NBA Playoffs – Cleveland Cavaliers Ride LeBron James & J.R. Smith’s Coattails

LeBron James, J.R. Smith

The Atlanta Hawks need to hope that game 1 was just an off night and not a sign of things to come. The Cleveland Cavaliers won 97-89 on the road with a big night from LeBron James and J.R. Smith to take the 1-0 lead in the conference finals.

James and Smith delivered the points. David Blatt? You can see his fingerprints on the fact that everyone has a role and they’re doing exactly what’s asked of them, while LeBron James is the wildcard freelancer, who also fills every possible need when he’s asked to.

Knicks Reject to Playoff Stud

It shouldn’t be surprising that given the right circumstances, J.R. Smith thrives. This is a player that can score at will on his good days, and not too long ago pulled off some of the best dunks in the league. Playing for a dysfunctional franchise like the New York Knicks and his own weaknesses dragged him down, but the Cavaliers have given him the right set of tools to fulfill all of his talent again.

James might have led the Cavaliers in scoring, but Smith scored 28 points including eight 3-pointers, providing all the bench points for the Cavs.  One of the more interesting things about Smith in these playoffs and not just game 1 of the conference finals is the shots he’s been making: Hitting just 29% of his open spot up jump shots, but 48% of his contested spot up jumpers.

Some Firsts for LeBron & the Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers were 0-14 in game 1 against higher seeds in the playoffs, until this one. LeBron James, regardless of the team he was playing for, was 0-8 in game 1 against higher seeds. Now both streaks are over. James, with 31 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, now has the most 30-5-5 games in NBA playoffs history at 52, surpassing Michael Jordan with 51. He sure did look like he was having fun out there, especially when Paul Millsap was guarding him.

A Story of Two Halves

Game Flow

The Atlanta Hawks shot 61% from the field in the first quarter and opened a nine point lead. But the Cavaliers jumped back. First with James, and then with Smith’s shooting. The Cavs went on a 21-4 run late in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, opening a 85-67 lead. The Hawks did manage to narrow it down to just four points with just over a minute remaining, but a big James dunk made it a six-point lead again, killing any hope of momentum.

Two Injuries, One More Serious Than the Other

DeMarre Carroll was taken off and the fans inside the arena went quiet. It meant a lot of Paul Millsap trying to guard LeBron James very far from the basket. No Carroll, maybe the Hawks’ best player in this postseason, means a glaring hole on both sides of the court at the small forward position, and this is after Thabo Sefolosha went down before the playoffs began.

The Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving, but this isn’t the real one. He’s hurting, his knee ailing him this time, but it’s been that way since this postseason began. He’s going to keep on playing, and his mere presence on the floor serves at least as a decoy. It helped Jeff Teague put up some points (27), but even without Irving near his best, the Cavaliers look like they’re in a different class.

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