In 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman marched his union forces through Atlanta, destroying nearly everything in his path, and leaving the city not much more than a smoldering ruin. A little more than 150 years later, LeBron Raymone James led his rag-tag band of teammates on their own journey to do some damage in Atlanta, but this time it was merely the Hawks and their home court advantage that went up in flames.
With a long list of wounded, including two of his “big three” partners, LBJ found a way to marshall all of the remaining King’s men and exhort them into helping him thoroughly dismantle Atlanta’s once mighty basketball team. The latest casualty was Kyrie Irving, whose legs had finally betrayed him during the initial skirmish of Game 1. However, the Cavs “next man up” philosophy ensured that there would be no drop off in intensity or will. And they would show the Hawks no mercy, torching them on their own floor, in front of their disbelieving fans (many of whom fled for the exits to escape the conflagration).
What began as a fairly hotly contested game in the first half, turned in the third quarter when the Cavaliers cranked up their defense to smothering. Using a 24-9 run to push their lead out to 20, the Cavs blew away the Hawks, and blazed their way to a commanding 2-0 series lead.
While the Cavs stole home court from the Hawks and jumped out to an early series lead after winning Game 1, 97-89, they head into Game 2 with a great deal of uncertainty regarding without Kyrie Irving due to an aching left knee. Irving missed the team’s morning shootaround, instead spending the time getting a further evaluation on his knee after treatment. The latest news had him getting another MRI on the knee, and he is listed as “questionable” now out for tonight’s game.
“This is obviously one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever dealt with,” Irving said after Game 1. “We do days and days and go out there and it’s nothing like simulating a game so for me, I just have to continue to do what I’ve been doing and do whatever is necessary to put myself out there. I’m all about winning. That’s the only thing that matters.”
I got to celebrate the Cavs’ glorious Game One victory in Mark Neal’s studio this afternoon. We talked all things Cavs, the Conference Finals, the trade for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, the draft, and even got into some discussions about the one-year-of-college requirement. Give it a listen, and tune in each Thursday between 5 and 6 EST. I’d love to have some of our regulars call in with a question, put a voice to a name.
JR Smith submerged himself in icewater after the game, just so he wouldn’t set his apartment on fire when he got home. Smith was a human torch, scorching the nets for 28 points on 10-16 shooting, including eight three-pointers (a Cavs playoff record). LeBron added 31 points, Tristan and T-Mo chipped in double digit rebounding performances, and the Cavs’ perimeter defense held the Hawks to 4-23 shooting from behind the arc.
After an 18 point lead in the fourth, sparked by JR Swish, the Hawks cut it to 11. The Cavs reverted to their “ball control” offense with eight minutes left and drained the life out of the shot clock on every possession, and eventually wrung the seconds out of the game clock. The Hawks made it close, cutting the Cavs lead to four points with under a minute left, but a King James drive for an uncontested dunk stretched the diff to +6 with just 37 seconds left. Paul Millsap missed a three, and that closed the door for the Hawks.
It’s been a long week. If you’re like me, you didn’t know what to do with yourself while the Cavs weren’t playing. Fortunately, we hoops junkies get our fix tonight, as the Cavs take on the Hawks. Some great storylines heading into this one: Kyrie seems to be at the healthiest he’s been in a few weeks, according to Chris Fedor of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.
I feel good,” Kyrie Irving said. “This is a lot of days resting and getting treatment but also finally feeling good and actually being out there with my teammates preparing again. It’s a totally different mindset than being in the training room or being on the court watching film. Now it’s time to get started, roll the basketball out and go play.”
That’s good to hear, and it’s a key factor for this playoff series. When taking a look at the matchups, peak Kyrie is superior to Jeff Teague, but the Kyrie we saw for most of the Bulls series comes out on the negative side. I believe the week off is going to do wonders for Kyrie (He’s only 23. He still heals like a young guy.)
Four points I’m thinking about the Cleveland Cavaliers…
1.) It’s darned near impossible to overstate the importance of the three point shot in the playoffs. In the Cavs most recent six game series against the Chicago Bulls, there were several instances where a player getting hot from deep helped to swing the game. There was Mike Dunleavy’s first quarter outburst in Game 1, J.R. Smith’s three big triples in the fourth quarter of a crucial Game 4 that set up the game winning shot by LeBron James, while Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova took turns keeping Game 6 en fuego.
1. If you’re the Cavs, what worries you the most going into a series against the Atlanta Hawks?
Tom: I worry about the Cavs being able to match up with the front line of the Hawks. They got away with playing James Jones because Joakim Noah with so useless offensively. But that’s not going to work against Paul Millsap or Al Horford. they’ve had slow start with Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson playing together. The key to the series may be LeBron James guarding Paul Millsap.
Cory: Kyle Korver shot a sizzling .492 3P% on 449 attempts during the regular season, but has struggled from downtown against the Wizards. Bradley Beal blanketed Korver through their series and it was effective as Korver shot just 12 for 42 from beyond the arc. He’s due to breakout of his shooting funk.
