Cavaliers 97, Hawks 89 (Cleveland leads series, 1-0)
Don’t tell my mom, but I hated her old gold couch. The damn thing had this one spring on the left side that would irritate the hell out of me. But I had to sit on it. The right side was bad luck. When I sat on the left, good things happened. In Living Color episodes were funnier. My team won more, too. That’s where I was on October 14, 1992, arguably the most unforgettable night in Atlanta sports history. For the uninitiated, that’s the evening Atlanta first baseman Sid Bream lumbered around the bases and slid safely into home to send the Braves to the World Series.
Locals could have sure used that sofa last night. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals was supposed to be the latest chapter in a season of newly written basketball prose. The eager home crowd was dressed dapperly and had a wonderful energy.
They knew this 2014-15 team had traveled farther than any Dominique- or Dikembe-led squad had previously, and they were thanking them for it. And after public address announcer Ryan Cameron roared “If you believe, make some noise” right before tip, you could almost see screws rattling from the arena rafters.
But that LeBron James has a way of dashing folks’ hopes, doesn’t he? With a 25/6/7 postseason average this year, the King has been wonderfully efficient at the most important times. Oddly though, the most glaring stat of his first quarter was two fouls. With James on the bench for a chunk of time, the Cavaliers had to look elsewhere for points. An aching Kyrie Irving would sink a few shots. A steady Tristan Thompson would do his part, too.
Early on, it didn’t appear that JR Smith would have much of an impact on Game 1. He had two points after the first. By halftime, though, he had 11 from an array of difficult jumpers. Jeff Teague responded with 17 points in the first two quarters. As a whole, the contest went back and forth for most of the first half. Felt like a boxing match with two deserving contenders—which makes sense, seeing as how Floyd Mayweather Jr. was sitting courtside. 51-51 at the break.
Like a heavyweight who senses some unsteadiness in his opponent’s legs, Smith came out in the third with the sole purpose of delivering a knockout blow. No matter who was guarding him—Teague, Kent Bazemore and I swear it looked like even 2 Chainz tried to contest a few jumpers—Smith was draining buckets. In fact, after the Cavs guard’s 28-point performance, all Teague could do was give dude his props: “He made shots with people draped all over him, with hands in his face. You just gotta tip your hat off to him.”
By the 10:27 mark in the fourth, the Hawks were down 15 and that early energy Philips Arena had toned to a murmur. “Ten minutes is a loooong time,” screamed Cameron over the house speaker. Most clapped. Not sure how many believed. But when DeMarre Carroll, the team’s undisputed postseason MVP up to this point, went down with a knee injury with just under five minutes left in the game, even the loudest fans were left empty about the night. Final score: 97-89, Cavs.
“At the end of the day, we’re all a brotherhood,” LeBron said in the postgame conference when asked about DeMarre’s injury. “You never want anyone to get injured during combat. I love competing against anybody that loves competing. He’s one of those guys that was competing.”
Atlanta head coach Mike Budenholzer said that the initial report on Carroll was a knee sprain, but they’ll know more after a Thursday MRI. What we know for certain is that if the Hawks don’t want to watch the NBA Finals from their own couch, they have to win Game 2 on Friday.
Images via Getty