ATLANTA — Already facing a daunting task after losing the first two games at home in the Eastern Conference final, the Atlanta Hawks were dealt another major blow Saturday when 3-point specialist Kyle Korver was ruled out for the rest of the playoffs because of a severely sprained right ankle.
The guard was injured in Game 2 while scrambling for a loose ball. Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova slammed into the side of Korver’s ankle late in the third quarter of the Cavaliers’ 94-82 victory Friday night.
X-rays at Philips Arena were negative, but a follow-up MRI and examination at Peachtree Orthopaedic Clinic confirmed a severe high-ankle sprain. Korver will be examined by a foot and ankle specialist to determine the best course of treatment, but there’s no chance of him playing again this postseason, the team said.
“We will miss him,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It’s very, very difficult for him personally but more so for how much this team has done together, how much he’s been a part of that. He’s a huge part of our leadership, our fabric, our fiber.”
Budenholzer hasn’t decided who will start Game 3 at Cleveland on Sunday night. Kent Bazemore seems the most likely candidate, but he’s also the top backup for small forward DeMarre Carroll, who is dealing with a sprained left knee. The other guards on the roster are little-used Shelvin Mack and John Jenkins.
“Bazemore is obviously someone we’ll consider, who has the potential to start,” the coach said. “DeMarre and Bazemore have played together. We usually sub Baze in for Kyle early in the first quarter, so they’ve played together a fair amount. They’ll play together more now, whether Kent starts the game or not.”
The 34-year-old Korver was selected for his first All-Star Game this season and for much of the year appeared on course to become the first player in NBA history to hit 90 percent of his free throws, 50 percent of his field goals and 50 percent of his 3-pointers.
But Korver slumped late in the season, missing out in all three categories. He continued to struggle in the playoffs as defenses clamped down, denying him from many open looks. Admittedly pressing to get off shots, he was hitting just 39 percent from the field and averaging 11.1 points.
The Hawks already were dealing with Carroll’s ailing knee. He was injured in the closing minutes of the series opener and had to be helped off the court. While he was able to start Game 2 (and play more minutes than any other Hawks player), he clearly seemed to be favoring the knee as he scored only six points.
Budenholzer said Carroll was “still a little sore” but should definitely be able to go in the next game, a must-win for the Hawks if they’re to have any realistic chance of coming back in the best-of-seven series. No NBA team has ever overcome a 0-3 deficit in the playoffs.
“I expect him to play. I expect him to be good,” the coach said of Carroll. “I don’t know that he has a big impact on how we decide who starts and who doesn’t start (in Korver’s place). But obviously, him being healthy and being able to play is pretty important because Kyle will not be able to play.”
Atlanta won’t get much sympathy from the Cavaliers.
Kevin Love is out for the playoffs with a shoulder injury and Kyrie Irving has lingering knee problems. The point guard didn’t play in Game 2, but the Cavaliers still romped behind LeBron James’ 30 points.
Cleveland hasn’t said if Irving will be able to play Sunday.
Korver is the second key Atlanta player to sustain a season-ending injury. Forward Thabo Sefolosha was hurt during an arrest outside a New York City nightclub with a week to go in the regular season. Sefolosha maintains he did nothing wrong and blames police for causing his injuries.
“Injuries are such a big part of our league and a big part of the playoffs,” Budenholzer said. “Everybody has to deal with them, and we’re not any different. Of course, we’d like to have everyone healthy and be at full speed. That’s the ideal.
But you can’t spend too much time or frustration thinking about it or concerned about it.
“We’ve got to get our minds right, get our minds focused. The guys who are healthy need to get ready to compete, ready to get after it, and go play a basketball game.”