The wounded were walking. That was the good news.Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Marvin Williams returned to the Hawks lineup for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series against Cleveland on Saturday at Philips Arena.
The walking were wounded. That was the bad news.
The Cavaliers' 97-82 victory over the Hawks gave Cleveland a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series. The end could come as soon as Monday with Game 4.
Johnson left Game 2 after spraining his right ankle with 1:08 left in the third quarter. Horford (sprained right ankle) and Williams (sprained right wrist) watched that game in street clothes. An hour before tipoff for Game 3, Hawks coach Mike Woodson was still uncertain of the status of the three, calling all of them "game-time decisions."
Johnson and Horford started, and Williams came off the bench.
"It would be nice to have healthy bodies, but that's not the case," Woodson said before Game 3. "We haven't been able to play with a full deck. Now we are backed in a corner to see what we are really made of, not being real healthy. I'm not using that as an excuse, and I don't want our guys to use that as an excuse. They have to come out and play."
"We are all hurting. It's just to what degree we are hurting," said Mo Evans, who started the game and spent much of the first half guarding Cavs star LeBron James. The three "are at the point now where they can't be themselves and be 100 percent, but everybody has injuries."
CAVALIERS 97, HAWKS 82: Too much LeBron James and not enough composure. That's the only way to sum up the Hawks' Game 3 loss to Cleveland Saturday night at Philips Arena.
For three quarters, it looked like the Hawks might actually make this a series. Then Zaza Pachulia went crazy, chasing after two game officials before being ejected in what was at the time a one-point game. And then James took control of the game, finishing with 47 points, one-point shy of his playoff career high, 12 rebounds and eight assists as the Cavaliers took a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
"There's no way you can tell me this team is 20 points better than we are," Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson said incredulously. "There's no way."
Actually, there is.
Saturday night's game marked the Cavaliers' NBA-record seventh straight double-digit playoff victory. They demolished Detroit in four games in the first round. And if the road mettle the Cavaliers showed Saturday was any indication, the Hawks could be in for the same fate.
For every run the Hawks made, the Cavaliers matched them, making it impossible for the Hawks to duplicate the home magic they used to push Boston to seven games in the first round last year.
James finished them off in the fourth quarter with 13 points and five rebounds, punctuating his mesmerizing night by assaulting every Hawks defender who came his way. He finished night with 12 rebounds and eight assists as well.
"LeBron played out of his mind," Josh Smith said. "And we're in a deep hole now with a really short rope. It's frustrating, because we know we can play better than this, but we keep plying in spurts."
The most glaring example was during that mercurial third-quarter run in which the Hawks erased a 12-point deficit in minutes to take a brief lead.
Flip Murray capped the storm with a fast-break layup, triggered by Smith's block of a James layup, with 4:18 to play in the quarter.
But the Cavaliers answered that run with a 10-2 run of their own to finish the quarter and snatch back the momentum and control of a game that looked as if it could go either way for a while, or at least until James made his move.
"There's just not a whole lot you can do with him," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said of James, who scored 25 points after halftime. "Everyone says to double him, but he hit about eight or nine shots where we couldn't even get double teams to him. They were way beyond the 3-point line."