CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland Cavaliers’ season is over. Trae Young finished it.
Despite getting a quick start, leading most of the game and leading by 14 points, the Cavaliers lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the final play-in game Friday night, 107-101. The Hawks will be the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed to face Miami in the opening round of the playoffs, which begin on Sunday.
The Cavs wonder what could have been.
It once looked like this was going to be Cleveland’s dream season – the first playoff appearance without LeBron James since 1998. Just about two months ago, the Cavs were close to the top of the conference, talking about high expectations. But the Cavs could not finish.
Not this season. Not Friday night. Go into the draft lottery again (Cavs will retain their first-round pick, who appeared to be heading to Indiana as part of the Caris LeVert deadline agreement).
Ahead of Friday’s game, the Cleveland coaches showed the players an important statistic. The team in the play-in tournament that has won the first quarter was 8-2. It’s now 8-3.
In the full 180 from Tuesday’s loss to Brooklyn, the Cavs broke out early. Due to Jarrett Allen’s brave return from a broken middle finger on his left hand, Cleveland led by nine points in the first four minutes. That lead rose rapidly to 14. The Cavs were ahead by 11 at the end of the quarter. At the end of the first half, the lead was 10.
Twenty-four minutes from a spot in the playoffs. All they had to do was get close. Instead, it was the 18th loss this season as it led by 10 or more points. In the biggest game, the most worrying problem reappeared.
Held in chess in the first half and scoring just six points, Young exploded to 16 in the third quarter. He scored Atlanta’s last 12, pulling the Hawks even at 84 on their way into the fourth, where they won the deciding quarter, 23-17. Cleveland’s offense lost its flow and appeared to crumble under the weight of the playoff-like pressure in the fourth quarter.
“I think more than anything else that our attack slowed down,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said after the loss. “We did not move that much. There was a lot of isolation and stagnation, and that allowed them to get started. It’s something we want to go back and study it and make sure we keep finding ways to stay. better over the summer. “
Young finished with 38 points, 32 in the second half. He made 10 of his last 14 shots. Each time the Cavs tried to rise back in the fourth quarter, Young responded, teasing 3s at long range, knocking several defenders out of the dribbling, knocking down runners or flipping in layups.
“He hit some shots from the jumping circle,” Bickerstaff said.
Bogdan Bogdanovic chipped in with 19 points from the bench. Danilo Gallinari added 14. Kevin Huerter counted 13.
Atlanta, who advanced to the conference finals last season and used that experience to his advantage, played the entire second half without starting center Clint Capela. The active big man hyper-stretched his right knee late in the second quarter and finished with seven points and eight rebounds.
The Cavs were led by Lauri Markkanen. The sniper brought in 26 points and went 6-of-12 from the 3-point range. All-Star point guard Darius Garland, pursued by the Hawks’ defense throughout, finished with 21 points and nine assists, but also shot only 9-of-27 and made five turnovers.
“He meant so much to us, he grew so much, he separated from the herd, and he must continue. This one moment, it does not define him,” Bickerstaff said of Garland. “What I know this moment will do , is to motivate him. I know what his work ethic is and I know what he will look like over the summer and he will come back even better next year. “
Wunderkind Evan Mobley, the potential Rookie of the Year, completed his brilliant maiden voyage and scored 18 points left with eight rebounds and five assists.
Allen, who missed 19 games in a row with the finger injury, played 36 minutes, scoring 11 points and making all four of his shot attempts.
“I think we’re still dealing with it, ”Allen said. “A lot of the guys in the locker room are just still sitting in the chairs and we’re still like hell, it’s really over. And then two seconds later and it’s like we’re laughing because we had a hell of a year. A lot has happened this year positive, negative, but we look at all the times we played well and we got along. And it was all positive. “
After winning just 22 games last season and 19 each the previous two, the Cavs were expected to be a doormat again. But a mix of talent and chemistry allowed them to transform into one of the league’s big surprises. They finished with a winning record. They increased their overall win by 22 games, the second biggest improvement in franchise history. They advanced to the play-in tournament and gained valuable know-how which was to help them take the next step.
While the future is bright, Friday still stings – in part because injuries robbed them of a chance to complete the turnaround.
“You’re thinking about all that,” Bickerstaff said. “You go all the way back to the beginning of it, lose Collin (Sexton), lose Ricky (Rubio). You think about what we are when we are whole and what position we are in. When you are in the season, are you just trying to figure out a way to get through it and get to the next game.When you have a moment, even if it’s watching movies of a team that you played earlier in the year, and you see that team, it’s , you think about it.
“But I want to give our guys so much credit, no matter what happened, no matter what was thrown at them, they figured out a way to go out and scrap and put themselves in the position that we were in tonight. We “I’ve talked about it before, but you need those moments of disappointment. All successful teams have at one time had a moment of disappointment that has driven individuals and teams to get better, and I expect that to be the moment.”
Shortly after the final buzzer, Young, who was crocheted in a vulgar way all night, slammed the ball off the floor. He then waved goodbye to the heady crowd on his way to the exits. So cold.
“I think he deserves the nickname for a reason – Ice Trae,” Allen said. “He went out there, hit some crazy shots. It looks like he hit eight 3s during the game, nine 3s. But I look at the statistics sheet, it’s only four. When he needed to hit “The shot at the moment, he did. He pulled from the logo down there and it’s hard to protect. He showed why he’s one of the best in the NBA.”
Young lived up to the clever name and put Cleveland’s playoff hopes on ice – until next season.
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