The Cleveland Cavaliers picked up right where they left off in round one of the 2009 NBA Playoffs and had their way with the Atlanta Hawks in Game One by a final score of 99-72. A good omen for the Cavaliers? It is when you consider that no team has ever come back to win a playoff series after losing Game 1 by 25 or more points since the 1985 Finals. Just something to think about what. What follows, though, is my analysis in numbers and words.
-If there was anything I was worried about coming into this series, it was Game 1. I was a little worried about the Cavaliers being a little slow, sluggish, and off with their shot. I was worried about a slight MVP hangover effect. I was worried about a brash, young Hawks team coming in and using their speed and athleticism to jump out to a quick lead. Well, all of that happened in the first half of the 1st quarter. That’s when the resiliency of this Cavs team kicked in and they quickly jumped on the Hawks to regain control of the game, and by the end of the quarter, the Cavs were actually ahead, despite their slow start. I thought that was huge.
-The Cavaliers took the Hawks’ best shot in the first half. They had no answer whatsoever for Josh Smith, as he had 17 points at the break. The Hawks were shooting 56% from the field, they were 57% from three, and they were only –1 in rebounds at the half. LeBron had 0 assists in the first half. Other than the fact LeBron was making some outside shots, the Cavaliers’ offense wasn’t really doing much. All of that, and the Cavaliers were still up by 5 at the break. As a Cavs fan, that had to make you feel pretty good. Credit to Coach Brown and Coach Malone for their 2nd half adjustments on Josh Smith, as they had the Cavs start playing Smith really physically and it was effective. Smith had just 5 second half points, the Hawks’ shooting as a team came back down to earth, and the Cavaliers ran away with this game. This was a truly great performance by the Cavaliers, and it made a strong statement that they are not going to allow letdowns in the playoffs this year.
-Long time readers of this site will know that other than FG%, no stat is more important to me than A/TO ratio. The fact that the Cavaliers had just 16 assists in this game and still scored 99 points is just scary. There was way too much standing around, the cuts were slow, the guys weren’t always on the same page. In general, it was sloppy half court offense from the Cavaliers. What helped was that the Cavs only turned the ball over 7 times, compared to 17 for the Hawks. That lead to a 15-6 edge for the Cavaliers in fast break points.
-Speaking of those 6 fast break points for the Hawks, you have to give a ton of credit to the Cavaliers’ transition defense in this game. The Hawks are a team that love to run out on the break, and Coach Woodson has said more than once that it was going to be a focus of the Hawks in this series. To hold the Hawks to just 6 points, then, was really a product of their outstanding effort. One play that stands out, in particular, is when the Hawks found themselves on a 2-on-1 break with Joe Johnson and Josh Smith breaking toward the basket with only LeBron James there to stop them. You knew Johnson was probably going to throw it up for Smith, and LeBron made one of the smartest defensive plays I’ve ever seen him make. He actually stepped forward, anticipating the alley oop, to get in the lane where Johnson was heading. LeBron got his feet planted and took the charge. It was a truly great defensive play, and one I would argue you don’t see a lot of superstars in this league make. That play was pure desire on LeBron’s part.
-One of the more surprising stats of this game, especially when you consider how badly the Cavaliers were being abused down low by the Hawks, was points in the paint. One of the biggest weaknesses and flaws in the Cavaliers’ game all season long, the Cavs actually held a strong 40-26 advantage in points in the paint in this game, despite getting just 7 points from Z, 4 from Varejao, and 0 from Joe Smith. The Cavs big men had an absolutely horrid offensive game. It was the Cavs guards who were aggressive in attacking the basket and setting up the points in the paint for the Cavaliers. If the Hawks are going to have any chance whatsoever of making this a series, they better figure out quickly how to stop the Cavs guards from getting into the lane pretty much whenever they want.
-To illustrate just how good LeBron was in this game, consider that 10 of his points were in the paint, 10 were on 2pt jumpers, 8 were on FTs, and 6 were on 3pt shots. That right there is about as complete of a game as you can ask for. LeBron was able to score from pretty much anywhere on the court he wanted. In total he connected on 3 dunks, 3 layups, and 6 jumpers. So much for that MVP letdown.
-Where do the Hawks go from here? Well, for starters, they need more than 11 points from Joe Johnson. I know I’m not the first person to state this, but I feel like Atlanta really suffers from an identity problem. Perhaps not all that dissimilar to the Mo vs Redd situation in Milwaukee last season, the Hawks seem to be unsure of whose team this is. Is it Josh Smith’s team or is it Joe Johnson’s team? Oh, and don’t forget about Mike Bibby, too. They have 3 players who could be the unquestionable leader and go-to guy on this team, but none of the seem to want it. The Hawks have to figure out at some point who they want to be the man there. I think they want it to be Johnson’s team, and I think Johnson probably wants that role, but last night he never seemed to be assertive. Some of the credit for that, though, should go to Delonte West and LeBron James. They took turns defending Johnson and they were both pretty effective at it. When West was defending him, Johnson was able to get some contested jumpers off over him, but struggled to get the ball in advantageous positions on the court. When LeBron was guarding him, LeBron’s size really seemed to make Johnson hesitant to shoot, and he instead seemed to try to drive around LeBron, but the Cavaliers’ defensive rotations were spot on in this game, and Joe Johnson just couldn’t seem to get going.
