Full disclosure: I already turned in a semi-recap of this one to Da Dime. But I shall give you more, because I love all of you in an internet way. That sounds much, much creepier than I mean it to.
Overview: In a game that was essentially over by halftime, LeBron and the Cavs absolutely stomped the Hawks, giving up only 55 points through the first through quarters and riding 27 points in 31 minutes from LeBron James to an easy win that did not require the starters to play in the fourth quarter.
This is getting ridiculous. Only once in the LeBron era have we gotten past this round of the playoffs. Each of these wins technically counts for just as much as the gritty, blood-soaked wins in the ultimately futile seven-game wars we had with the Pistons in 2006 and the Celtics last year. And they feel like practice games. At the beginning of this game, both of these teams started with an equal amount of points. It’s almost hard to remember that.
Keeping that in mind, there were actual basketball reasons the Cavaliers won this game.
Offensive option #1: LeBron James in full-on beast mode. Right from the beginning, LeBron wanted to drive the hole, and was immediately flying to the foul and demanding contact, as well as flying out to create turnovers (4 steals in only 31 minutes) and looking for a fast-break whenever he could, beating the Hawks at their own game. There was no “facilitating” tonight, making easy passes to guys looking for a three or Z working the settle jumper on the pick-and-pop. Of his 5 assists, I can immediately remember four of them off the top of my head:
The absolutely prenatural behind-the-back touch pass on a fast break to a trailing Wally. It should be noted that twice on a fast break, Mike Bibby tried and failed to FOUL LeBron. This plays into the two main offensive themes of the night.
I played Jayvee high school basketball for all of two years. On day one of tryouts, we learned that you can’t feed the post from the top of the key. Unless you’re LeBron James, who not only managed to break one of the basic rules of Xs and Os, but did it with a BACKHANDED WRIST PASS to hit Varejao under the basket, whizzing the ball by five defenders’ ears from 25 feet away on a frozen rope. Holy Jesus. I’ve mentioned this up, but one of the things that makes LeBron such an amazing passer is that he’s physcially good at passing-his height and strength allows him to actually make the ball go faster and through different angles that all the court vision and anticipation in the world wouldn’t allow him to do normally.
A spinning, whirling fast-break pass where he somehow drew two defenders to him and, in mid-air, found a wide-open Wally for a jumper.
With the defense loaded up on him, LeBron read a defender cheating and effortlessly fired a skip across the court to a wide-open Mo Williams sitting in the short corner for a three.
Actually, I just remembered #5: LeBron finding a cutting Andy with an overhanded lefty baseball pass for a layup.
That’s all five assists. I promise I have not reviewed the play-by-play or any highlights, and I watched this game around 5 or 6 hours ago. That’s the litmus test for discerning “good” assists from cheap ones.
And if you’ve read this blog, you know the test for whether or not LeBron had the game he wanted going is how well he worked the “extreme skew” layups and dunks great, free throws just below, then threes, with midrange jumpers being the plan B, as fits with the efficiency of the shots in general.
Here’s how it broke down tonight, courtesy of next-level data from the Volcano Lair:
In the Paint: 5-7
Free Throws: 12 FTs (6 attempts), 6 makes
Mid-range jumpers: 1-2
He’s getting what he wants, when he wants it. This defense just has no answer.
And a 40-foot STEP-BACK JUMPER WITHOUT CHANGING HIS STROKE? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
And three dunks, including one at the end of a quarter when everyone and their uncle knew the drive was coming, except ZaZa Pachulia, who had his head turned, perhaps silently hoping for an inpromptu Joe Beast Freestyle.
And can we get Elias on “most times finishing with a higher three-point percentage than free-throw percentage?” If LeBron didn’t do this in more games than anyone else, I’d be stunned.
Overall, he finished with a 67.5 TS%, and that’s finishing the game 1-4 on “screw it, we’re winning, let’s make some highlights” jumpers and missing half of his free throws. If you take out the last four shots and put him 10-12 from the line, he would’ve gone for a TS of 78%. So option #1 was working. But only three rebounds!
And the free throws? ‘Cmon, LeBron! This is the playoffs! Step up!
Offensive option #2: Ruthlessly and without anything resembling mercy eviscerate whoever Mike Bibby is attempting to guard, either blowing directly by him or exploiting the guy who switches to try and save him. Mo and Delonte had the lane or a wide-open free-throw line jumper absolutely anytime they wanted it, and the results were immediate and crushing. He’s just completely helpless out there, and with Horford hurt, ZaZa trying to make up for terrible rotations with cheap-shots and fake hustle, and Josh Smith’s thoughts occupied by his Spirit Cougar’s mischevious behavior, the Hawks are just getting absolutely shredded by dribble-penetration.
More good news? Ben Wallace looked like he was back to his early-season form in his (limited) minutes out there, showing out to 35 feet, rotating back, getting on loose balls, and protecting the rim. He had a defensive renaissance early this year, and he’s getting back into that form. That becomes huge in later rounds.
Offensively for Atlanta, there was no good news. The leading scorers were Mo Evans and Thomas Gardner. Smoove went 2-13. He wasn’t just settling for jumpers-he was missing everything. Although he’s a very underrated passer. I hope this series doesn’t destroy his spirit. I’m honestly worried about that. Evidently, Joe Johnson played tonight.
And congrats to Wally and his 17 points on 9 field goals. Although as Bret points out, having Wally go off on you without hitting a three is really, really, really bad news.
Okay, that’s it for me tonight, campers. All I’ll say is this-Boston probably felt cocky about going up 2-0 on this team too. This is a very erratic team, and is on a whole other level at home. But like I said in the Dime (READ IT NOW I WORKED HARD), what’s most heartening to me about this team is how focused they’ve been and how they haven’t let themselves get fat and happy. I feel good, but there’s a lot of ball left to be played, even in this series. See you after game 3; yes, if we win I will chill A LITTLE. (I don’t want the greatest basketball comeback of all time to happen against us, okay?)