The Cavaliers sweep again! This game wasn’t pretty by any means, but the Cavaliers escape with the win and with the double digit victory streak intact. The 84-74 series clinching victory may not go down in history as one of the most memorable Cavalier games, but several aspects of it truly were memorable. What follows is my analysis in numbers and words.
-The MVP of this game once again was hands down Delonte West. I know, I know, it’s not fair to LeBron to take for granted a 27-8-8 night, but at this point in the playoffs, we do just that. We take it for granted. On this night, though, LeBron needed some help, and it came in the form of Big Red. Delonte chipped in with 21 pts on 7-13 shooting from the field. He also added 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1 steal to go with 3 turnovers (an improvement for him lately). While LeBron was on the bench in the 2nd quarter and with Mo Williams struggling to find good looks, it was Delonte who was aggressive in getting to the hoop and leading the Cavs back from their first 1st quarter deficit of the series. Delonte’s +7 wasn’t as impressive as Mo’s surprising +18, but it was certainly better than LeBron’s +1 for the game.
-Now that we have the MVP out of the way, lets think about this game. In many ways, the box score of this game is fairly enigmatic. At face value, it’s hard to explain how the Hawks were ever in this game. The Hawks shot just 31.5% from the field (compared to 42.9% for the Cavaliers), 15.4% from three on 13 attempts (compared to 55.6% for the Cavaliers on 18 attempts), and were outrebounded by a 48-33 margin. Those numbers simply don’t add up to a close game. Throw in the 22 assists for Cleveland compared to the 13 the Hawks had and it the picture gets even more cloudy.
This game was close for 2 reasons: turnovers and FT shooting. Not only did the Cavaliers forget how to shoot FTs in this game, hitting just 53.8% (14 for 26), but for the first time this postseason, a team took more FT attempts than the Cavaliers did. The Hawks were brilliant from the line, hitting 26 of 30 for an 86.7% mark. That 12 point difference is what kept the Hawks in this game. The other factor was turnovers. The Hawks did a nice job of taking care of the ball and only had 8 turnovers. The Cavaliers were their typical sloppy selves on the road, coughing it up 15 times leading to 22 Hawks points. I’ve mentioned before that Turnover Rate and FT Rate are two of the 4 most important factors to winning a basketball game, and this is a prime example. The Cavaliers shot the ball better and rebounded better, but the Hawks were better on turnovers and FTs, and the outcome of this one ended up being very much in doubt (I suppose) for most of the game.
-I have seen some pretty amazing defensive efforts out of the Cavaliers in the past, but I can’t recall the team ever being more impressive than they were in this game. They were incredibly active on their switches and rotations, and they forced the Hawks to slow their game down to a grind, working hard for almost every single shot they could get. The Hawks only had 2 dunks as a team in this game, and they were 9 of 18 on layups, a sign of just how difficult even their “easy” shots were thanks to the Cavs defense. Josh Smith played a nice offensive game for the most part, but beyond him and the occasional Flip Murray NBA Jam-style “On Fire” mode, nobody on the Hawks could get anything going on offense whatsoever. The Cavs held the Hawks to just 9 offensive rebounds for the whole game as well, which is extremely impressive when you consider that the Hawks missed 50 shots in this game. This was a total and complete statement of defensive dominance by the Cavaliers, and they did what they had to do to take 2 tough road wins in one of the more hostile environments in the NBA. Most people will say this was an ugly game, and to an extent they might be right, but this was about the Cavaliers dictating their style on an opponent in an elimination game on the road. As a Cavs fan, if you can’t find beauty in that, then perhaps it’s time to find a new sport to watch.
-Going back to this point about the Cavs’ ability to impose their style on their opponents, the Fastbreak Points in this series were quite interesting. The Hawks are known for their fast play and ability to get out and run, while the Cavaliers are stereotypically seen as a slow team who doesn’t play well in the open court. For the series, however, the Cavaliers and the Hawks each finished with 49 Fastbreak Points. It’s not that the Cavaliers can’t run in the open court (in fact, I would argue quite the opposite is true….with Mo’s famous pull-up jumper and with Varejao, Delonte, and LeBron’s abilities to finish on the run, the Cavaliers are actually pretty efficient when it comes to the fastbreak), it’s just that they know better than to allow their opponents to find their comfort zone. The Cavaliers’ biggest defensive weakness is their transition defense, and the Hawks exposed that at times in this series. So you know the Hawks were desperate to get the tempo up in this game. Which is why I found this game to be somewhat memorable. For all the talk about how tough it is to play in Philips Arena (it is) and how well the Hawks play there (they do) and how they tend to play their own style of basketball at home, this should have been an extreme test for the Cavaliers.
This was an elimination game on the road. In the NBA, these are supposed to be difficult games to win. This game was somewhat difficult and it was a close game for 95% of it, but it wasn’t because of anything the Hawks were doing. They completely succumbed to the Cavaliers’ will in this game. Even though the Hawks were fighting for their very lives in this postseason, and there’s no question they were giving 100% effort in this game, the Cavaliers’ defense was simply too overbearing for the Hawks. Defensive basketball is often overlooked and it’s certainly not the trendy or popular style when it comes to the NBA blogosphere, and I get that. But to not truly give this game its due respect and admiration would really be a shame. This is what the Cavaliers do best. Sure, they are dominant at home, but on the road they don’t always play their best offensive basketball and they tend to get sloppy with respect to turnovers, but what they truly do best is they clamp down their defense, particularly in the 4th quarter, and they find ways to demoralize their opponents. From there, all it takes is one of those timely threes from Mo Williams (who always hits the dagger shot no matter how off of a game he might be having) or one of those emphatic LeBron James vicious drives to the basket, and the opponents are done. The Cavaliers executed that gameplan to perfection in Game Four, and it was beautiful to watch.
