Cavs/Hawks Game 1 Recap
LeBron on the bench? Easy win.
Its been exactly a decade since the Atlanta Hawks have seen the second round of the playoffs, and their reward for making it this year? The best team in basketball, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the reigning MVP, LeBron James. And how about we give the Cavs home court advantage, where they are 43-2 this season? That is the plight of the Hawks and their long suffering fans — life isn’t always fair.
Even if the Hawks had their stars from their last playoff team — Steve Smith, Mookie Blaylock and Dikembe Mutombo — in their prime and suiting up for them in this series, not many people would give Atlanta a chance at knocking of the James Gang. But the games are all scheduled, tickets are sold and TV time is reserved, so they might as well play the games and see what happens.
The Hawks didn’t come out looking like the underdog, shooting the lights out early with Josh Smith putting in work in the paint. Smith then showed his slashing ability, throwing down a nasty left handed dunk on Anderson Varejao that for some reason fired the Cavs up, not the Hawks. A one-time seven-point Hawks lead quickly turned into a four-point Cavs advantage at the quarter break, with Mr. MVP pouring in 16 points, despite every Atlanta player taking a turn guarding him.
But Cleveland is more than just LeBron and a bunch of scrubs this year, and they showed it to start the second quarter with James on the bench. Before LeBron even had much of a breather on the pine, the lead ballooned to 12. So, just like everyone figured, LeBron is holding the Cavs back — they are a better team without him (sarcasm, my friends). Or maybe that wasn’t such a ridiculous statement — with James back in the game Atlanta started chipping into the lead again.
The Cavs 49-44 halftime lead would have been bigger if not for Mike Bibby being unconscious from outside (4-4 for 3pts) and Smith playing like a whirling dervish. Smith showed the full spectrum of his game – posting up, slashing to the hoop and being very active, while at the same time playing out of control and erratic. Still, it had to be frustrating for the Hawks to shoot 56 percent for the half and still be losing.
Cleveland stopped playing around after coming out from the break. James continued being consistently brilliant (12 points in the quarter) and perhaps the most ominous sign for the Hawks was Wally Szczerbiak drawing a charge near the end of the quarter. Life definitely isn’t always fair. 77-61 Cavs at the end of three.
With the King on the bench to start the fourth, Cleveland poured it on and really opened up the lead (hmm, there seems to be a pattern here). Cavs by 19 when the King rises from his throne and enters the game again. It only gets worse for Atlanta from there, as Cleveland turns it into a full-on blowout, going on to win 99-72. Their trademark defense was stifling in the second half, and all signs point to an easy series for Cleveland. Assuming, of course, that LeBron stays on the bench.