CLEVELAND — Many of them rookies in big NBA games, the young Cavaliers took their bits to Brooklyn the other night and missed their first chance to qualify for the playoffs.
Fortunately, they have another chance.
The problem is that Trae Young too.
The Atlanta All-Star guard will be Cleveland’s defensive focal point tonight as the Cavs host the Hawks in a game-win or opener. The winner advances to face No. 1 seed Miami in the Eastern Conference first round.
Young averaged 32.5 points in four games — his best was 41 — against the Cavs this season, and Cleveland coach JB Bickerstaff was quick to bring it up when asked. asked about the challenges the Hawks present offensively.
“Obviously it starts with Trae Young,” he said. “What he does impacts everyone and his ability to one, make all the shots from all over the floor, two, to make all the plays with the ball in his hand, the passes and then that play of pick-and-roll they course.”
Young started slow but scored 24 points in Atlanta’s 132-103 loss to Charlotte on Wednesday night, a game the Cavs watched live and scouted together.
“They played well and they moved the ball well as a team” said Cavs guard Rajon Rondo. “Trae accepted the double teams that Charlotte threw at him at the start of the game. He won the ball extremely well, he shared the ball with his teammates and they made plays for each other.
The Cavs failed to handle Brooklyn’s two-headed monster Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving early in Tuesday night’s 115-108 loss, the first taste of playoff intensity and physicality for most Cleveland players.
The Nets led by 20 points after the first quarter, and although the Cavs fought back and were within six behind, the initial onslaught was too much to overcome.
There’s no experience as a teacher, and Bickerstaff thinks his team will grow from Game 1.
“We got tested and I feel like our guys did a really good job of responding,” he said. And when they’ve been in a certain situation, they don’t make the same mistake twice. They go out and they learn from it and they improve next time.
Atlanta has won three of four meetings this season with Cleveland, blasting the Cavs 131-107 in the last game on March 31. But the Cavs were shorthanded in every game and could recover All-Star center Jarrett Allen, who has been sidelined since March 6 with a broken finger.
The team officially listed Allen as questionable on the injury report, a positive step after missing the last 19 games.
Allen in the middle of the Cleveland defense would be another obstacle for Young, who is not only dangerous as a shooter, but also finding Clint Capela and the other big men in Atlanta on lobs at the rim.
With 134 games of playoff experience, Rondo gives the Cavs someone who has seen it all this time of year.
He was a sounding board for his teammates and coaches. Bickerstaff called it a basketball “learned” before Rondo had nine assists in a productive 26 minutes against the Nets.
Two-time champion Rondo, 36, struggled to describe his playoff metamorphosis.
“I can’t really put it into words,” he said. “I have a little more time to rest my body. I usually play a lot more minutes. Coaches usually allow me to do what I do best – manipulate the game and try to do what’s best for the team and stay on the same page with my teammates, while getting W’s.
hurt the hawks
Atlanta forward John Collins, who hasn’t played since March 11 with a sprained finger and foot, will not play with guard Lou Williams (back).
Additionally, guard Bogdan Bogdanovic is questionable with a sprained left ankle.
DR IS COMMITTED
Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter scored 22 points in the playoff win over the Hornets, including 16 in a third-quarter playoff that turned the game into a blowout.
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 draft, Hunter has battled health issues and struggled to become a consistent performer during his three-year NBA career. The Hawks are hoping his performance is a sign he’s ready to step into the playoffs.
“He was playing aggressive” said Young. “That’s what we need from Dre. He was making plays, heading for the basket and the way he was guarding frustrated Miles (Bridges). It was a great all-around game for Dre.
THE GREAT MAN
Cleveland’s advantage at the position — especially if Allen goes there — puts a lot of responsibility on Capela.
Outside of him, the Hawks really don’t have anyone who can match Cleveland’s front line, which can include three 7-footers at a time.
“They pose a challenge because of their size,” McMillan said. “They do a good job of leveraging their size with their ability to pound you in the paint. They have a lot of length.
Capela had a big game against Charlotte with 15 points and 17 rebounds, but the Hornets went with a small roster for most of the game. That won’t be the case against the Cavaliers, but the Hawks have faith in their man in the middle.
“He was everywhere” says Danilo Gallinari. “We know he can do it every night. He is behind us and can dominate the painting.