With Kevin Love out for the playoffs and Kyrie Irving missing game 2 with a knee problem, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers should be struggling, right? Turns out they’re far from it, taking a 2-0 lead back home following a 94-82 win that really wasn’t that close.
A dominant third quarter in which the Cavaliers held the Hawks to just 17 points and 31.8% from the field helped the Cavs to eventually a 21 point lead which sent Hawks fans to an early exit. Some garbage time points and lineups in a terrible fourth quarter (only 26 points combined) made the game a bit closer, but at the moment the Hawks, a team with 60 wins in the regular season, seem like they don’t belong here.
James missed a triple double by one rebound, scoring 30 points (30.5 points in the series for now), grabbing 9 boards and dishing out 11 assists, finding it almost too easy to make the Hawks’ defense scramble to the paint and then find an open man on the perimeter. His defense, his presence, his ball handling. He might not be shooting very efficiently (10-of-22 from the field, 2-of-7 from beyond the arc), but he’s doing so much for the Cavaliers in almost every aspect his misses don’t mean that much.
Especially not with Tristan Thompson doing a fantastic job on the glass. The backup turned starter played 41 minutes, more than anyone else on the court, finishing with 7 points, 16 rebounds, 5 of them offensive. He did shoot quite poorly from the line (just 3-of-9, usually a 60-ish% shooter), but his dominance in the paint along with Timofey Mozgov who showed a soft touch from midrange made it almost impossible for the Hawks, getting outrebounded 96-76 through the first two games of the series.
It’s bad for the Hawks, who can’t get open shots, which is disastrous for them, relying so much on open looks for Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague, combining to shoot 33.3% from the field. The defense from J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova on the perimeter, with the help of James running all around while Thompson and Mozgov provide the aerial backdrop has been relentless. The screens don’t work (too soft according to their coach) and there’s no pace that seems to fit the style that worked so well for them in the regular season.
Injuries are also taking their toll. DeMarre Carroll was back but not 100%, unable to keep up with James. Al Horford banged his knee although he did return. Kyle Korver rolled his ankle and did not return. Not that he’s been doing all too well in the postseason, but the Hawks can’t afford to have more hits to endure. The team is melting away against a much better opposition in every aspect, from coaching to execution, and losing more players just makes their plight to come back from 0-2 even more impossible.
David Blatt has done a fantastic job of making everyone around James know and do their jobs as close as possible to perfection on both ends of the floor. Sure, the shooting can be better and the Cavaliers still tend to fall into these stretches of lazy thinking on offense which helped the Hawks stay in the game. But overall, when they press, they’re a level or two above their rivals. One more win, and they can start preparing for (probably) the Warriors.