Another home game, another blowout. Thursday night the Cleveland Cavaliers used an unbelievably suffocating defense to shut down the Atlanta Hawks offense, and the Cavs ran away with the 105-85 victory. The Cavaliers’ biggest worry now goes from rust to over-confidence. At 6-0 and yet to be tested in the playoffs, the Cavaliers are still looking for their first taste of real adversity. What follows, though, is my analysis in numbers and words.
-The Hawks, for all the things that went wrong in this game. and have gone wrong for the whole series so far, continued to shoot the ball well from the outside. They shot 8-17 from three (47.1%) in this game. The Cavaliers aren’t going to worry about that if the Hawks are going to shoot 34.9% from the field overall, but if the Hawks ever actually figure out how to score inside, the Cavs will want to tighten up the perimeter defense a bit. It’s tough, because the Hawks have some lengthy 3 point shooters and the Cavs backcourt is undersized. It may be nitpicking a bit, but I had to point out something the Cavs could do better in Game 3, especially since the series heads to Atlanta where the Hawks tend to play dramatically better than on the road.
-I was happy to see a few more assists for the Cavaliers in this game, as they ended up with 19 for the game. They were moving the ball pretty well for the most part, there was a lot more off-ball movement than in Game 1, and their spacing was impeccable. A much better offensive performance in this game as far as running the half court offense is concerned. What was troubling, however, was the increase in turnovers. After committing just 7 in Game 1, they turned it over 17 times in Game 2, their highest TOV total in the playoffs yet. Again, I mean, in theory these are the kinds of things you should worry about. For the Cavaliers, though? Eh, it just came in a 20 point win that wasn’t even remotely as close as the final score indicated. To this point, it’s really hard to criticize this Cavs team with a straight face. They’ve simply been that good.
-You’re going to read a lot of people ripping on the Hawks in this series, attacking their heart and desire as well as their dedication and how hard they are playing in this series. After watching the pathetic effort the Pistons put forth in Round One, though, I don’t see it quite that was in this series. Sure, I’ve seen the Hawks play much better this season, but I don’t feel like they’re not trying. I think it would be unfair to the Cavaliers to not give them the credit for the way this series is heading, rather than just blaming the Hawks performance. In this game, the Hawks shot 46.1% from three, had 18 offensive rebounds to the Cavs’ 10, their A/TOV ratio was 17/13, compared to 19/17 for the Cavs, both teams were whistled for 22 fouls, the Hawks were 19-24 from the line, compared to 23-30 for the Cavs, each team had 22 points off turnovers, the Hawks had 13 fastbreak points to the Cavs’ 16, and the Hawks had 18 second chance points to the Cavs’ 16. There are plenty of aspects where the Hawks are playing hard and right on par with the Cavs. Where the Hawks are failing is scoring inside. Their 34.9% FG percentage in this game was atrocious, and I give a ton of credit to the Cavs coaching staff for the adjustments they have made after the first 2 quarters of this series. Anderson Varejao, Ben Wallace, and Joe Smith were all incredibly effective at disrupting any attempts at scoring on the interior, and as a result, they were able to limit the Hawks to just 24 points in the paint. The Cavaliers defense was about as stifling as I have ever seen it in this game, as we at one point wondered in the Live Blog whether or not the Hawks were ever going to be able to break 50 by the end of 3rd quarter. The discussion lead us to break out the 50 NK Challenge, which prompted Denny to give us our newest NK icon. Hey, we have to keep ourselves entertained in Blow Out Live Blogs (not to be confused with the Bob Loblaw Law Blog), don’t we?
-Another area where the Hawks are still incredibly lacking is in their own interior defense. The Cavaliers had 44 points in the paint in Game 2, improving on the 40 they had in Game 1. It would be tempting to blame the Hawks’ 2nd level of defense for these woes, except the Hawks don’t seem to have a 2nd level. I can’t recall the last time the Cavs played an opponent who allowed the Cavs to have the lane so easily. All the Cavaliers’ backcourt players have to do is get by their original perimeter defender, and occasionally a weak double team attempt, and the lane is there. There’s no help at all and no rotation to speak of. If the Cavs guards get by their defender, they are home free. And as a result, the Cavs are scoring at will inside on the Hawks. When you think of this Atlanta team, you think of them being a long, athletic team that consistently intimidates with their ability to block shots. In Game 1, though, the Hawks had just 2 blocked shots and in Game 2 they managed to get 4. The Cavs, on the other hand, had 11 blocked shots in Game 2. It just shows which team is playing tougher defense and has been more active.
-I would be remiss to not mention the job Wally Szczerbiak has done in this series so far. For the most part, he and Joe Smith seem to have swapped roles from the First Round to the Second Round. Whereas Joe Beast was active and effective at making his presence felt against the Pistons, he has been equally ineffective on offense in this series. It’s been Wally who has come to the rescue off the bench. He had 17 points on 7-9 shooting from the field in this game to lead all bench scorers. He’s been a monster in the post, and believe it or not, the Hawks seem to be unsure of how exactly to defend Wally in the post, other than to try to draw a charge on him. That seriously seems to be the best way they’ve figured out to defend him. Wally also had a dunk in this game, which is always worth mentioning, and the crowd was chanting “Wally! Wally! Wally!” at several points in this game. I’m just saying, if you’re the Hawks and you hear the Cavs fans chanting Wally Szczerbiak’s name, you’re really not doing something right.
-Delonte West had another great game going (turnovers aside)….5-10 from the field, 4-4 from the for 14 points before he got poked in the right eye. It was the only dark moment of the night, as we got a little worried by how long it took to get an update. Thankfully, ESPN eventually diagnosed Delonte with a poked eye (I’m not making this up….that’s what they said the diagnosis was. I suppose the Hawks doctors also diagnosed Joe Johnson’s ankle as “hurting”), and didn’t make it sound too serious. Thanks to Brian Windhorst’s Twitter Feed, we found out last night that the Cavs will be listing him as day-to-day, but LeBron says that Delonte will be good to go for Game 3. Disaster averted.
-Finally, I should probably say something about LeBron’s performance, huh? I mean, 3 dunks, 2 layups, 1 two-point jumper, 3 three-point jumpers, 6 FTs, 27 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block to go with 0 turnovers. As great as LeBron was in the Olympics and as great as he was throughout his MVP season, he has somehow been so much better in this postseason. 27 points on 14 FG attempts, to go with the 0 turnovers, represents a level of efficiency out of his game we just haven’t quite seen on this consistent of a basis before now. With the backcourt duo of Molante playing with extreme confidence right now, and LeBron playing out of his mind, it’s exciting to dream of how good this team is going to be once Big Z and Joe Beast get going again. You don’t want to overlook how well Atlanta plays at home, and they should be embarrassed and come out in Game 3 playing like a trapped animal with their backs against the cage walls, but if the Cavaliers keep playing at this level, it’s kind of hard to imagine it really mattering how well Atlanta plays at home.