Round Two Game One Numbers and Words

Cavaliers FansThe 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.

“I’m back,” he said with a grin. “I’m back at peace with myself.”  [Mary Schmitt Boyer – Plain Dealer]

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]

  • Denny

    I suggest for the future Game Two Numbers and Words, but mostly PICTURES!

  • Clown Baby

    LeBron putting it on himself to be the offense at the beginning of the game until his teammates could get into the flow was unreal. He was scoring at will and you get the feeling he could do that whenever he wants or needs to. Unbelievably heady-play from a 24 year old. Unreal.

  • Scott

    I loved how they talked about Charles Barkley going for 24 and 10 on the night he won the MVP. LeBron had 22 points, seven boards and four steals… in the first half.

  • Eric

    Anyone who questioned LBJ’s MVP only needed to see two plays from this game.

    The opening dunk. I’ve never wished I was at a game more than that moment, after 20,000+ chanting MVP to see Lebron open a game with a resounding two-handed dunk. The place looked like it was about to explode, I’m jealous of whoever was there.

    The charge. Any thought of a comeback was crushed on that play. That charge will be in the back of every Hawks mind on all fast breaks/2 on 1 for the rest of the series and it should be. Hopefully the rest of the league watched Lebron take that charge, a statement was made on that play that we aren’t backing down from nobody.

  • MKE

    @Eric: You can be jealous of me. I was there.

    Those Wit – MVP – ness t-shirts… They’re hot. Only wish I could somehow shrink make my XXL to fit me!

  • AMC

    What’s got to be truly scary for the Hawks, and Rock you point this out, is that the Cavs won this one going away while getting basically ZERO production from the frontcourt. Z was flat out horrid at both ends and when the Cavs tried to slow the game down towards the middle of the second quarter and run the offense through Z, they really sputtered. Joe Smith had his worst game as a Cav since he came back – dude was missing layups and free throws (though he did play solid defense).

    Coming into this series, and this game especially, I thought it was going to be extremely important for LeBron and the guards to get into the lane and create easy chances to see the basket get in the bucket. Seeing how Wade cut through the Hawks’ interior D like butter, you knew the looks would be there, and they were there in droves. Great coaching effort from Mike Brown, and let’s face it, LeBron too. His presence to take the game over early got the team into a grove that allowed them to withstand the Hawks run and settle in.

    If the Cavs keep up their intensity and effort level, this is going to be a long road for the Hawks I think, especially if they can’t rotate better on the defensive interior.

  • adam

    nice write up.

    very impressed with how the team came out and defended josh smith in the second half. he will really be the X factor in this series. as long as we keep him or joe johnson in check they cant beat us. in the second half they were both quiet and the cavs really pulled away.

  • Swig

    While the cavs were “sputtering” early the Hawks shot like 7-of-8. If they hadn’t been shooting so hot the game wouldn’t even have been competitive for a half.

  • Scott

    “Maybe it’s time to recognize that Molante is arguably the best backcourt left in the playoffs.”


  • Denny

    Recipe ideas for the Molante? Considering the LeBomb James is already invented.

    Captain MOrgan and something else.

    Let’s do this folks, this is important!

  • AMC

    Countdown update please!

  • Harv 21

    Totally agree that Hawks have identity problem, and that falls on their coach. I was/am more worried about game 2, as Hawks undoubtedly had game 7 hangover. The Cavs had better not relax Thursday. Re Delonte’s defense, Johnson may be tired but Delonte is giving up 60 pounds to a very skilled, athletic guy! (Johnson listed at 240; Delonte 180). That’s one hard-nosed kid.

  • Swig

    The most an opponent has scored in the playoffs is 84 (ya, I know it’s still early). The cavs scored less than 85 points only 4 times all season, and still won two of those games (both vs Detroit).

    Only 7 more did they score under 90.

    This team is pretty good.

  • DP

    Joe Johnson strikes me as a pure “rhythm” guy. Like, once he gets going, it’s tough to cool him off. The Cavs did what can be called a “pre-emptive strike” by putting their two best defenders on him ALL night. There was only one stretch where I felt like Johnson was going to heat up, and the LBJ charge ended that immediately. It knocked him completely out of his comfort zone and he went back to dishing.

    Ditto with Josh Smith. Once they started fouling him hard, he went into Vince Carter mode and started hoisting. It also it important to note that Josh Smith missed a BUNCH of free throws early, too. Hello, confidence!

  • JK

    MKE – Ill buy that XXL off of you.

  • CJG

    Can I get a “Finals” Countdown?

  • MKE

    JK – if you really want that shirt, email me at Just so you know, they gave them out with the tags ripped off so I’m guessing about the size XXL.

  • The Other Tim

    >>tags ripped off so I’m guessing about the size XXL.<<

    I actually paid $30 for on original Witness t-shirt on ebay. Turned out to be a fake and I got my money back. So everybody be careful with their pursuits of these shirts. That tag pulling thing actually helps counterfeiters.

  • Alex

    You can get the new Witness MVP shirts on … they are now no longer “not in stock”