Cavs 93, Hawks 88: Cleveland Clinches #1 Seed and Home Court in the East

Add yet another milestone to the record books. The Cavaliers secured the Eastern Conference regular season title for a second straight season last night while becoming the 18th occurrence (and 9th different franchise) of a team winning 60 games in back-to-back years.

It was a meaningful night in Cleveland but one that was definitely contested throughout. After being swept by the Cavs in the post-season last year, the Hawks put up yet another solid fight during the 2009-2010 season. Unfortunately, it resulted in an all-too-familiar result as Atlanta fell to 0-3 in the season series with the finale coming at Phillips Arena for game #82.

Holding tight defensively down the stretch yet again provided ample time for LeBron James and the offense to finally get moving. The game had been tight during the entire contest but the Cavs pulled away comfortably in the closing minutes. In fact, the five-point margin was much closer than the way the ending actually played out.

The difference last night was the timely defense yet again. In the road game against Atlanta back in late December, the Cavs held the team scoreless for the bulk of a dozen minutes between the third and fourth quarters. The Hawks took a 74-72 lead with just under eight minutes to go in this game, but before they could react, the Cavs had taken a 10-point lead with a minute left. In those entire seven minutes, Atlanta scored only two points.

Let’s tackle the rest of the the recap in bullet points:

  • Unbelievable stat of the day: The Cavs are on a 27-10 (.730) tear against teams currently slated to head to the NBA Playoffs. This has come since starting the regular season 0-2 in this category with losses to both Boston and Toronto. Last year, the team was 30-13 (.698) overall in this category during the regular season, but finished the year on a more pedestrian 19-9 (.679) streak. Hopefully the continued fine play against good opponents will transfer into better success in the actual playoffs.
  • Now going to the actual game, JJ Hickson was the undoubted star. It’s getting harder and harder to ignore his constant improvement this season and he showed his skills yet again last night. The Hawks are supposed to be one of the more athletic Eastern Conference teams, especially with their versatile frontcourt, but JJ picked them apart for a career-high 16 rebounds alongside eight points and two blocks. Seven of his boards were on the offensive glass as Cleveland dominated the rebounding battle overall 55-36.
  • Credit the defense on Mike Bibby, Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson as superb in this one. The announcers were talking about it throughout the second half but it’s just staggering to see what they really did out there. For the game, the three guards combined to score just 35 points in 92 minutes, finishing 14-for-42 from the field with 10 assists. You will beat Atlanta anytime you are able to control these three as effectively as the Cavs did. It was an off night offensively for Delonte West and Anthony Parker, but they must have been doing something smart on defense at least.
  • The Hawks game was a huge comeback statement for Mo Williams. I have been one of Mo’s biggest defenders since he returned from the injured list. Yes, I know he sucked in those first few games, but offensively and defensively he continues to get better and last night showed exactly what he is capable of doing against playoff teams. He scored 24 points, dished two assists, grabbed four rebounds and also rejected a career-high four shots on the night. The point total was his highest since January 3rd and he now has his first back-to-back 20+ point games since recording five straight in late December. The Cavs are an incredibly dangerous offensive team with Shaq back in the lineup along with Mo and Antawn./li>
  • Antawn Jamison expects to play Sunday in Boston. The power forward went down in the fourth quarter with a shoulder stinger, but this injury should be less serious than the others that have hurt Cleveland recently. Brian Windhorst wrote in his beat blog the that Jamison felt fine just 30 minutes following the game and could have returned to action if absolutely necessary. Definitely good news to hear as any playoff-type road contest is tough enough without Shaquille O’Neal.
  • Last night’s game brings of the topic of who would you rather face in the playoffs: Atlanta or Boston? My father suggested prior to the contest yesterday that it might be wise for the Cavs to help ATL move up to secure the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. That way, the Cavaliers would be more likely to play the aging Celtics in the second round. Not sure if I agree with this logic at all, as Cleveland is now 14-2 against Atlanta over the past three seasons including playoffs. Meanwhile, the Cavs and Boston had a 15+ game streak just snapped this year where the home team won every single match up. The Hawks have very little history with playoff success on their roster and resemble a franchise built much more like the Washington Wizards than the Oklahoma City Thunder. Give me Atlanta in the playoffs any day although I’m not too scared of Boston either.
  • (Photo Credit: Reuters/Aaron Josefczyk)

    • Jack

      #4 NEEDZ MORE TOUCHES!!! PLEEZ MO’ TOUCHES…NO MO’ GO LOW TO POWE!

