The Hawks Win or Go Home Tonight in Cleveland
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images
By KL Chouinard
To get to the Eastern Conference Playoffs, the Hawks have to win one in Cleveland.
The Hawks' 132-103 win over Charlotte advanced them to the final Play-In game from the Eastern Conference, while the Cavaliers fell to this spot after a loss in Brooklyn against the Nets, 115-108. The winner of this game will advance to play the Miami Heat in a first-round series that begins Sunday. The loser will be eliminated from playoff contention.
Kevin Huerter has thrived in his two previous win-or-go-home contests: Wednesday's win and Game 7 against Philadelphia from last year's playoffs. He said that the one-and-done format didn't feel all that different from what every playoff game is like.
"You prepare each game differently," Huerter said. "That's what we're doing with this. It's a quick turnaround. We're going to a new team right away. There's a lot of scouting. In a lot of ways, our coaches had to put in a lot of time. Today, we had a long film session. They presented a lot of film that they watched."
The Hawks have to gameplan for a significantly different matchup against a team led by guard Darius Garland and rookie forward-center Evan Mobley. Unlike Charlotte, who posed unusual issues with small-ball lineups and multiple ballhandlers, Cleveland puts large lineups around Garland, who made his first All-Star Game this season while averaging 21.8 points and 8.7 assists per game.
Head coach Nate McMillan wants the Hawks to be quick against that size.
"We have to be the aggressors. We have to be the team that is faster, quicker out there against a big team. We've got to be quicker to loose balls. We have to be quicker when rebounding."
Both the Hawks and the Cavaliers have injury issues to a key frontcourt player. Cavaliers' All-Star center Jarrett Allen hasn't played since March 6 when he fractured the third finger on his left hand, but he is close to returning. The Cavaliers have listed him as questionable to play. The Hawks will be without John Collins (right ring finger sprain/right foot strain) who is officially listed as out for Friday's game, but head coach Nate McMillan said that Collins did play in a 4-on-4 scrimmage Thursday as he progresses back to action.
The game should feature an interesting contrast of styles as the Hawks finished the regular season with the NBA's 2nd-best offense (115.4 points scored per 100 possessions) and the Cavaliers assembled the 5th-best defense (108.9 points allowed per 100 possessions).
One factor played into the Hawks' favor as they went 3-1 record against Cleveland this season: they committed very few turnovers. The Hawks led the NBA by turning the ball over just 11.9 times per game this season, and they were even stingier against the Cavaliers with an average of just 7.5 turnovers per game. They will need the same care in this one.
Huerter said that the Hawks have matured in that area of late.
"Those were some struggles we had the first couple of years that I was here: turning the ball over a lot, playing really fast trying to get out in transition. It was something we were aware of coming into the year. For as good as we can be offensively, we can't turn the ball over. We have got to be able to take care of the ball and make smart plays. I think a lot of that starts with Trae trusting guys and getting off the ball. He was getting trapped and he was able to get off the ball and find people, and we made shots on the back side for him.
Bogdan Bogdanovic said that the Hawks need to forget Wednesday's win, but also take the same intensity with them on the road,
"It's going to be a different game," Bogdanovic said. "We have to forget about what happened last night. We didn't accomplish anything yet. We have got to go with the same mindset. We have to start physical. It's only one game, and we are all ready for that. We were built for this moment."