ATLANTA » The Hawks have been here before in this postseason, down 1-0 after losing the opening game of a series at home.
This time, there’s a big difference. Atlanta may have lost more than the game.
Forward DeMarre Carroll sprained his left knee late in the Hawks’ 97-89 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night.
The injury threatens Carroll’s status for the remainder of the series. That makes a comeback against LeBron James and the Cavaliers all the more imposing.
Carroll will have an MRI on Thursday to determine the severity of the sprain. He was hurt when his knee appeared to buckle as he was driving to the basket with about 5 minutes left. He crumpled to the baseline, where he remained while surrounded by players, coaches and trainers.
Carroll was helped to his feet. He couldn’t put pressure on the leg as he was helped off the floor and to the locker room.
"It was hard to watch," Atlanta’s Kyle Korver said. "We love DeMarre like a brother. … We’ll see tomorrow how he is. Obviously, it didn’t look good."
One of the Hawks’ strengths as they posted the best regular-season record in the East was the perimeter size and defense of Carroll (6-foot-8) and Thabo Sefolosha (6-7).
Sefolosha was lost for the remainder of the season and the playoffs with a fractured right fibula and ligament damage after he and teammate Pero Antic were arrested on April 8 in New York. He blamed police for causing the injury during the arrest.
Now Carroll may be out as well. Kent Bazemore (6-5) guarded James following Carroll’s injury and might draw primary responsibility for defending the star in Game 2, according to Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.
"Everybody is just concerned about DeMarre," Budenholzer said. "I’m hoping he’s ready to help us as soon as possible."
Carroll was Atlanta’s leading scorer in the first two rounds of the playoffs with 17.1 points per game. He had five points and two steals before the injury.
"Somebody has to step up," Hawks guard Jeff Teague said. "DeMarre has been our glue guy all year … our best player in the past couple of series. Hopefully, he can get back healthy soon."
The Hawks lost at home in the first game of their second-round series against Washington before recovering to win the series in six games.
"We can look at that series and it can give us confidence," Korver said.
James led Cleveland with 31 points and had strong support off the bench from J.R. Smith, who scored 28 points while making eight 3-pointers.
Cleveland outscored the Hawks 22-4 over the final 5 minutes of the third quarter and opened its biggest lead at 85-67. The Hawks made a late rally to pull to within 91-87. James answered with a power jam.
Teague led Atlanta with 27 points despite making only one of six 3s. Al Horford had 16 points. Paul Millsap had 13.
TIP YOUR HAT
Teague said Smith earned his 3s.
"He didn’t get away," Teague said when asked about Atlanta’s defense. "He just made some tough 3s. He’s a good player. He made shots with people draped all over him, hands in his face. Just got to tip your hat to him."
Korver said the Hawks must improve their 3-point defense and rebounding. Led by Smith, the Cavaliers made 10 of 26 3s.
The Cavaliers finished with a 49-37 advantage in rebounds, exposing Atlanta’s major weakness during the regular season.
Timofey Mozgov had a game-high 11 rebounds. Tristan Thompson had 10. James and Smith had eight. No Hawks player had more than seven.
Cavaliers: James sat out the final 3 minutes of the first quarter after picking up his second foul. He picked up his third foul less than 2 minutes into the second half but wasn’t called for another infraction. … This was the first time in franchise history that Cleveland won Game 1 of a playoff series on the road. The Cavs had been 0-14. … Thompson had 14 points, while Mozgov and Iman Shumpert added 10 apiece.
Hawks: Bazemore had 10 points, including a massive dunk after he powered down the baseline late in the third quarter. … Korver attempted only five shots and had only nine points. … Among the celebrities with front-row seats were boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. and former Hawks owner Ted Turner, 76.