      Seriously, can we stop giving touches to a guy who isn’t going to play in the playoffs?

    • phil m

      Jack: that’s really not going to be a big issue. If we win in Boston, or if LA loses to the Spurs on the same day, the Cavs will likely switch into a different mode. It might not be sudden and radical, but we’re going to see them rest guys who will be needed in the playoffs. And that’s where the importance of the no. 1 seeds comes into play. It’s not just a matter of a small advantage during any given playoff series. If you can rid yourself of the magic numbers before the last game of the season, you can rest key players. So the advantage is also in allowing you to prepare better for the series ahead.

    • 216in614

      JJ Hickson 2009 – 2010 NBA Most Improved Player?

    • Jack

      @phil – I don’t really understand your response. I don’t mean that in a mean way, I’m just not sure if we are talking about the same thing.

      It’s just, when we are in an offensive drought at the beginning of the 4th with LBJ on the bench and we have Mo, Delonte, and Jamison on the floor…why are we posting up Leon Powe? Isn’t a tight 4 qtr against a potential playoff opponent and very solid team a great time to get Antawn comfortable taking big shots for us? Isn’t that why he’s here? Why is Leon Powe getting touches and Jamison isn’t? Wouldn’t Mo/Tawn or Lon/Tawn in the p-n-r or #4 in the post be a better option for us?

      Just really confused.

    • http://waitingfornextyear.com Jacob

      @ Jack – It’s one game in early April. It’s just one possession early in the fourth. We just happen to have three more games against the likes of Boston, Orlando and Atlanta during the rest of the regular season.

      Jamison got 11 shots in 35 minutes and got hurt early in the fourth. Powe got zero shots and four free throws in 13 minutes off the bench. Not sure how there is anything to complain about in those numbers…

    • Jack

      @Jacob – If Mo Williams rim dives like he has been the last two games, we become soooo much harder to beat. It makes him so much more valuable.

      And, as a big Mo detractor, I have to give your props for sticking with him. His activity last night on the defensive end was impressive. That’s the Mo we need. Pesky. Active. Quick hands. He’s still going to get beat off the dribble sometimes, but if he’s active like that, he is so much less a liability.

    • http://www.msblsim.com boogeyman

      @Jack you make an interesting observation about the posting up of a forward not named Jamison. I’ve noticed when Hickson and Jamison are on the court JJ gets more post-ups much the same when Varejao is on the floor with Jamison. It seems like Jamison stays outside becoming virtually a fourth guard while whoever is supposed to be the five man is down low. I would have to agree that given the assortment of moves by Jamison that he could be more dangerous closer to the paint. Just wait until Shaq is back. But what do I know I’m commenting on a sports blog.

    • http://www.msblsim.com boogeyman

      Btw it’s great to see Mo Williams doing more then just shooting. It’s obvious to anyone who watches his importance to the team. If Parker could somehow find a way to become relevant come the playoffs the Cavaliers would be that much better off. Perhaps it’s just a case of to many toys in the toy box for this team, coaches.

    • Jack

      @Jacob – The Cavs went to Powe on three straigt possessions at the start of the 4th quarter while Mo, West, and Tawn were on the floor with him. He turned the ball over once, and went to the line on two other occasions, thus the zereo shot attempts figure. I know it prompted commentary from Brown or Barry (I forget which)…and I had been thinking the same thing. If being down two at the start of a pressure-packed 4th with LBJ on the bench isn’t Tawn-time, I don’t know what is.

      I just don’t think the Cavs are doing a good enough job getting him touches. I just don’t understand Mike Brown’s thought process there and I wonder if this is symptomatic of a lingering unawareness of personnel situations.

    • phil m

      @Jack: I see what you are saying, but I tend to think along with Jacob that it’s not too big an issue and not only for the reason I stated, which may have been a little off target from your original intention.

      A few comments: Powe may well play in the playoffs, or do you have reason to believe otherwise?

      Second, I think we can all agree here that, whether Jamison is flying in on one of his ballerina type moves with the ball rolling off his fingertips or whether he’s posting up in conventional fashion, what’s most important is that the Cavs execute actual plays come playoff time. We saw how they tended to freeze up in the thick of playoff games last year; almost as if they had never practiced together and the one-man LeBron show was all they had as an offense. Well, two signs are encouraging in this respect: the likely presence of Shaq, who gives the offense a different character; and the recent success the Cavs have had in pulling off well-constructed plays in decisive moments.

