The Hawks wore their throwback uniforms Friday night, a decision that didn’t quite have the desired inspirational effect they had hoped for. They threw themselves back into an era when they didn’t belong anywhere near the Eastern Conference finals.
Looking anemic on offense and lifeless on defense — with the guttiest performance probably coming from a player (DeMarre Carroll) who probably should not have even been out there — the Hawks found themselves down by 20 points in the third quarter and went on to lose to Cleveland 94-82 Friday night, all but ensuring their impending playoff exit.
The Hawks are making their first appearance in the Eastern Conference finals. They’re still winless at this elevation.
They lost the first two games of this best-of-seven series at home and now must travel back to Cleveland, where the Cavaliers are certain to be heavy favorites in both games. The overwhelming belief now isn’t whether LeBron James will end up back in the finals in his first year back in Cleveland but whether the Hawks can win a road game and make at least one more appearance back at Philips Arena.
This is not the way the Hawks wanted to go out this season. Carroll’s remarkable return from a knee sprain in Game 1 to start Friday presented the possibility for an emotional lift. But the Hawks just weren’t that good. Carroll, playing a bum knee, struggled on defense, Kyle Korver (4 for 11) and Paul Millsap (2 for 8) continued their offensive woes and the team made only 6 of 26 (23 percent) three-point attempts.
The Cavaliers were seldom challenged — and they played without starting point guard Kyrie Irving (knee)
Health also will be an issue the rest of the series. Korver left the game in the third quarter with an ankle sprain and never returned. Carroll’s knee likely will continue to be problematic. Al Horford suffered a leg injury early in the fourth but later returned.
The Hawks have looked out of sync for much of the postseason, despite winning two rounds, and on Friday looked sap of energy. Question: Do they have anything left?
•Recent ramblings — MyAJC: Carroll’s clean MRI alone won’t fix Hawks’ problems — AJC: Carroll’s MRI negative, game status still uncertain — MyAJC: So many negatives won’t work in this round for Hawks — AJC: Game day: Hawks need Korver to find scoring touch — MyAJC: Is Hawks’ sum greater than one LeBron? — AJC: Odds say Cleveland, but when have odds ever said Hawks? — AJC: Hawks in conference finals — and so is Josh Smith — MyAJC: Mike Budenholzer’s leadership may continue to grow — MyAJC: Hawks finally reach East’s promised land — AJC: Short take: Pierce foiled, Teague finishes strong, Hawks move on — MyAJC: Hawks in East finals would make Atlanta top 10 — MyAJC: Hawks in one win from higher elevation — MyAJC: Hawks come through when it matters most — AJC: Short takes: Horford comes through, Teague bows out — MyAJC: Desperation shouldn’t be Hawks’ prime motivator — MyAJC: Brady, Patriots got what they deserved — AJC: Another lesson for Brady, Patriots: Don’t cheat, don’t lie — MyAJC: Jalen Collins determined to make Falcons’ pick look good — AJC: Wall’s injury shifts odds in Hawks’ favor for game, series — MyAJC: Braves’ McDowell trying to repair some damaged egos