Links: Game Notes: Cavs 88, Hawks 87

by Lang Whitaker

Part of my gig in being a writer/editor for SLAM is that whenever important things happen in the NBA world, I feel a need to chronicle those events. And tonight is one of those events: My Atlanta Hawks are hosting the Cleveland Cavs. Normally, a regular season game between the top-ranked and fourth-ranked teams in the Eastern Conference wouldn’t warrant Game Notes, especially from my couch on a Sunday night when I could be watching “Flight of the Conchords” and “East Bound and Down.” But when the Hawks are on national TV, I have to stop everything. Yes, the Hawks are the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, and yet this only the second time all season the Hawks have been on national TV.

So, I’m settling in tonight with my good friend Johnny (Walker) for Hawks/Cavs in HD.

Shall we?

• How shocking an event is this Hawks broadcast on national TV? It’s such a rare occurrence that it actually snowed today in Atlanta. I called home and my Mom referred to it as a “blizzard,” then said it was about an inch of snow. Meanwhile we’re supposed to get 12 inches in NYC tonight.

• ESPN tonight has a play-by-play guy I’ve never heard of, Dave Pasch, along with color commentary from Doris Burke, who notes in the intro that LeBron James is “a difficult cover.” Already insightful!

• For some reason Spike Lee and Bill Murray are at the game in Atlanta. Hopefully they’re buying the Hawks. Or maybe they can play off the bench so that the Hawks aren’t just seven-deep. Ben Wallace with his broken leg would be the Hawks best big man off the bench.

• And we’re off. Doris sounds surprised the Marvin Williams is guarding LeBron, though if she’s done her research she’ll know that when the Hawks beat Cleveland earlier this year, Marv did a great job on Bron, the best defensive game I’ve seen from Marv all season. But I’m sure she knows that.

• 2-2 early. Hawks run an isolation for Marvin against LeBron which seems like a ridiculous play. Why not just give Marv a Mike Vick jersey and ask him to attend the Westminster Dog Show? Bron gets a piece of his jumper.

• 6-2, Cleveland. Mo, Bron and Z with scores. Mo hits another jumper to make it 8-2. Joe Johnson nails his second long jumper to make it 8-5. Joe’s been really inconsistent lately.

• Al Horford’s probably the best dribbling big man in the NBA. But that doesn’t mean he needs to be leading fastbreaks.

• Z from the corner makes it 13-7.

• Doris Burke talks a lot like Jodie Foster. “Quid pro quo, Coach Woodson!”

• Josh Smith wipes Mo Williams from deep, then runs back and catches a JJ miss off the rim for a dunk. Awesome sequence, and the kind of stuff that only serves to tantalize Hawks fans more and more.

• 15-11, Cleveland, with 5:41 to go in the first.

• Marv takes on Bron on a break and gets Bron twisted around, then dunks with the left. Let’s see you do that, Chris Paul! (Wait, I didn’t mean that.)

• Josh Smith gets the ball out on a break and starts dribbling, and I say aloud, “Oh God…”

• Z with a three from the wing. Good gosh, dude is stroking tonight. Luckily Mike Brown takes him out of the game before he breaks his foot again.

• Josh Smith finally found a defender he can break down off the dribble: Wally Sexyback.

• Why does Sexyback wear that face shield? I assume it’s to protect a previously broken nose, or it might be because he wants to protect his Sexyback looks. Those are priceless, after all.

• Mike Bibby just drove the lane for the first time since the All-Star break.

• Mo Evans checks in for Marv because Mike Woodson always takes out Marv halfway through the first. He could have 20 points in the first 6 minutes of the game and Woody would still yank him. And no, Woody’s predictability is not frustrating or anything. Sigh.

• Cleveland leads 24-20 with 2:01 left in the first. Cleveland’s playing well offensively, moving the ball and finding the open guys. And there are a LOT of open guys. The Hawks switch picks, which can be troublesome when you have one guy (ahem, Bibby, ahem) who can’t run.

• Flip! Flip Murray checks in for Bibby.

• Wally Sexyback checks in and gets tangled up with Joe Johnson and gets a foul call. Dave Pasch then tells us a technical has been called against Sexyback, while in the background Atlanta P.A. announcer Ryan Cameron tells us the tech is on Delonte “Prison Break” West. Umm…

• Turns out Ryan was right.

