The Cavaliers’ play in the second half has brought plenty of reasonable questions and anxious hand-wringing over the state of the team. Their defense was trash! They briefly lost their spot atop the Eastern Conference! They were literally just screaming at one another! But with a decisive win over the Celtics earlier this week, it seemed as if they might have finally found the extra gear needed to get back to where they wanted to be.
Then came last night. The Cavs sent out LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love while the visiting Hawks rested every one of their key starters—and Cleveland lost all the same. Unable to protect a nine-point lead halfway through the third quarter, they fell apart so badly in the fourth that they found themselves down by 20 points at one point and ultimately lost by 14. Coach Tyronn Lue called it “just stupid,” and it was.
LeBron was LeBron as per usual—27 points, eight rebounds, seven assists—but there wasn’t much support to be found. Particularly in the fourth quarter, when Tim Hardaway scored 15 of his 22 points to solidify the Hawks’ win, the defense just looked dull and listless.
With three games left to play, the Cavs have a one-game lead over the Celtics for the No. 1 seed in the conference. Whether they can hold onto that largely depends on whether last night was simply a brief dip in a return to dominance or just proof of the fact they’re still sputtering.