Paul Millsap and four plays from last night’s Hawks’ win over Cleveland


Dec 30, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson (13) dunks the ball against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Having no LeBron James (on his birthday), no Shawn Marion, no Al Horford and only a little bit of Kevin Love took the tarnish off what should have been a marquee game between the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers.

The two teams took turns romping over each other in their first two games this season. As a result, it still feels like nothing is known about how these two teams match up. Ridiculous scoring by the winning team obscured any nuance from the first two games, and the key player absences ruined last night’s hope of analyzing what could be a future playoff series.

In any case, there were still some interesting plays and strong performances from the players who did play. Kyrie Irving made a handful of incredible plays en route to 35 points and 9 assists, and Paul Millsap propped up the Hawks with a team-high 26 points of his own.

Here is a look at a few of the key plays, three of which involve Paul Millsap:

Play #1: Pick-and-roll collapse

The play starts with Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson in the pick-and-roll, and it more or less ends there too. The Hawks put bigger bodies on Kyrie Irving last night: DeMarre Carroll, Kent Bazemore, and in this case, Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha gets screened off, and Elton Brand comes over to help. By the time Bazemore fights through, Brand is behind the play — and playing for a pass down low. No one bumps Thompson on his way through to a dunk.

Millsap has the conundrum here. Ideally, he is the third man to jump in this play for the Hawks. He needs to get over and get in Thompson’s way here, but he has been sucked away from the rim by the responsibility of guarding Kevin Love on the weak side (Dion Waiters is over there too, being guarded by Jeff Teague). Still, he could get there with a quicker reaction.

If the pass somehow gets kicked out to Love, then Teague has to slide over to help the man helping the helper. As it was, Millsap was stuck in the middle in nowhere land, not really guarding Love and not really helping on Thompson either.

Play #2: Inbound delight

The Hawks designed a clever inbounds play here with Paul Millsap set up high and Jeff Teague set up low. Is this play set up to spring Teague out to the top of the key for a jump shot? Is it set up where Teague screens Tristan Thompson so that Millsap can cut to the hoop?

In the end, the answer was neither. Cleveland mixed up its coverage and a simple lob by Thabo Sefolosha sprung Teague free for an easy layup.

Play #3: Hot potato

The Hawks played a bit of rope-a-dope last night.

For the middle of the second quarter, both teams played crummy offense and the score ground to a halt. Then the Hawks got this basket in transition that took the figurative lid off their basket, propelling them to a 51-41 halftime lead.

The ball touches the hardwood exactly zero times inside of midcourt. Part of this play is vintage Showtime Lakers and part of it is Dion Waiters chasing the ball the way a cat chases a laser pointer.

Play #4: Off the schneid

Dennis Schroder has slumped recently after starting off the season by scorching teams on his way to the rim. Since then, opponents have scouted better and sagged in to give Dennis looks at jump shots.

And he has missed those jump shots for the most part until last night.

Dennis hit 5-of-6 foul line jumpers (and 5-of-7 shots overall) on his way to 11 points, three of which came on this play that earned Schroder a free throw.

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