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Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks: game preview and how to watch

Postseason basketball is back in Cleveland.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Cavaliers' dream season is hanging in the balance as they take on the Hawks in a do-or-die game for the eighth seed and a chance to take on the Miami Heat.

Jarrett Allen is expected to be a game-time decision, but Shams Charania of the Athletic is reporting that Allen will “attempt to play.”

It’s difficult to overstate how important Allen is to this team. The Cavs are 9-18 this season without Allen and 35-21 with him. The Cavs are also 26-14 when all three of Allen, Evan Mobley and Darius Garland share the floor. They’re outscoring opponents by 8 points per 100 possessions when all three are on. Hopefully the trio will be able to share the floor for the first time since March 6.

HOW TO WATCH

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks

Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse – Cleveland, OH

When: 7:30 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN

Spread: Cavs +1

Opposing blog: Peachtree Hoops

Expected Cavs starting lineup: Darius Garland / Isaac Okoro / Lauri Markkanen / Evan Mobley / Jarrett Allen

Cavs injury report: Jarrett Allen (QUESTIONABLE - finger), Collin Sexton (OUT - knee), Dean Wade (OUT - knee)

Expected Hawks starting lineup: Trae Young / Kevin Huerter / De’Andre Hunter / Danilo Gallinari / Clint Capela

Hawks injury report: Bojan Bogdanovic (QUESTIONABLE - left ankle sprain), John Collins (OUT - finger), Lou Williams (OUT - lower back)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

How the Cavs handle the first quarter. The Cavs lost Tuesday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets in the first quarter. Cleveland was outscored 40-20 in the opening frame as the Nets came out shooting 17 for 24 (70.8%) from the floor while going four of six from deep.

The Hawks asserted their dominance in their opening frame against the Charlotte Hornets, winning the first 32-23. Strong opening quarters have carried the Hawks through their late season push. Since the beginning of March, the Hawks are outscoring opponents by 11.5 points per 100 possessions with a ridiculous 126.8 first quarter offensive rating. Furthermore, Atlanta’s first quarter road offensive rating is 129.6 in their last 12 games.

The Cavs looked like a deer in the headlights at the opening of Tuesday’s game. They played tentatively to start and weren’t able to stem the tide until Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo entered the game. The Cavs can’t afford a slow start against a team that can put up points as quickly and efficiently as the Hawks can.

The battle of the role players. Despite the scoring numbers from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs did a decent job of forcing the ball out of both of their hands. The duo combined for 31 shot attempts despite both playing over 40 minutes. The increased attention on Durant and Irving allowed the role players to get going. Nic Claxton, Bruce Brown and Andre Drummond had their way with the Cavs.

Conversely, the Cavs got very little offensive help from their role players. Cavaliers not named Garland, Mobley and Love combined to go 14-44 (31.8%) from the floor and 3-16 (18.8%) from deep. That isn’t going to cut it in a postseason game.

The Hawks were able to breeze past the Hornets due to the play of their supporting cast. Trae Young was limited to just eight of 24 (33.3%) shooting from the floor. However, he was able to set up teammates as he finished with 11 assists. Hawks outside of Trae Young shot an outstanding 15 for 25 (60%) from three.

Role players often struggle on the road. Those struggles are exacerbated in the postseason. Conversely, they can thrive at home. If the Cavs are going to pull out the win on Friday night, it will likely be due to strong outings from guys like Markkanen, LeVert, Okoro and Cedi Osman. They can’t afford to have that group go 9-33 (27.3%) from the floor like they did on Tuesday.

Darius Garland vs. Trae Young. Garland was excellent in his first postseason performance. He was able to get to his spots both driving to the basket and pulling up in the midrange or from three. He finished his postseason debut tied for a game high 34 points on 13 of 24 shooting with five assists.

Young wasn’t great in the win over Charlotte, but he has already made a name for himself in the postseason with his run through the first two rounds of the playoffs last season. Young has also had his way against the Cavs this year as he’s averaging 34 points and 9 assists with .461/.412/.895 shooting in their four meetings this season.

Young is one of the best offensive players in the league, but he may be one of the worst defenders. It’ll be interesting to see if the Cavs are able to take advantage of his lack of defense. LeVert found something in the second half against the Nets by attacking Irving off-the-dribble and forcing the defense to recover. It’ll be interesting to see if the Cavs are able to play Ty Lue ball and take advantage of the weak defensive link.

The winner of this head-to-head matchup on both ends will likely determine who is able to win this one. It should be a fun one to watch.

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