• BTW, Hawks have no team fouls with 1:34 to go in the first. Maybe because former Hawks PG Haywoode Workman is one of the refs tonight?

• On the replay we see that Delonte West actually shoulder-checked ref Eric Lewis, which is why he got the T. Isn’t it an automatic ejection if you bump a ref? If it’s only a T, wouldn’t Sheed be bumping refs all over the place? Or is it because it’s the Cavs and they Bron and the refs are afraid to make any calls against them?

• The JJ Hickson/Zaza Pachulia match-up is a study in contrasts.

• Last possession of the quarter and Cleveland iso’s Bron on J-Smoove. Josh does a nice job on him but Bron hangs in the air and hits a fadeaway over him. Only 4 points in the first for Bron but Cleveland still leads.

• After one, it’s Cleveland 30, Atlanta 23. Bron only has 4, but everyone else is hitting open shots and Cleveland’s doing a nice job moving the ball around. Hawks aren’t getting any three-point shots, which was their bread and butter earlier this season.

• Zaza grabs a rebound in the lane and is surrounded by four Cavs. Somehow he makes the follow-up despite being unable to jump at all.

• Sexyback is foiled by the vaunted Marvin/Zaza double team unleashed by Woody.

• Marv ends up on Z on a switch, and he hacks Z, who not only gets a shot up but makes it. And 1. 33-27, Cleveland.

• We get a close-up of Bron on the bench biting his nails and spitting the results onto the court. Does State Farm cover that?

• Delonte West gets Zaza on him on a switch, and Prison Break nails the J. 35-29, Cleveland.

• Bron comes back with it 35-30, Cleveland, with 7:43 to go in the first. Hawks bring back Smoove.

• LeBron drives, all the Hawks get out of the way, and somehow the refs still are able to make it an and 1 against the Hawks. Bron misses the FT, though.

• Whoa! J-Smoove drives the lane and looks like he’s gonna throw up a lefty hook, but then he tomahawks it home. That’s 8 points for Josh tonight. We really need more national TV games if Josh is gonna play like this.

• Lots of Mike Bibby sound bites coming in and out of commercial breaks tonight. He talks kinda like Kermit the Frog.

• Doris Burke says every time she watches the Hawks her eyes are “drawn” to Smoove because “his body is so lithe.”

• 39-35, Cleveland, 5:16 to go in the first half. Joe misses another three. Hickson and Horford trade buckets.

• LeBron goes up under the basket, shoots an off balanced shot. He misses the shot, which bounces around and then falls short. As the ball is falling off the rim, Tony Brothers whistles a foul on the shot. Tony! I mean, really!

• Ha! On the other end Brothers immediately whistles a make-up touch foul on Mo Williams, his third. Even Tony felt bad about that last one. He ain’t heavy, he’s our Brothers!

• Bibby fires up a three that barely draws rim. After his hot start, he’s been restricting his own impending free agency the last few weeks.

• Varejao gets a layup after Cleveland scrambles the Hawks defense with their old bugaboo, ball movement. Next time down Horford saves a loose ball to Josh Smith, who gets tackled by LeBron. The call? Jump ball! David Stern must be watching this game. 45-37, Cleveland with 4:15 to go in the first.

• One thing that kills me about the Hawks is that they’re democratic almost to the point of fault. For instance, Al Horford’s averaging 15 and 12 over the last five games. So are the Hawks running any plays for him? No, they just doing their regular motion offense. Which is admirable, but still…

• Jump ball with Josh and Bron. Bron gets it, which is impressive. Then West runs past Bibby, dribbles once and loses the ball…foul on Bibby! This is getting comical. I know the Hawks didn’t have any fouls in the first, but that’s because they weren’t playing any defense. Don’t penalize them for D’ing up, please.

• Ah, and the Hawks run a play for Horford, who stumbles and turns it over. Cavs come back and Hawks basically force a 24-second violation, even though Horford screws up a rotation — Jos Smith had to shove him out toward the man he was supposed to be guarding.

• Wow. Bron drives on Mo Evans and powers through him for a layup, and 1. 50-39, Cavs. Hawks have just 1 three-pointer tonight.

• Hawks go to Horford again, who scores this time with a J over Z.

• Mike Bobby is so slow catching up on defense on pick and rolls that he often has to jump midway through the air.

• Bron hits a three. Doris Burke laughs and says, “I’m just so happy to be here! It’s good to be a witness.” Thanks for the impartiality, Doris!