Ben: Dennis Schröder. That kid is insanely slippery. He walks around the court like he owns the place and it rubs some people the wrong way. There are also the Rondo comparisons that lead many to assume he is a headcase. And hey, his German status has confused people into thinking he dominated a chair in his youth. However, he is a very fine player who is only getting better. He is incredibly long on the perimeter. (I was just chatting with a German buddy of man who got yanked from his youth game after Dennis picked his pocket on four consecutive trips). He and Teague should be able to give Kyrie some trouble even if Uncle Drew feels fresh like Nephew Drew. Schröder is a much better shooter than Rondo every dreamed of being and has already mastered the change of pace drive going either way. He has a knack for getting his shoulder by the defender as if it were buttered. The Cavs have had some trouble against lightening quick PGs. It will probably be up to Shump to shut him down.
David: I’m worried about the Hawks offense starting to look like it did in the middle of the season. When the Hawks destroyed the Cavs by 29 points in December, it was because their guards would cut into the paint and then whip the the ball to the open shooter. If Kyrie is still running around like he has a stick taped to his leg, there would be even more pressure on Mozgov to mean mug away possible penetration. Delly might have to play 48 minutes then too. Relying on those two guys full-time scares me.
Robert: The Cavs need to be very cautious about starting games as slowly as they did against Chicago. I don’t think you can expect this Hawks team to take a quarter off from scoring like the Bulls often did to let the Cavs claw their way back into the game.
First, check out this morning’s excellent post, “on toughness” by EvilGenius. Second, EG, David, and I blew right through our self-imposed “half hour” to deliver our thoughts on the Cavs/Bulls series, the Eastern Conference Finals, the toughness the Cavaliers have exhibited, and living in an alternate universe where Matthew Dellavedova is a villain and an assassin.
In the aftermath of the Cavs six game grindfest against the Chicago Bulls, one thing became abundantly clear to me about this current incarnation of the Cavaliers… these guys are anything but soft. In fact, they may actually be comprised entirely of Cleveland-forged, reinforced sheet metal, held together with rusty nails and covered in the shattered glass shards and detritus from the wreckage of their opponents. Not only does this team bear no resemblance to the sometimes marshmallow-like Cavs playoff teams of yesteryear, they don’t even remotely resemble the relatively soft and slow team they were at the start of the season, which now seems like eons ago.
So far, the crucible of the first post-season appearance for so many of these young Cavaliers (minus LBJ and a few other wily vets) has forged them into a hardened weapon, capable of bludgeoning their adversaries into submission. They have taken an exponential leap in their defensive toughness and intensity, reaching a gear that has propelled them from middle-of-the-pack to the top of the statistical heap amongst playoff contenders.
Yet, it’s more than that. There’s an inner strength that has begun to boil beneath the gritty exterior. A resilience that’s been cultivated over a season of ups and downs, marred with early adversity, spiked with controversy, and more recently threatened by severe injury. A fortitude that’s been built on a foundation of brotherhood and regional pride, stoked by the fires of external doubt and slights, and solidified by an inherent belief in one another and themselves.
Cleveland put away the Chicago Bulls in a decisive manner tonight to earn a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs held Chicago to 37% shooting and just four made threes. Matthew Dellavedova led the way with a podium level-performance to silence all haters. He scored 19 points shooting 7-11 from the floor and 3-6 from behind the arc. Delly defended his Australian pride by covering every single guy on the floor, centers included, and doing it well. He was +21 for the evening and scored the first five of the Cavs 15 points in the third quarter. He was unstoppable for 31 minutes.
Tristan Thompson also helped out scoring ten points in the first quarter, including two And-1s, on his way to 13 points and 17 rebounds. Iman Shumpert, bench man turned starter, rounded out the Mini-3 with 13 points, and a game high +26. His nine second quarter points started a Cavs lead the Bulls couldn’t overcome. The mini-3 stepped up because the remaining two of the Big-3 played hobbled. Kyrie Irving played only 12 minutes after going down in the second quarter, and he scored just six points. LeBron James scored 15 points, but it took him 23 shots and worn out doing it.
David Wood and EvilGenius decided to share their email diary of the game. Here it is:
Nate Smith is an Associate Editor. He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and moved to NE Ohio in 2000. He adopted the Cavs in 2003 and graduated from Kent State in 2009 with a BA in English. He can be contacted at email@example.com or @oldseaminer on Twitter.
Tom Pestak is an Associate Editor. He's from the west side of Cleveland and lives and (mostly) dies by the success and (mostly) failures of his beloved teams. You can watch his fanaticism during Cavs games @tompestak.
Robert Attenweiler is a Staff Writer. Originally from OH, he's long made his home in NYC where he writes plays and screenplays (www.disgracedproductions.com) some of which end up being about Ohio, basketball or both. He has also written for The Classical and the blog Raising the Cadavalier. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @cadavalier.
Benjamin Werth is a Staff Writer. He was born in Cleveland and raised in Mentor, OH. He now lives in Germany where he is an opera singer and actor. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Cory Hughey is a Staff Writer. He grew up in Youngstown, the Gary, Indiana of Ohio. He graduated from Youngstown State in 2008 with a worthless telecommunications degree. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or @coryhughey on Twitter.
David Wood is our Links Editor. He is a 2012 Graduate of Syracuse University with an English degree who loves bikes, beer, basketball, writing, and Rimbaud. He can be reached on Twitter: @nothingwood.
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John Krolik is the Editor Emeritus of Cavs: The Blog. At present, he is pursuing a law degree at Tulane University. You can contact him at email@example.com or @johnkrolik.
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