So… at the end of third quarter, the Cavs led 75-74 and with 3:15 to go, the Cavs led 85-74. Awesome. The Cavalier defense was freaking ridiculous; they turned on the screws down the stretch (great close outs) and they gobbled up every defensive rebound, making Atlanta go one-and-done. The offense wasn’t great (as the Cavs only scored 10 points over that same stretch) and Le-Iso reared it’s ugly head but the Cavs a tough game against a good team. Their defense looks ridiculous.
Not only did they win in Atlanta, they won in Atlanta with LeBron having an off night. James shot 6-20 from the floor, finishing with 14 points, 8 boards, 10 assists, 5 steals and a block. LeBron’s jumper wasn’t falling but for some reason he kept taking it (though he did post up down the stretch). He wasn’t aggressive as you’d like to see, he was settling for his jumper and because of that, he never got inside and ended up shooting just three free throws for the entire evening (two in the first and another in the third. That’s it. Three.)
Delonte West is playing absolutely great. West finished with 17 points, 5 boards, 2 assists and 2 steals. He was finishing in traffic, he was skying for offensive boards, he set up his teammates and he played great defense. For the evening, West had a ridiculous +/- of +24. I love the way he’s playing and it’s no coincidence that the Cavs have won 10 of 11 with West playing so well. West probably had the highlight of the game, when he stole a pass, went the length of the court and threw it down in the face of Josh Smith (who had swatted West two plays previous). The bench went nuts, Delonte went nuts (got a tech for taunting) and even Joe Tait went nuts (I was driving around during the game).
You’re not going to believe this, but Jamal Crawford had a monster game against the Cavs. Crawford carried Atlanta through the second quarter, scoring 17 points in the period (and 12 in a row at one point). It never seems to matter what team he’s on, Crawford always seems to have a big game against the Cavs. He finished with 26 points, 4 boards, 2 assists and 2 steals. Crawford was the only Hawk who played well throughout the entire game. Josh Smith and Joe Johnson each had their moments but neither play particularly well (Smith was 1-6 from the line and Johnson started 4-4 and finished 1-10).
The Cavs took advantage of their size. Coming in, I was worried about the speed of the Hawks but they didn’t really push the tempo all too much. Which is fine by me, as it allowed the Cavs big men to dominate. Shaq, Hickson, Z and Varejao combined to go 15-19 from the floor and grab 24 boards. They punished the Hawks inside (I can’t stress enough how great their rebounding was during their 4th quarter shutout) and, funny enough, outside. Z’s trey with 41 seconds left (with a great back screen from Varejao) made the score 92-84 and squashed any hopes of a late comeback from the Hawks (after scoring 0 points for the first nine minutes, they had 10 the last three).
For the most part, the offense wasn’t bad. The Cavs had six players in double figures, they moved the ball well (at least early) and they continued to let Mo Williams play his game (20 points, 3 boards, 5 assists). The Cavs finally seem to be ulitlizing the post regularly; they’re letting Mo post up (which is suprisingly effective) and LeBron took Bibby on the block for a late bucket. There’s even some movement from Anthony Parker, he didn’t just camp out in the corner and wait for the ball to find him.
Anyone feel dumb about those early season worries? The Cavs have now on in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Orlando and Atlanta. Those are all really solid victories. As we well know, the regular season doesn’t mean a whole lot but you HAVE to love seeing them beat good teams on the road. Hell, going into this home-and-home with the Hawks, I’d have been happy with a split. But winning in Atlanta (with LeBron going 6-20, no less) has me hungry for a sweep. I’m really interested to see how the Hawks bounce back from last night’s 9 minute shutout.