• Bron replies with an airball three.

• Either Boobie Gibson has a horrific flesh-eating virus or he has some terrible design cut into his hair.

• Last play of the half, and Bron runs the length of the court, right past Josh Smith, then throws up a runner at the buzzer. The ball comes up way short, but as the ball settles into the Hawks’ hands, Eric Lewis whistles a phantom foul on Smoove.

• Bron misses both free throws, which is somehow fitting.

• Halftime, and Cleveland leads 53-43. Bron has 14. Hawks’ best player has probably been Marv or Josh, because Joe and Bibby aren’t doing anything. Cleveland’s best player has been either Eric Lewis or Tony Brothers, though that might be too close to call.

• (Actually, Z has 11 and Prison Break West has 10.)

• Refill.

• Bibby nails a J to start the second half.

• Tony Brothers calls an offensive foul on Z.

• Bron beats Marv on a sweet backdoor cut for a dunk. Then Joe gets to the line for two FTs, Cavs turn it over. Hawks respond by going inside to Horford who gets hacked by Varejao, no call.

• The Hawks start the second 1-6 from the floor, though if the refs were calling this game evenly it would be 1-3 with 6 free throws. Mo Williams buries a 2 to make it 60-47. Mike Woodson, because he is almost completely reactionary instead of proactive, calls a timeout.

• Hawks finally run a play for Joe Johnson, who nails a short jumper. it’s like Woody forgot to run a play for JJ. Bron comes right back with a 2.

• JJ gets doubled and he finds Bibby for an 18-footer. Next time down Prison Break West almost tackles JJ without a call, and JJ manages to score anyway. Hawks force a miss and then Marv goes inside and gets knocked down by Z. No call, thanks to Tony Brothers. We should call this guy Tony Soprano.

• Zaza hits a 12-footer and gets knocked down. No call but the shot goes and Hawks cut it to 62-57.

• During a timeout, we see Mike Brown not even in the Cavs’ huddle, instead shaking hands with Usher near the bench. Doris Burke says Mike’s a star. No one mentions that Usher is/was a part-owner in the Cavs.

• Hawks get a steal and come back down, where Josh Smith gets plowed into by LeBron, right in between Tony Brothers and Eric Lewis. No call. Amazingly, Haywood Workman finds his whistle and blows the foul call on Bron. Hawks bring it in and Zaza ends up getting a tip-in. 10-0 run from the Hawks, as they cut it to 62-59.

• LeBron goes backdoor on Marvin (again) and Smoove meets him at the rim. Josh bumps him in midair and picks up the foul.

• LeBron gets called for a foul inside against Josh, and he immediately takes umbrage with Eric Lewis. I was hoping for a close-up so we could read his lips: “Don’t you know David Stern is watching! You don’t make those calls against me!”

• Bron nails a three over Josh. Dave Pasch, who can’t mention Spike Lee enough, points out he hit that three “right in front of Spike Lee!” This Pasch guy must be planning on getting cast in a Spike Lee movie.

• 67-60, Cleveland, with 2:52 to go in the third. Joe hits one of two.

• Cleveland goes inside to Hickson, who puts on a couple of nice moves but forgets to dribble.

• LeBron shoots an open three and doesn’t get any rim. Flip comes back and drills a three over Bron. Varejao turns it over, and JJ hits a runner (fouled by Varejao, no call) to make it 67-66, Cleveland.

• I really like Joe Johnson, but if Burke and Pasche mention him being a three-time All-Star one more time tonight I’m throwing my remote through the TV. We got it, announcers. Move on. (Ironically, i read later that Ciara and Christina Milian were at the game, but ESPN didn’t show either of them once. Yeah, let’s see the two old guys again, ESPN. Way to please your audience.)

• The Hawks come down and get Flip isolated on Varejao. He goes right around Andy and gets hacked on the shot, no call. Guess who the ref was? That’s right, Tony Brothers! Tony Tony Tony, he’s done it again! Tony Touch (Foul) will not let the Hawks take this lead.

• Bron finds Varejao wide open, and he bricks an 8-footer.

• Last play of the quarter, and Li’l Flip iso’s against Boobie Gibson, goes left, and hits a runner over him. And Tony Touch throws in a make-up foul call! Flip misses the FT, but I’m shocked Tony made a call against Cleveland. Maybe we have a shot after all. Hawks lead 68-67 after three.

