Cleveland 97, Atlanta 82

This is getting stupid. While this was the toughest game of the series so far, the Cavs still beat Atlanta fairly handily. After a close first half, the combination of Cleveland’s lockdown defense and LeBron James’ ridiculousness was too much for the Hawks and they folded down the stretch.

LeBron was insane. LeBron attacked inside (the Hawks could neither stay in front of him or rotate correctly), he road a hot streak (5-10 from 3, 15-25 overall) and he thoroughly cleaned Atlanta’s clock. He stifled the crowd’s enthusiasm by nailing a 25 bomb to close the first quarter (which pushed the Cavalier lead back up to four) and he gave the Cavs the smallest of halftime leads by hitting a free throw to finish the half. LeBron found his teammates for 8 assists (often feeding Z for wide open jumpers and dunks) and he led the Cavs with 12 boards, as they dominated the Hawks on the glass 46-23 (Cleveland had 13 offensive boards… the Hawks had 15 defensive boards). Overall, Bron-Bron finished with 47 points, 13 boards, 8 assists, a block and a steal… during prime-time on ABC. Not bad.

LeBron went off, but this wasn’t a one man show. Sure, LeBron scored nearly half of Cleveland’s points and there were times where he dominated the offense (a little Le-Iso, but not much) but he had help. Three other Cavalier starters scored in double figures and the one who didn’t (Varejao) ended up with 6 points and 10 boards. Z, West and Mo each had their moments. Z scored 7 points in the first quarter, knocking down open shots and opening up the lane for LeBron (Z finished with 14 and 8). Mo kept the Cavs close during Atlanta’s second quarter push (the Hawks opened the period with a 10-2 run) and he hit a trey with about 3:00 minutes left to squash any hope of a late comeback (Williams finished with 11 points, 3 assists and 2 boards).

I thought Delonte could’ve done more, if needed. I really liked what I saw from West. He finished with 12 points, 4 boards, 2 assists and a steal in 45 minutes of court time. He routinely got to the rim and he finished more often than not. He did a good job defensively (Joe Johnson needed 19 shots to get 21 points) and I thought that if LeBron needed it, Delonte could’ve scored if called upon. West wouldn’t do anything for a few minutes and suddenly he’s hitting a layup in traffic. Delonte looks dialed in.

The hustle was good, the bench… notsomuch. Again, the Cavs doubled up the Hawks on the glass, 46-23. Varejao had 7(!!) offensive boards, LeBron and Z and two each and the Cavs just wanted it more. Joe Smith was the only bright spot off the bench, scoring 7 points (3-4 FG) and 8 boards in 26 minutes. Gibson and Szczerbiak combined to go 0-5 (0-4 from 3) with 2 boards and 2 turnovers and Ben Wallace didn’t look comfortable at all (routinely not even looking to shoot and he made a couple of bad decisions).

The Hawks showed some life, sporadically. After Joe Smith scored a bucket to open the second period, Atlanta went on an 18-6 run and actually had a 36-30 lead. They also got themselves a lead in the third period, up 65-64 with 2:00 minutes to go before the Cavs closed out the quarter with an 8-0 run. But the Hawks were fighting an uphill battle; neither Marvin Williams nor Al Horford gave ’em much, Joe Johnson had stretches, but disappeared for much of the game and Josh Smith fell in love with his jumper. They got out worked on both ends and they needed better games from their stars and their role players (nice job by Zaza Pachulia getting himself kicked out. Well done).

and finally…

It was nice to see them respond so well to adversity. The Cavs aren’t going to waltz through every round of the playoffs. This was the first game that Atlanta made even somewhat close and the Cavs dropped the hammer authoritatively whenever they were pushed. Sure, you could be a little concerned about the lack of bench production (or by the fact that LeBron accounted for more than half of their scoring output) but they’re still up 3-0. This is a really good team that still has a giant safety net in one LeBron James. The Cavs weren’t at their best (though they still shot over 50%) and they still won by double figures. They go for the series sweep on Monday night and judging from LeBron’s body language, I expect them to get it.

PS – thanks for the patience w/missing games and what. Finally moved in, everything is now all set up. Things be good, things be good.

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