CLEVELAND–Ten observations from Cavs 123, Hawks 114.
1. When the Hawks won here earlier this season they did so in large part by playing faster than the Cavaliers from the start, and Cleveland didn’t respond until late. But that was back when Cleveland looked old and slow, and LeBron James didn’t seem to have much interest in chasing shooters. The Cavs have righted themselves since then, as they showed during that W at Philips Arena and again with a dominant victory tonight. The Cavaliers buried the Hawks with 20 three-pointers (on 38 tries).
Tyler Cavanaugh: “It’s hard to guard them when they are shooting it like that. (Kyle) Korver is such a deadly shooter and (Kevin) Love was making them and Lebron made a few. When they can spread you out like that and then you’ve got to help on LeBron, it makes it difficult.”
2. Maybe my eyes deceived me watching the game live, but I thought the Hawks actually played solid three-point D. They were active and rotating well to shooters for the most part but the Cavaliers, especially James, countered those efforts with crisp passing and shot-making. James had a career-high 17 assists.
Budenholzer: “We really put a lot of attention on trying to make LeBron James not be able to get to the rim, get to the paint, get to the free-throw line (he was 1 of 2). I think he probably won that. He kicked it, (Jose) Calderon made some threes, other guys made some threes where there’s just a lot of attention to James. But the guys did pretty much what we wanted, what we asked them to do. (The Cavs) made the reads, they made the shots.”
4. Taurean Prince had the primary assignment against James and did what he could. But this was one of those nights in which James had it going at every level of the floor (25 points on 13 shots) and also was setting up his teammates with sharp cross-court passes. When he’s doing that and Kevin Love and Kyle Korver both are making threes, the Cavs are dang hard to stop.
Budenholzer: “It’s a tried-and-true formula: You have a great player, you put three-point shooting around him, it makes it tough. They had even more three-point shooting tonight. LeBron obviously is a great facilitator, great passer. They made the plays. Not just him, shooters still got to make shots. They were good tonight.”
5. Prince (career-high 24 points on 10 shots) had a good offensive rhythm when he went to the bench with three fouls in the second quarter: 11 points, 5-of-6 on field goals. The Hawks were down four points at the time; they trailed by 14 at halftime after scoring just 17 points in the period. The Hawks were down big by the time Prince got it going again in the third quarter.
Prince on his strategy: “Just be aggressive and make them guard as much as possible. They were doing a lot of good things on offense so I figured if I made them exert some energy on defense it will take away from their offense a little bit. But we still came up short. On to the next.”
6. The Hawks did a good job of isolating whomever had Korver guarding them and letting him attack off the dribble. Prince and Kent Bazemore (20 points on 13 shots, five assists) took advantage. But Korver (19 points on 11 shots, 6-for-9 on threes) more than made up the difference at the other end.
7. Dennis Schroder (14 points on 15 shots, five assists in 27 minutes) had two good scoring games in the previous meetings against the Cavs–at least until James took over the assignment from Jose Calderon at Philips Arena. Schroder didn’t abuse Calderon this time. The Cavs were playing off Schroder to stop his drives and he didn’t force the issue, but neither did he take full advantage of space in the mid-range.
8. Cavanaugh made his first career start, replacing Miles Plumlee at center. That put five shooters on the floor for the Hawks and they didn’t have much of a size disadvantage with Cavanaugh on Jae Crowder. When Cavs coach Tyron Lue summoned Tristan Thompson off the bench, Budenholzer sent Plumlee in to check the bigger man.
Budenholzer: “With the Love and Crowder frontcourt, and we knew Thompson was going to play, so we just thought we would play Plumlee against Thompson.”
9. That alignment meant Ersan Ilyasova drew a touch assignment with Kevin Love. Ilyasova did a respectable job keeping Love out of the post and challenging his jumpers but Love (4-for-5 on threes) made them anyway.
10. Cavanaugh was having a bad shooting night before the game got out of hand. He bogged the offense down at times by holding the ball on the perimeter and fixating on giving it to the point guard—he missed open cutters a couple of of times because of it. Cavanaugh also was slow on some close-outs. However, Cavanaugh did his usual good work on the boards (nine rebounds, five offensive).
Cavanaugh on his first start, which came with his Erie BayHawks teammates in the arena: “It stunk because they kind of took it to us tonight. They are a really good team but we gave them too many open looks at times. We struggled with what the coaches wanted us to do, me especially. But it was a great opportunity to compete against one of the best teams in the East.”
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