. And unfortunately for Budenholzer and company, it turns out Williams and the Nets just might be good enough to take full advantage.
Game 5 is Wednesday.