The Cleveland Cavaliers didn't beat the basketball odds in Game 3, but they did put the Atlanta Hawks on the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Jason’s record as of May 24: 78-82-5 ATS, 19-20 Totals, plus-0.15 units ML, 6-2 Series (plus-4.0 units)
Well, that was... interesting. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks played some really ugly basketball Sunday night. LeBron James bricked his first 10 shot attempts. Al Horford got ejected after throwing an elbow at Matthew Dellavedova. And Shelvin Mack (!) hit some key threes off Atlanta's increasingly thin bench to help the Hawks get to the pay window for the first time in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Sadly for the Hawks, they still lost the game 114-111 in overtime. Cleveland can sweep this series Tuesday night (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) with a win at home, and that outcome is very likely, with the Cavaliers laying the same eight points on the NBA betting odds board at press time that they did in Game 3. But our early consensus reports have 91 percent of bettors taking Atlanta at this price. Faith has been restored in the Hawks, even in defeat.
The Minus Touch
We were among the many who switched allegiance to the Cavaliers in Game 3 after they covered the first two contests on the road. Can't win 'em all. We'll take comfort in losing under unusual circumstances; the Hawks had by far their best performance of the series with an Offensive Rating of 110.7, despite the absence of Kyle Korver (11.3 playoff PER), who will reportedly miss the rest of the postseason with a sprained ankle – although Korver is said to be seeking a second opinion.
As expected, Kent Bazemore (10.3 PER) started at shooting guard in Korver's place, and as expected, Bazemore was a downgrade, finishing with 14 points on 3-of-9 shooting and posting a minus-12. Mack (15.7 PER) had a much better offensive night at 5-of-10 for 13 points, sinking three of his seven trey attempts, but Mack was a minus-13 with his heavier workload.
This is where we once again remind you how important Thabo Sefolosha (13.8 PER in the regular season) is to the Hawks. He would have been first in line to replace Korver in the starting rotation, had Sefolosha not engaged in that untimely meet-and-greet with the NYPD. The Hawks are already missing his back-up minutes in relief of small forward DeMarre Carroll (17.2 playoff PER), who looks like his right leg could snap off at the knee at any given moment.
King of Pain
And yet the Hawks managed to cover on Sunday. Carroll had something to do with James (24.3 playoff PER) missing his first 10 shots and finishing with yet another inefficient triple-double: 37 points on 14-of-37 shooting, 18 rebounds and 13 assists. However, James missed a lot of wide-open looks in Game 3. He's clearly not at 100 percent himself – James told reporters he's in “the most pain of his career.”
As for Horford (20.6 playoff PER), even though he got ejected in Game 3, he managed to score 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting in his 19 minutes of work. Horford is the one thing that's consistently working right for the Hawks right now, so the promise of a full performance in Game 4 makes Atlanta look like a much better NBA pick. We're assuming Horford doesn't get suspended, of course.
We also have to take Kyrie Irving (19.4 playoff PER) into account. He's projected to be a game-time decision Tuesday night after missing the last two contests with a messed-up left knee. It's easy to forget about Irving given the circumstances, but he's an All-Star when healthy, and valuable part of the Cavs rotation even at less than full speed. We're going to recommend sticking with Cleveland if Irving plays, but if he doesn't, Atlanta should be motivated to come out swinging in Game 5, especially after Dellavedova's latest shenanigans.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Cavaliers if Irving plays, take the Hawks if he doesn't.