The Cleveland Cavaliers rely on LeBron James to keep on dominating and J.R. Smith to remain hot as they take on the Atlanta Hawks in game 2 of the Eastern conference finals, holding a 1-0 lead.
James scored 31 points, not letting a little tweaked ankle get in his way, although the Cavaliers do need from time to time for James to try and make it more about the team than just himself. The basketball becomes an isolation festival when he’s on the court, something James himself has acknowledged that he needs to cut down on, although it’s hard to do when a lot of the matchups you receive are favorable.
As good as J.R. Smith was in game 1 (28 points, that good), it might be a bit hurried to crown him with the kind of superlatives we’ve seen in the media this last couple of days. He’s not always this hot, and while it’s nice that he can carry the scoring load off the bench on his own, the Cavaliers do need a bit more from their second unit. Smith isn’t going to put up these kind of numbers every night.
The Hawks are having problems with their own bench. Dennis Schroder is struggling putting up the kind of numbers they need from him, while Mike Scott is more or less out of the rotation because his coach doesn’t think he can give them what they need in front of LeBron James. No Thabo Sefolosha, DeMarre Carroll might be injured and Paul Millsap can’t really slow down James. All the things that made the Hawks great in the regular season are much more difficult to tap into in a series.
A shooter that used to be reliable but has been struggling in the postseason is Kyle Korver. After a regular season of 12.1 points while shooting 49.2% from beyond the arc, Korver is limited to just 39.3% from the field and 35.6% from three. The percentages aren’t that terrible, but he’s hardly taking shots. Over the last five games, he’s taken more than five shots just once. The Hawks do make use of him as a decoy because of how dangerous he is, but they need to increase his volume on offense, which relies on his shooting quite a bit.
So is it a lost cause for the Hawks? Far from it, but they need to figure out a way and start running the floor. The Cavaliers’ defense has been difficult to handle for them and most teams in this postseason. Keeping this in a half court kind of look, against LeBron James who is defending a lot better than in the regular season, along with Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov locking down the paint, is a recipe for disaster.
Maybe it’s impossible to get into the finals without one single player who is a level about good. Three of the four teams in the conference finals have that kind of player, even if it disrupts the natural flow of things from time to time. The Hawks won’t win this series if it’s about trading shots and isolations against Smith and James. The Cavaliers? While their best basketball comes in short moments when James actually isn’t playing or forgets that he’s the number one player on the court, they’re probably more than thankful that he’s around to cover for almost everyone in little things he does on both ends of the floor, still doing it better than anyone else in the league.