CLEVELAND (AP) — Many of them rookies in the big NBA games, the young Cavaliers took their packs in Brooklyn the other night and missed their first shot at the playoffs.
Fortunately, they have another chance.
The problem is that Trae Young does it too.
Atlanta’s high-scoring All-Star guard will be THE defensive focal point for Cleveland on Friday night when the Cavs host the Hawks in a win-or-start vacation game. The winner advances to play No. 1 seed Miami in the first round of the Eastern Conference.
Young averaged 32.5 points in four games — his high was 41 — against the Cavs this season, and Cleveland coach JB Bickerstaff was quick to mention him when asked about the challenges the Hawks present on offense.
“Obviously it starts with Trae Young,” he said. “What he does impacts everyone else and his ability to one, to make all the shots from full court, two, to make all the plays with the ball in hand, the passes and then that pick-and-roll game. let them run.”
Young started slowly but scored 24 points in Atlanta’s 132-103 win over Charlotte on Wednesday night, a game the Cavs watched live and explored together.
“They played well and moved the ball well as a team,” Cavs guard Rajon Rondo said. “Trae accepted the double teams that Charlotte threw at him early in the game. He took the ball very well, he shared the ball with his teammates and they made plays for each other”.
The Cavs didn’t handle Brooklyn’s two-headed Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving monster early in Tuesday night’s 115-108 loss, the first playoff test of intensity and physicality for most Cleveland players.
The Nets were leading by 20 points after the first quarter, and although the Cavs fought back and were inside the final six, the early attack was too hard to beat.
There’s no experience like a teacher, and Bickerstaff believes his team will grow from Game 1.
“We’ve been tested and I feel like our guys have responded very well,” he said. And when they’ve been in a certain situation, they don’t make the same mistake twice. They go out there and learn from it and get better at the next outing.”
Atlanta has won three of four meeting with Cleveland this season, crushing the Cavs 131-107 in the most recent matchup on March 31. But the Cavs were shorthanded every game and were able to get All-Star center Jarrett Allen back, 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 he missed the last 19 games.
Allen in the middle of Cleveland’s defense would be another obstacle for Young, who is not only dangerous as a shooter, but also in finding Clint Capela and the other Atlanta bigs at the hoop.
With 134 games of postseason experience, Rondo gives the Cavs someone who has seen it all this time of year.
He has been a sounding board for teammates and coaches. Bickerstaff called him a basketball “wise man” before Rondo had nine assists in 26 productive minutes against the Nets.
Rondo, 36, a two-time champion, had a hard time describing his postseason metamorphosis.
“I really can’t put it into words,” he said. “I have a little more time to rest my body. I usually play many 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, as well as get wins.”
Atlanta forward John Collins, who hasn’t played since March 11 with a sprained finger and foot, will not play along with guard Lou Williams (back).
Also, shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic is questionable with a sprained left ankle.
DRE STEPS UP
Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter scored 22 points in the play-in win over the Hornets, with 16 during a third-quarter flurry that turned the game into a blowout.
Hunter, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 draft, has battled health issues and struggled to become a consistent player during his three-year NBA career. The Hawks hope his performance is a sign that he’s ready to step up in the postseason.
“I was playing aggressive,” Young said. “That’s what we need from Dre. He was making plays, getting to the basket, and the way he was defending made Miles (Bridges) frustrated. It was a great complete game for Dre.”
THE BIG MAN
Cleveland’s advantage in the post, especially if Allen leaves, puts a huge liability 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 once.
“They are challenging because of their size,” McMillan said. “They do a good job of leveraging their size with their ability to hit you in the paint. They are very long.”
Capela had a great game against Charlotte with 15 points and 17 rebounds, but the Hornets went with a small lineup for most of the game. That won’t be the case against the Cavaliers, but the Hawks trust their man in the middle.
“It was everywhere,” said Danilo Gallinari. “We know he can do that every night. He has our backs and can dominate the paint.”
AP sportswriter Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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