• Ha! In between quarters, Mike Brown is seen yelling at the refs, because he thought Delonte West had four fouls instead of three. Hey, maybe you shouldn’t have been chopping it up with Usher during the time-outs, Mike.

• Mo Williams begins the fourth with a turnover.

• Marv drives the lane and gets popped in the face by LeBron. Makes one of two.

• Hawks have taken 11 more free throws than Cleveland. Should be about 25.

• Prison Break airballs a three. Horford backs in and hits a hook shot. Hawks up 71-67.

• Mo Williams airballs a three but gets the rebound and Cleveland finally scores.

• Wa wa wee wa! Zaza gets inside and misses a layup, but gets a bailout call. Could these refs be any worse? That call helped Atlanta but good grief are these refs bad. Zaza hits both free throws, and the Hawks are back up by 4.

• Horford strips Hickson up top (he fouled him but it wasn’t called). Horford then misses a 16-footer. Z nails a 19-footer. JJ misses a19-footer.

• Marv takes Bron to the hoop and nails a runner.

• Joe goes right around Prison Break and tomahawks one. Hawks go up 5.

• Prison Break airballs another three. Bron is on the court but is conspicuous by his uninvolvement.

• Bron runs a pick and roll with Andy. If you were the Hawks, what would you do? Exactly, double Bron and leave Andy open. That’s what they do, but Bron goes 1 on 3 and misses the shot. The Hawks get a run-out and push the lead to 79-72. 6:19 to go.

• Did you know the NBA Cares? During this commercial break we see shots of Joe Johnson helping paint a house in Phoenix at the All-Star Game. One of my favorite stories of all time was when the Hawks were doing a community event at a run-down house in Atlanta a few years ago, and one of the Hawks accidentally dug up a dead dog in the backyard of the house.

• Out of the timeout, the Cavs can’t get the ball inbounds and have to burn a TO. Nice work, Mike Brown.

• After the TO, Cleveland gets the ball inbound but gets a 24-second violation.

• Hawks miss and Z hits a baseline J. Flip Murray (who has replaced Mike Bibby, maybe because Bibby’s sick or maybe because he can’t play defense) backs down Prison Break and hits a two.

• LeBron head-butts Varejao and the refs call a foul on Flip Murray. (If anyone it should’ve been on Horford, who was battling with Varejao and caused Varejao to flop into LeBron. Or on Varejao. That woulda been cool, an offensive foul on a defensive play.)

• Flip Murray takes Mo Williams, gets fouled, then tries to start it with Mo. Marv half-heartedly breaks it up.

• 82-75, Hawks. 4:17 to go. Varejao finally hits an open jumper to make it 82-77.

• Flip Murray catches wide open on the wing, and Varejao runs at Zaza and pretends to get fouled. Ref Haywoode Workman, standing right there, sees the entire thing but doesn’t call anything. But Eric Lewis comes running across the baseline to call a foul on Zaza! That was a total Bavetta move there. I don’t care if you’re playing at home, Atlanta, you Hawks won’t get away with anything on my watch, even if I have to call it from out of position!

• Then Andy goes inside and collides with Zaza, and draws a legit and 1. 82-80, Hawks, 3:31 to go.

• And then my tape ends. Seriously. I was watching on tape but the game lasted longer than the 2 hours and 40 minutes I allotted for it. So I don’t know how it ended. I will go check now online…

• Final score, Cleveland 88, Atlanta 87. According to the Associated Press story, “The Hawks, after rallying from a 13-point deficit, squandered a five-point lead in the final 1:42. Delonte West hit a jumper, Mo Williams sank a 3-pointer and James won it for the Cavaliers on their final possession. He drove from the top of the key and was fouled by Al Horford with 1.6 seconds remaining.”

So the Cavs won the game on a late foul call? Oh my goodness, you must be kidding me! I can’t believe that would happen.

• Now I’m back, one morning later. I taped the replay of the game which I’m watching now, Monday morning. ESPN is trying to squeeze the entire game into a two-hour overnight slot, so they keep skipping over big chunks of the game to make it all fit. What’s really strange is the replay of the game went to a commercial break with 3:31 to go, then returned with the score Atlanta 88, Cleveland 85, with 1:09 left. You’d think they could have skipped over maybe the entire first quarter or something so that we could see the crucial last few minutes, but nope.