-Overall, just a solid win for the Cavaliers. The Hawks showed much more fight than the Pistons ever did, but the Cavaliers absorbed the early runs by the Hawks and then made the proper adjustments and let the game even itself out. Once that happened, all the advantages were on the Cavs’ side and they ran away with this game.
What The Inside World Is Saying
When you have a guy like Wally Szczerbiak coming off the bench and moving his feet like he did, taking a charge when he has a quicker, more athletic guy driving the ball to the rim, sacrificing his body, taking that charge, that’s a possession. That’s just as good as coming up with a 50-50 ball. Those little things we have to continue to do, especially if we think we are going to have a chance to win games. That was great tonight, but it wouldn’t be right if I wouldn’t mention the minutes that Sasha gave us. I threw him in the game with seven seconds in the quarter at the end of the third because I didn’t want Joe to pick up a fourth foul in that amount of time, and I said, “Sasha, I need you for these 7.2.” He was like, “Coach, I’m ready.” Before I even finished, he was at the scorers’ table, and I took him back out because we felt that it was better to have him on the floor instead of Wally because of matchups. He kept himself ready, and he went back on the floor and he contributed big minutes for us even though he was not going to play big minutes. Heck of a job by Sasha, as well as the rest of the team starting on the defensive end of the floor. [Mike Brown]
I could have faked them like I was going to come toward them and go back toward Josh Smith, but when you are put in that position with a high-flier like Josh Smith and Joe Johnson handling the ball, you have to make a decision fast. I saw (Johnson) being very aggressive and it didn’t seem like they were going to slow down so I stood there and took the charge and (it was a) good momentum play for our team. [LeBron James]
The Cavs have won each of their first five playoff games by 10 or more points. They are just the fifth team in NBA playoff history to do that and the first since the 2004 Detroit Pistons. [Bob Finnan]
But Delonte West was the unsung hero of this game. I don’t know about you, but Delonte hadn’t been the same since he returned from that wrist injury in March. But on Tuesday night, West showed why he is such an integral part of this team by having a sensational all-around game. The 6’3″ combo guard out of St. Joseph’s, who led the team in minutes played against Detroit, again led the team in burn with 39 minutes, scored 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting, dished out nine assists, pulled down four boards, and had two steals. [Amar Panchmatia – Cavalier Attitude]
In the old days, sometimes you never knew what Delonte West you were going to get. It could be the one who wore his steadily growing ‘fro in a combed-out, full-effect poofy style. Or it could be the one who wore it braided in neat rows.
Now, there’s no question what kind of guard is going to appear at every Cavaliers game. With his locks freshly shorn in time for Tuesday’s Game 1 against Atlanta, West is down to one hairstyle option. Close and tapered is what you’re going to get every time.
But West’s most consistent side, the one that has been there all season without disruption and in evidence again in the Cavaliers’ 99-72 victory, is his relentless defense and his steady all-around court play. [Jodie Valade – Plain Dealer]
After admitting to some playoff jitters in the first round against Detroit, Mo Williams is back to his old self now.
Williams had 21 points, hitting seven of 12 shots, including four of eight 3-pointers, to help break open a close game in the second half of the Cavaliers’ 99-72 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday night at The Q.
If the newly crowned MVP is willing to hit the court [and that often hurts] like an undrafted free agent trying to make the team — it tells everyone else to follow his lead. Later in the first half, 7-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas hit the court twice for loose balls. Remember, this is the same Ilgauskas who had five foot surgeries in his career. The Cavs came up with a lot more than 50 percent of those 50-50 balls, Delonte West and Anderson Varejao coming up with a fair share. [Terry Pluto – Plain Dealer]
Joe Johnson admitted after the game that he’s tired. It is understandable, he logged the most minutes of anyone in the NBA this season after playing for Team USA last summer. He took just four shots in the first half because the Cavs were double-teaming and he wasn’t fighting. The Hawks generally got great performances from Mike Bibby and Josh Smith. Al Horford and Marvin Williams are hurting, who knows what they can bring. But it is pretty obvious the Hawks are going to have a hard time when they don’t get a great game from Johnson. With those doubles sure to continue and his tired legs, I’m not sure how many he has in him right now. [Brian Windhorst – Plain Dealer]