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Final Score: Cavs falter, fall to shorthanded Hawks 114-100

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Despite being down their entire starting lineup, the Atlanta Hawks shocked the reigning NBA champs in Cleveland.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were defeated by the depleted Atlanta Hawks by a score of 114-100.

The Hawks, coming into this game as the 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and with no room for error (just two games separates five teams [Hawks, Bucks, Bulls, Pacers, Heat] vying for the bottom four seeds in the East), played this game without All-Star forward Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, and Thabo Sefolosha.

Despite missing their entire starting lineup on the road against the defending champs, the Hawks played admirably and won a game they had no business staying close in.

The Cavs were once again without Tristan Thompson, who remains out with a partially torn ligament in his thumb. Ty Lue updated his status before the game by saying there was no update at this time, but they will evaluate him over the weekend and remain hopeful he will be able to play again before the playoffs begin.

The Cavs seemed lackadaisical and passive from the outset, as they consistently settled for outside jumpers, with limited success (6-23 from three in the first half), while allowing the Hawks to find their rhythm on offense. The Cavs trailed the Hawks by as many as 11 points in the second quarter before closing the gap to two by halftime.

The Hawks continued to show resilience and refused to allow the Cavs to impose their will on them in the second half, even as the Cavs noticeably increased their effort level out of the locker room. The defense and intensity on both ends was lacking for the Cavs throughout the game.

Hopefully tonight was an aberration rather than a continuation of a disturbing trend, as the Cavs are a paltry 12-12 since the All-Star Break while sporting the second worst defense in the league in that span.

The game was relatively close until the fourth quarter, where the Hawks outscored the Cavs 31-22 to end the game. The Hawks outscored the Cavs 62-50 in the second half and finished the game with 39 assists on 45 made field goals.

It’s tough to take too much away from this particular game from a Cavs perspective, but it definitely raises concerns that a fully-healthy Cavs team struggled so mightily with a Hawks team playing without their entire starting lineup.

The Cavs have had constant bouts with inconsistency over the past few weeks and seemed to be back on the right track before tonight. Just when it seemed like the Cavs were turning the corner after an emphatic win on the road against the Boston Celtics, the Cavs are now left again with more questions than answers.

However, with all that being said, the Cavs have shown a proclivity to play down to their competition in the regular season, and with the playoffs about a week away, there’s a good or better chance they were just bored tonight. They could have won this game if they really wanted to, but they didn’t because they didn’t need to, and the Hawks did. I wouldn’t overthink this loss too much. This team is looking ahead to the postseason, which begins next Saturday, April 15.

With this loss, the magic number for the Cavs to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference remains at two games. With three games remaining, Cavs head coach Ty Lue indicated before the game that he would like to rest Kyrie and LeBron down the stretch if/when the Cavs are able to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Lue also mentioned he would likely continue playing Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, and J.R. Smith so they can build some extra rhythm and cohesiveness headed into the playoffs.

The Cavs next game will be against the Hawks (again) on Sunday with an early 3:30 p.m. tipoff in Atlanta.