      Finally, I think that the team might better prepare for the playoffs by studying and rehearsing a number of different offensive sets and plays during closed-door practices rather than by simply demanding playoff-like performances from everyone in the regular season games in April. And it might make sense not to put all the plays on display for everyone to see.

    • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

      “But what do I know I’m commenting on a sports blog.”

      I love the smell of passive aggression in the morning.

      Great stuff, Jacob. I too have been a bit tough on Mo, but my occasional displeasure extends beyond the few games when he was coming back from injury. At times it appears that he takes himself out of games on the defensive end if his shot isn’t falling – and that’s tough for the other four to overcome.

      For me, this game was a huge statement given the absence of Anderson Varejao. I thought that the athletic frontcourt of the Hawks would give JJ a bit of a tough time, and he was solid yet again.

      Out baby is growing up so fast!

    • phil m

      @Boogeyman: It surely is a pleasure to watch Mo play like the difference-maker he can be. It’s like, wow, where’ve ya’ been, man? In the last couple of games, he has lost that glazed look in his eyes and now seems to have a little flame going. Just keep playing like that, Mo, and I don’t see anyone slowing us down.

      And, yeah, it remains something of a mystery as to why Parker does not have more of an impact on offense and why his shot has not been as sharp as earlier in the season. I don’t really notice his defensive impact as much as I perhaps should, but the line from Windy at least is that Parker earns his minutes as a defender.

    • Jack

      @phil – I have to think Powe is the odd man out.

      At least, I hope he is. Ideally, I’d like to see a front-court in which Shaq/Andy/Jamison/Hickson are getting the minutes with very little Z and next to no Powe.

      I like Powe. And I think he can be more valuable next year.

      I am in the Windy camp that suggests that Brown MUST find minutes for Hickson. MUST. What else does the kid have to do? Hickson looked great against the athletic front-court of the Hawks and gave us a huge boost after Jamison went down.

    • historycat

      I like that Mo is finally finding his place with all these other players.

      I like that he is being more aggressive on both ends, and I really think that’s helping his numbers.

      IF he keeps this up, the Cavs may have a chance at this thing. (I refuse to make positive predictions so as not to jinx it. I think we should treat it like a no-hitter in the 6th. Don’t talk about it.)

      Missing Shaq and Andy is huge since we know how deep this team is. It’s been very comforting.

      By the way, the Z-fense was outstanding. He was aggressive and owned the paint.

    • http://www.msblsim.com boogeyman

      @Scott once again thank you for your opinion on my opinion. I can’t make any comments even at my own expense these days without a little extra from one of you. If your the Scott who writes here perhaps you might want to elevate yourself above the fray more, you know like Denny.

      @phil m I lost count at the times I begged and pleaded for Mo to drive and penetrate more on offense. I know he can be more dangerous when he does other things then just make himself another jump shooter.

    • http://waitingfornextyear.com Denny

      I don’t know why my height is being brought into all of this :/

      Jamison’s off-the-ball cuts are quite nice, and it’s good to see JJ playing well. It seems like his nice play to dumb mistake ratio is continually trending in the right direction, though the breakaway in the first half where he let the ball go flying by (wasn’t a great pass by Mo either) was frustrating.

    • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

      @Boogey – if you notice the pattern, the only time one of your “opinions” is followed by a comment from myself is when your “opinion” is not pertinent to the topic of the post.

      Everyone that comments at WFNY is entitled to their opinion about the information within the post. Your insistence on treating this as an open forum will not be tolerated. Your newfangled decision to belittle what we do here will also not be tolerated. None of the owners or contributors at WFNY force anyone to read a post and/or comment on said topic therein. If you feel that what we do here is of little value, please feel free to email our tips address and tell us what we can do to improve. All criticism is considered – we have evolved quite a bit over time thanks to reader thoughts. However, using the comment field to dictate this is not acceptable.

      Any further discussion on this topic can be done via email as I refuse to further belabor the point within these comments. Any other questions regarding the guidelines of these comments can be answered in the “Before you Comment” page.

      Thank you.

    • Jack

      Brrrr…it’s cold in here, there must be some Toros in the atmosphere…

    • http://www.msblsim.com boogeyman

      Jack that was funny my last comment got edited – go figure! Now that home court in the East is clinched I wonder if more guys will sit even with one game, I think, left to clinch homecourt overall.