Thanks to a huge fourth-quarter rally, the Cleveland Cavaliers are one win away from their second consecutive appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals after a 121-108 victory against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday.
Cleveland appeared to be in danger of losing its first playoff game this year as Atlanta's hot shooting helped it build a 91-85 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers finally came alive on both ends of the court to outscore the Hawks 36-17 in the final frame and steal a road win.
Offense wasn't a problem for the Cavaliers, as their least prolific quarter in the game was a 24-point effort in the second period. Channing Frye had a game-high 27 points, including several big shots in the second half. LeBron James wasn't his usual self on the offensive end early, going just 5-of-12 through three quarters, but he finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.
After setting a single-game NBA record with 25 made three-pointers in Game 2, the Cavaliers had to settle for 21 on Friday, prompting Fake SportsCenter to throw down a challenge:
Fake SportsCenter @FakeSportsCentr
The Cavs can't stop draining 3s...your move Golden State.2016-5-7 01:32:27
Even though Cleveland was unable to set another single-game record, Tommy Beer of Basketball Insiders pointed out their two-game stretch is unprecedented:
Tommy Beer @TommyBeer
The #Cavs are the first team in NBA history (playoffs or regular season) to hit more than 20 three-pointers in back-to-back games.2016-5-7 01:31:27
Kevin Love, who had the hot hand early with 13 points in the first quarter, sat out for most of the third quarter in foul trouble.
Yet the Hawks didn't pull away, which left the Cavs one hot stretch away from taking control.
Surely enough, the fourth-quarter run came. Kyrie Irving heated up and Frye looked like the difference-maker Cleveland was hoping for when it acquired him at the trade deadline.
ESPN's Freddie Coleman noted the Hawks are likely going to be frustrated over how the game played out:
Freddie Coleman @ColemanESPN
Channing Frye with 24 in 24 minutes?? The Hawks have played so well...and it might get them a 3-0 hole...2016-5-7 01:18:30
Those were Frye's stats halfway through the fourth quarter, so he had plenty of time to add to them. Hayden Grove of the Associated Press posed a question about Cavaliers general manager David Griffin:
Hayden Grove @H_Grove
Does Griffin win GM of the Year for Frye trade?2016-5-7 01:26:35
While it was a facetious question, Frye does have the potential to do this more often because he fits in nicely with head coach Tyronn Lue's offense as a high-percentage three-point shooter.
The Hawks have been fighting an uphill battle against the Cavaliers throughout the series, but Friday's result has to be particularly frustrating because of how well they played for a good stretch of the game.
Kyle Korver provided a spark for the Hawks off the bench, as head coach Mike Budenholzer opted to start Thabo Sefolosha to help provide defense after Cleveland's three-point barrage in Game 2.
Upon entering the game, Korver reminded everyone why he's one of the best shooters in the NBA. He propelled Atlanta's 23-7 run to close the first half and finished with 13 points in 16 minutes before intermission.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, Korver was more successful in the first half of Game 3 than in the previous two games combined:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Kyle Korver already has more points (13) off the bench tonight than he had as a starter in Games 1 & 2 combined (10)2016-5-7 00:14:05
Atlanta's bench success didn't stop with Korver, as Kris Humphries reminded the world he's still a capable NBA player by showing Love some of his slick moves on the court:
Humphries' crossover prompted the Nylon Calculus' Seth Partnow to give Love some advice from followers of the Drowned God on Game of Thrones:
Anchorage Man @SethPartnow
Since Humphries already killed him, what is dead may never die.2016-5-7 00:38:22
The last two games have been successful for Humphries, who had 12 points and nine rebounds in just 15 minutes Wednesday. He hasn't played much this season, but the 31-year-old is making his time count against Cleveland.
Al Horford was unstoppable, scoring 24 points after scoring a total of 20 in the first two games.
Not to keep picking on Love, who is not known for his tenacious defense, but Horford also abused him on a dunk early in the third quarter:
Let's give Love some credit on this play, as he was at least trying to draw a charge. It just came at the expense of his dignity.
ESPN.com's Zach Lowe summed up Horford's emotions after two frustrating games in Cleveland:
Zach Lowe @ZachLowe_NBA
Al Horford is mad tonight.2016-5-7 00:38:01
Cleveland's defense, which limited the Hawks to 95.5 points per game at home, struggled on the road, per Cavs radio announcer Fred McLeod:
Fred McLeod @CavsFredMcLeod
That's the most points Cavs have allowed in first half of a playoff game (63) since 2006..2016-5-7 00:26:54
The Cavaliers' inability to stop Atlanta's shooting was a problem for three quarters, though the Hawks didn't make a move until late in the second quarter and couldn't sustain it in crunch time. Cleveland allowed 28-plus points in each of the first three quarters before turning it up over the last 12 minutes.
The Cavaliers have changed their style of play in the playoffs. They are moving quicker and hitting almost everything from three-point range while looking like an Eastern Conference version of Golden State.
The Hawks aren't at the level of the Warriors or Spurs, so it's not time to proclaim the Cavaliers as the team to beat. But given where they are right now, it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see them hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June.
Lue talked about his team's pace and how the Cavaliers were able to create 26 assists on their 42 field goals made, via NBA TV:
NBA TV @NBATV
.@Cavs coach Tyronn Lue praises their ball movement in the Game 3 win. https://t.co/zhjRpTMQNx2016-5-7 02:02:39
Frye, who got to play hero for one day, earned praise from James. Cleveland's superstar said of the veteran forward's big night, "this is why we got him," per ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk.
Continuing to dish out compliments like he does assists, per the Cavaliers' official Twitter, James said Frye and Irving "brought it home for us" in the fourth quarter to secure the win.
Frye had one of the most astute quotes about his ability to at least get shots off against the Hawks, per Scott Raab of WFNY:
Scott @ WFNY @WFNYScott
"I'm seven foot. They're not gonna block it." — Channing Frye2016-5-7 02:31:09
Budenholzer, clearly dejected at how things played out in Game 3, almost seemed to be thinking out loud after the loss, per James Herbert of CBS Sports:
James Herbert @outsidethenba
mike budenholzer on basketball: “it’s an interesting sport.”2016-5-7 02:09:41
Horford admitted the Cavs are "unstoppable" when they shoot like they have in this series, via NBA TV:
NBA TV @NBATV
"They just took it to another level in the fourth." - @Al_Horford on @Cavs https://t.co/rUxMxW0uZp2016-5-7 02:16:59
Crunch time is when teams are going to make their money, especially in the playoffs. The Cavaliers have outscored the Hawks 83-68 in the fourth quarter so far this series, but even that number is skewed because Cleveland basically took the final 12 minutes of Game 2 off because they built a 36-point edge in the first three quarters.
The Hawks have to figure out a way to win the fourth quarter if they want to have any hopes of salvaging a game or two in this series.