Game 64: Cavs at Hawks
Radio: WTAM-AM 1100, WMMS-FM 100.7, La Mega-FM 97.7
TV: Fox Sports Ohio
1. Many think this was a preview of the Eastern Conference finals. The Cavs now realize they'll probably have to go through Atlanta to get to the NBA Finals. They wanted to send the Hawks a message. Instead, they got the message loud and clear: The Hawks aren't going to back down from the Cavs. The Hawks dismantled them for large stretches of the game. They jumped out to a big lead in the first half. The Cavs fought back and took the lead in the third quarter, but never came from behind in the fourth. Atlanta won the season series with the Cavs, 3-1.
2. The Cavs trailed by two points, 81-79, to start the fourth. Cavs forward LeBron James started the quarter on the bench. By the time Coach David Blatt got him in the game, with 8:45 left in the game, the Cavs trailed by 10 points, 91-81. They were never able to recover from that deficit.
3. James, an 11-time All-Star, had one of his worst games of the season. He ended with 18 points, but shot just 5 of 13 from the field. He turned the ball over nine times in the game. He wasn't his usual dominating self. He did have six rebounds and eight assists, but he wasn't close to as efficient as he was in Toronto on Wednesday. And, in case you haven't noticed, the Cavs rarely win unless he plays well.
4. The Hawks are the best team in the league, and played like it. They've now won six in a row. They have secured a playoff spot for the eighth consecutive season. During this streak, they have limited all six teams to under 100 points and allowed an average of 89.6 per game. The Cavs shot just 42 percent from the field.
5. The Hawks play the game the right way. They share the ball. They find the open man. They shoot well from the perimeter and can score in the paint. They have no superstars on the roster, just several standout performers. The Hawks had four players make the East All-Star team, and deservedly so. When drawing up a game plan, it would be difficult to stop this team. They can all hurt you in their own way. The Cavs have three players who average more than the Hawks' leading scorer.
6. The Hawks are near the top in several offensive and defensive categories. Coach Mike Budenholzer appears to be earmarked as the league's Coach of the Year. He brought Gregg Popovich's system with him from San Antonio. Scouts say they are a mini-version of the Spurs without Pop's biting sarcasm. When looking at the matchups in this game, the Paul Millsap-Kevin Love duel worries me a bit. Millsap is the Hawks' leading scorer at 16.9 points and 8.0 rebounds. Love is averaging 17 points and 10.2 rebounds. The difference is the shooting percentages, as Millsap shoots 47 percent from the field, compared to Love's 43 percent. Love's percentages are improving as the season wears on. He really is an oustanding third option.
7. Cavs coach David Blatt earned his first technical foul of the season. He complained to official Tony Brothers, who called an offensive foul on James. When James elevated toward the rim, he inadvertently elbowed Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll in the chin.
8. The Cavs have lost five in a row at Philips Arena. They had a chance to move into sole possession of second place in the East. Instead, they remain in the fourth spot.
9. James is now nine assists away from passing Mark Price (4,206) for first place on the Cavaliers' all-time list in assists.
UP NEXT: vs. Phoenix, Quicken Loans Arena, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
SF LeBron James (6-8, 250) vs. DeMarre Carroll (6-8, 212)
C Timofey Mozgov (7-1, 250) vs. Al Horford (6-10, 245)
SG J.R. Smith (6-6, 220) vs. Kyle Korver (6-7, 212)
Hawks - G/F Thabo Sefolosha
Tony Brothers, Kane Fitzgerald, Kevin Scott