-And now, the Cavaliers rest again. Just as the Hawks proved to be mildly more difficult than the Pistons in the first round, so too will the Cavaliers’ next opponent be even more tough to beat than the Hawks were in this round. I don’t really care about rust anymore at this point. The Cavs have shown me that their focus is unshakeable at this point, and this team clearly has one mission on their mind. So the down time doesn’t bother me. The more rest the Cavaliers can get, the better. It could be a huge advantage for them in the next round if the Cavs starters are able to play more fresh minutes late into the 4th quarter than their opponents. To the victors go the spoils, they say, and in this case the spoils are the ability to be well healed and well rested for the Conference Finals.
What The Inside World Is Saying
“Tonight, again, we ought to feel good about this win, because we got it in an ugly manner. I’m sure Atlanta probably feels like they didn’t play their best. I know offensively we didn’t play our best. But the way we defended tonight allowed us to make some mistakes. Our defense allowed us to turn the ball over 18 times and to shoot 53% from the free throw line. Those are not impressive numbers by no means, but in the playoffs, especially on the road, you have to have an anchor and a foundation. Our guys have that, and they believe in it. Even when they have breakdown, they recover from it. They have the will to want to get it done on that end of the floor. We had a lot of good performances from guys. Delonte West has tough covers every time he steps on the floor. He was extremely good for us tonight.” [Mike Brown]
“Delonte had a big game tonight. The dunk he had tonight was over a whole bunch of people, and I thought it was amazing. We came out a little bit flat, and the Hawks had a nice run early. I sense that we needed a little bit of energy, and that’s what bench guys are supposed to do; to give your team a lot of energy. That’s one of the key factors that got us though this game tonight.” [Wally Szczerbiak]
— LeBron James shot 55.6 percent in the 4-game series vs Atlanta, the best he has shot in any postseason series.
— The Cavs held Atlanta to .315 shooting, the lowest in franchise history for a Cavs opponent. [Bob Finnan]
Give the Hawks a bit of credit, they didn’t quit. They played hard all night, actually leading by 7 after the first quarter. Their effort, combined with Cleveland’s careless handling of the ball, inefficient(at times) offense and absolutely embarrassing display at the free throw line kept the game close all night. [Fear The Sword]
The Cavs had periods of terrible offense, turned the ball over way too much, and missed way too many free throws. But they defended relentlessly and put the game in the hands of their star and his well-armed teammates. Or exactly the way the team was drawn up. [Brian Windhorst]
West finished with 21 points, six assists, four rebounds and a steal on Monday night, and it seemed as if he made every single big play in the fourth quarter.
• First he invigorated the proceedings with a monster dunk that gave the Cavs a 64-59 lead.
• With the Hawks threatening, he hit a huge 3-pointer to boost the lead to 73-66 with 4:56 left.
• Finally, after the Hawks missed three straight 3-pointers, he cradled the defensive rebound with 3:46 left as if to say, “Enough of that nonsense.” [Mary Schmitt Boyer]
What The Outside World Is Saying
“When we lost to Boston last year in seven, it was a tough way to go out. But we lost to the world champions. In doing that, that taught this team how to prepare for this upcoming season. All the naysayers had us not even making the playoffs. But we win 47 games, and wrap up one of the top four spots in the East and host first round at home. It’s been a long road to get to this point. But like I told those guys in the locker room, I don’t want them hanging their heads. This was a positive year for this Atlanta Hawks basketball team.” [Mike Woodson]
“No one expected us to win 47 games, and we did it. Nobody expected us to get past the first round, and we did it. We fought hard against a real tough team. Sure, we could have played better in this series. But we have to move on.” [Mike Bibby]
The Hawks? They’re the Hawks. You know these guys, and you won’t have to watch them until next October. Joe Johnson needed 18 shots to score 18 points. Worse, Flip Murray needed 15 to score 14. Marvin Williams dunked once, but missed his other six attempts, and Mike Bibby might as well have already been backing Rajon Rondo up at this point. Too soon? [Kelly Dwyer – Ball Don’t Lie]
The Cleveland roster isn’t composed of guys you’d immediately classify as defensive stoppers. With a defensive rating in the 104 range (number of points allowed per 100 possessions as an individual defender), Delonte West has been rightfully praised for his defense. West’s defensive ratings in the four seasons prior to this one? 107, 107, 108, 108. As a Milwaukee Buck, Mo Williams had a reputation as a horrendous defender (and the numbers to prove it), but for Cleveland this season, he’s been downright gritty, and his defensive rating dropped from 114 to 106. Did Williams just miraculously grow defensive fangs? Even Wally Szczerbiak, Ukrainian for “has lost some lateral quickness,” is posting career-best numbers in various advanced defensive metrics. Nothing eye-popping, but more than passable. [Kevin Arnovitz – TrueHoop]