The Atlanta Hawks are in a virtual “must-win” situation as the they host the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. While the series will be far from over if the No.1 seed loses on Friday night, heading to Cleveland with a 0-2 series deficit could spell the beginning of the end of Atlanta’s quest to reach the 2015 NBA Finals.
Cleveland led for almost the entire second half in Game 1, getting the 97-89 victory. LeBron James had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but J.R. Smith might have played the biggest role for the Cavs, making eight of 12 three-pointers and scoring 28 points.
If the Hawks allow Smith to get going in Game 2, it will be difficult for them to tie up the series. A successful game for the shooting guard usually means a win for Cleveland, since the team has gone 15-1 in the last 16 games in which he’s scored double-digits. In seven of the Cavs’ last 10 losses, Smith has scored in double-digits just three times.
The Cavs have needed Smith to step up as the second scoring option with Love out for the playoffs and Kyrie Irving still battling injuries. The point guard played nine fewer minutes than Smith in the series opener, scoring just 10 points. He averaged 21.7 points per game in the regular season, which earned him a spot on the All-NBA Third Team.
But Cleveland isn’t the only team that’s dealing with injuries. While Irving will play on Friday, the jury is still out on DeMarre Carroll. Carroll has been Atlanta’s leading scorer in the postseason, but he left Game 1 with a hyper-extended left knee and he could miss Game 2.
Hawks are officially calling Carroll a game-time decision but their words make it sound like this isn't gonna happen
â€” Joe Vardon (@joevardon) May 22, 2015
Carroll has been tasked with guarding James this series, but that job could fall on someone else’s shoulders on Friday. Paul Millsap guarded James when Carroll left Wednesday’s contest, and the four-time MVP didn’t find it easy to score.
With Millsap on James, the Cavaliers ran isolation plays for the All-Star, which helped get the Hawks back in the game. According to ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh, James had 18 ISOs in Game 1, which is a playoff high this year.
“In the fourth quarter, I played way too much isolation basketball, one-on-one basketball [with] a lot of the defenses set, and I was letting the clock run down way too much.” James said after Game 1. “I just had to take the shot or I was giving it to my guys late in the shot clock, and they couldn’t do nothing with it besides shoot it or turn the ball over.”
The Hawks were underdogs shortly after Game 1, but they are back to being favorites for Game 2 at Las Vegas sports books. Cleveland is the overwhelming favorite to win the series.
Start Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: TNT
Online Stream: TNT Overtime
Point Spread: Hawks by 2.5 points
Over/Under: 196 points
Prediction: Atlanta over Cleveland, 97-89