• Anyway, ESPN picks it up with 1:09 left and the Hawks up by three, 87-84. Joe Johnson has the ball on the wing. He and Flip Murray rin the same side pick-and-roll that JJ and Bibby have been running for the last year. Joe gets doubled, he find Flip at the free throw line, and Flip comes up short on the jumper.

• Cavs ball. Bron clears it out and drives the lane. He spins to the rim and gets a lefty finger roll which gets tipped, and Zaza and Horford combine to not grab the loose ball, which goes right back to Bron. He turns and finds a wide-open Mo Williams in the corner, long ago abandoned by his defender (Flip Murray, who at this point is all the way across the lane kinda floating around). Mo nails a three and then turns and stares at the Hawks bench. Tie game, 87-87, with 40.4 left. Is Spike Lee there? Timeout Hawks.

• So ESPN didn’t show the play where Joe Johnson drove the paint, went up and tried to dunk on a couple of Cavs (Z, LeBron, Varejao) but instead just got drilled in midair. Luckily the ball bounced out to Marv who hit a three, but how in the world that was not a foul I will never know. Joe’s a three-time All-Star, you know.

• Wait, I just figured out how that wasn’t a foul. ESPN shows a replay of it and guess who the ref is under the basket? Tony Brothers! Oh Brothers!

• OK, 40.4 left and a tie game. We see Dominique Wilkins over chatting with Spike and Bill Murray. I don’t even want to imagine that conversation.

• Out of timeouts, the Hawks have been much improved this season over years past. Uh oh, Bibby’s back in. Come on Woody, this guy’s contributed as much as I have tonight. Zaza is out, because Woody’s going small. OK, whatever.

Hawks inbound to Joe, who catches in the post and faces up on LeBron. Joe dribbles down the clock and then drives the lane, where he gets off a running hook shot while Bron gives him a forearm shiver to the chest. No call, no basket. Guess which two refs are closest to the play? Tony B. and Eric L. I’m just saying.

• Cavs come back down, clock under 20 and shot clock essentially off. Bron isolates against Joe, dribbles the clock down, drives right and throws up a contested layup hook shot/layup over Horford and Joe that misses, and then Haywoode Workman gets into the act and makes the foul call on…someone. Nobody fouled him, so Workman just makes it a general foul, I guess?

• Bron makes one of two and the Hawks call a timeout. Cleveland leads, 88-87.

• Out of the timeout, the Hawks run a nice pick play for Joe on the wing, and he gets a wide-open jumper which he misses at the buzzer. Now why the Hawks didn’t draw up a play that involved going to the rim to try and force a foul call from the refs, I don’t know. Then again, I kinda do know — they didn’t get a call all night, so why would they get one now?

In closing, I know NBA referees don’t call the NBA game exactly by Dr. Naismith’s rule book, but all I ask is that the refs call it consistently on both ends of the floor.

The refs tonight did not do that. Wait, I take that back — they were consistent in bailing out Cleveland all night. It was made even more clear down the stretch when Joe attacked the rim without a call and then Bron got bailed out on that layup attempt. Just a terrible job tonight by Tony Brothers and Eric Lewis.

That aside, the Hawks actually played pretty well. They very obviously need more depth both in the backcourt and frontcourt, but Hawks GM Rick Sund apparently thinks the Hawks are fine the way they are, which is obviously just not true. What’s interesting is that I think these Hawks might be a better Playoff team than regular season team. They’re actually pretty good in the halfcourt offense and in the postseason, when the NBA slows to a halt, they should be able to execute well. Now if they can just figure out some way to hide Bibby on defense. Although I’m not sure John Wooden could solve that conundrum.

Cleveland seemed uninspired all night, but they hung around, hung around, and in the end they just ran every play through the best player in the world, LeBron James. Their reliance on LeBron makes total sense, but it’s also what gives me pause in thinking of the Cavs as a Playoff team. Not that Mo Williams isn’t a player who can create as well, but there’s only one basketball on the court, and Cleveland seems to love slowing it down and getting the ball to LeBron. The Hawks managed to get the ball out of his hands enough to have a chance. But when the clock ran down, when the game counted, LeBron kept the ball in his hands. And the refs finished the Hawks off.

At least the Hawks made a game of it.

Hopefully someone at TNT or ESPN saw the game and realized that the Hawks can post an entertaining performance, too.