Tony Dejak/Associated Press
The Cleveland Cavaliers thoroughly dominated the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, which prompted TNT analyst Charles Barkley to say Atlanta should “take somebody out” to change the tone of the playoff series, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com.
Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue took exception to that line of thinking.
Lue responded to Barkley’s comments, per McMenamin: “I don’t think there’s any place in our game to take someone out if they’re playing well. I think you can take it upon yourself to play harder and do things to stop it or stop a team from playing well. But when it gets into trying to hurt guys or trying to take guys out, that’s just not right.”
Former NBA player Charles Oakley also took to Twitter to respond to Barkley’s remarks:
Charles Barkley ,you better stop talking s*** about Cleveland you was never tough you hide behind TNT
— Charles Oakley (@CharlesOakley34) May 5, 2016
Wednesday’s game was never competitive after the Cavaliers jumped out to a 74-38 lead by halftime on the way to a 123-98 win and 2-0 series lead. While Barkley’s method of changing the momentum in the series did not sit well with Lue or Oakley, Atlanta needs to find a way to do something differently on the floor, or it will likely get swept again.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers handled the Hawks in four games in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
One thing the Hawks can do is play better perimeter defense. According to NBA.com/Stats, the Cavaliers set an NBA single-game record with 25 made three-pointers Wednesday:
.@cavs knocked down TWENTY-FIVE THREES, the most in ANY game – regular season or #NBAPlayoffs – in @NBAHistory! ??? pic.twitter.com/OcX43IFANa
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 5, 2016
Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com noted some of the Atlanta players “voiced their objection with the way the Cavaliers went about breaking the three-point record” after the game was in hand, including Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Kent Bazemore.
However, Haynes highlighted the fact that the Cavaliers shot 18 three-pointers in the second half after launching 27 in the first. They dialed the shooting back during the closing stretch and finished with only 11 more attempts from deep (45) than their average in the first five playoff games (34).
Lue pointed out that James and the rest of the team’s main pieces weren’t in the game in the fourth quarter anyway, per McMenamin.
“That’s something that the players felt like it was within their grasp, they wanted to go for it,” he said. “I mean, records are made to be broken, I don’t see anything wrong with it. We didn’t do anything malicious. We were up 40 points and we got our starters out with four minutes to go in the third quarter.”
Game 3 will take place Friday in Atlanta. The Hawks’ only realistic chance is to win the next two contests at home (behind improved perimeter defense) and make it a best-of-three series for the rest of the way. Even if they manage to split in Atlanta, they would have to win the final three games—against a team they are 0-6 against in the last two postseasons—to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Cleveland has a bigger goal than beating the Hawks and advancing in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
It lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games in last season’s NBA Finals and would likely consider the campaign to be a failure if it again falls short of the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. However, if the Cavaliers continue to shoot like they did in Game 2, they may find a way to knock off the Western Conference champion in the Finals—even if it is the 73-win Warriors.