First off, sorry the site was down for a few hours after the game. I have no idea what happened, I am extremely frustrated about it, and apologize to anyone who came looking for a recap. I have literally been reloading the page for an hour and a half and just got it working.
Against a Hawks team that played tough at home and was in no mood to get swept, the Cavaliers prevailed in a close game that saw very little offensive execution on either side and the game get as close as 2 points in the fourth quarter.
Defense will always be there. When the jumpers aren’t falling, the whistles aren’t making a symphony, and the ball isn’t moving and the bench isn’t stepping up, defense will always be there. Give effort and make rotations, and if you have the talent defense will be there. And in what was, in a lot of ways, a let-down game for the team, the defense was there, keeping all penetration out, not giving up open looks from three, absolutely suffocating Joe Johnson every time he put the ball on the floor, and destroying every Hawk except for Josh Smith, who is just not a guy you “game-plan” for.
LeBron actually looked human tonight, or something approximating it: he got what readers know I refer to as the “gritty” 27/8/8, never really getting out on the break, stringing together jumpers, or finding himself able to slice through the defense at will in the half-court (only 4-8 from inside the immediate basket area), instead hitting an open three here or there, leaking out early to get two cheap dunks, cutting backdoor and looking for lobs, getting a layup on Mo going baseline and finding him cutting on counter-movement (MY FAVORITE PLAY EVER), and saying “f**k it, you’re going to have to foul me because I’m not going to stop going towards the rim until I die” to get some free-throws in tight moments. His passes also weren’t of the spectacular three-point line feed for a dunk variety, but were simple passes out of traps on the pick-and-roll and down low. It was just playing the right way mixed with energy, that otherworldly athleticism, and a sense of the flow of the game. The highlight reel isn’t going to be as nice and PER is no longer broken, but it was an extremely effective game that got us the win, which does make 8 double-digit playoff wins in a row. I’ll take that.
But mainly, DELONTE WEST. Gritty defense for 45 (!) minutes. Moving the ball and not turning it over. Banging in threes. Completely fearless driving to the hole and getting his shot from midrange, even in crunch-time.
Mo made a few plays, but didn’t hit a two all night or get to the free throw line. But when we needed a big three “The Hitman” (and winner of this year’s “guy who’s trying too hard to give himself a nickname” award) was there, draining threes to set the tone and to sink the dagger in what was a very game Hawks team.
In fact, I’m just going to use the dagger play as a microcosm of this team and the resolve it shows when the going gets tough: LeBron splits the double and drives to the hoop, but can’t quite get the finish. Andy’s there to grab the offensive rebound. LeBron can’t get the finish again. Andy and Z corral the rebound, LeBron resets, gets it on the post, draws a double, kicks it to Mo to bang in the three. LeBron’s playmaking, Andy’s hustle and effort, Mo’s ability to hit big shots. That and Delonte’s toughness is what this team has when it gets pressed. And even though it’ll look easy in retrospect, we got pressed tonight.
And we’ll get pressed more in the coming weeks. The easy 8 are done with. The next 8 is where this team is going to show if it’s championship-caliber or not. Boston or Orlando is coming to the Q. They’re going to be tough. Now the real fun begins. Until next time, campers.