Ten observations from Cavs 121, Hawks 114
1. The Hawks weren’t good defensively, and LeBron James was just too good when they were. But the Hawks had one of their best offensive games of the season to stay competitive. That was no small feat because the Cavs have been playing great defense during their nine-game winning streak. The Hawks made the older, slower Cavs play at a quick pace with crisp passing and lots of movement on offense but the Cavs scored 121 points on 79 shots.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer didn’t think his team was bad defensively: “I’m proud of the way the guys competed–their activity and their togetherness. . . . Hopefully we made them work for it and maybe go to (options) just a little bit different. But they are a good team. They find a way to make baskets.”
2. The Hawks led 67-63 at halftime. The Cavs erased the advantage with an 8-0 run to open the second half and then extended it with James as play-maker and Kevin Love as shot-maker. The Hawks cut the deficit to 113-112 on Ersan Ilyasova’s free throws with 2:37 left. But after Dennis Schroder short-armed an open jumper at the free-throw line, James answered with a three, Dwyane Wade made a floater for a six-point advantage and James forced DeAndre’ Bembry to foul him on a drive and made one of the free throws. That was it for the Hawks.
Schroder “I think they played great but I think we competed. We did everything we could and played together as a team. I think a couple of possessions we didn’t but you’ve got to give them credit for this game.”
3. The Cavaliers matched Kevin Love against John Collins and Jose Calderon was guarding Dennis Schroder. The Hawks took advantage of this advantageous situation early and often with pick-and-rolls. Calderon had little chance to stay in front of Schroder and Love wasn’t much help keeping Schroder from turning the corner or Collins away from the basket.
4. You won’t see many mismatches as bad as Calderon vs. Schroder tonight. Schroder went past him for baskets on three straight possessions in the second quarter, when he scored 11 points. This was one of those games in which Schroder was finishing well against the help defenders, too. Eventually Cavs coach Tyron Lue put James on Schroder, who because of his size and quickness is like an on-ball defender and help defender all-in-one.
Lue on James vs. Schroder: “He did an unbelievable job. I mean, one of the best I’ve seen all year. That was big time for us for him to go after the point guards and for him to guard Schroder and got some big stops.”
5. Watching James do a better job than Calderon keeping one of the best driving point guards in the league away from the basket–and then set up his teammates for open three-point looks as the point guard–was just the latest reminder that there’s never been a player like James. Budenholzer pregame: “This is my fifth year in the East I’ve just come to expect the best from LeBron. He’s a phenomenal player and I think he takes a lot of pride in being the best.”
6. Taurean Prince was the main defender against James much of the night with Ilyasova and Bembry also taking turns. The Hawks provided plenty of help, including some double teams and multiple defenders sagging into the paint to take away James’ straight-line drives. James made the right decisions with the ball most of the time, though, and that made it tough on the Hawks. The Hawks scored 35 points in the first quarter but the Cavs scored 42 in large part because the Hawks couldn’t prevent James from streaking down the lane and muscling for baskets.
7. None of the Cavaliers could do much to stop Collins from getting to the rim early in the game . Within the first eight minutes Collins had nine points on five shots and five rebounds. One thing that’s impressive about Collins is opponents can locate him, get a body on him and yet the rookie still just springs up and grabs rebounds at their apex before anyone else can even jump.
8. Collins didn’t finish the game. Budenholzer said Collins suffered a left shoulder injury but didn’t have any updates immediately following the game.
9. Ilyasova (22 points on 11 shots, five steals in 30 minutes) had probably his best game of the season. The Hawks need him to be consistent if they hope to stay competitive with Dewayne Dedmon on the shelf. Budenholzer on Ilyasova: “One of Ersan’s best games on both ends of the court: taking charges, getting rebounds, saving balls. Just a lot of good things and obviously when he makes shots it’s huge for us. It’s great to see him play like that.”
10. Hawks point guard Isaiah Taylor (zero points on three shots, two assists) returned from injury and served as the backup point guard. He looked to be rusty. Josh Magette and Malcolm Delaney got DNP-CDs. With Taylor and DeAndre’ Bembry both healthy it appears Delaney also won’t be getting many minutes as the off-ball guard. Budenholzer pregame: “We are lucky to have Malcolm can do both. It’s trended where he’s more of a secondary ball-handler more of an off the ball. And I think he was thriving in that, too. Isiah getting injured at time he did was unfortunate but Malcolm is ready and available if needed.
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