Cleveland 105, Atlanta 85 (Cleveland leads series 2-0)
Offensive Ratings: Cleveland 118.6, Atlanta 98.9
This game was over when it was announced before tipoff that the Hawks would be without injured starters Al Horford and Marvin Williams. At full strength, Atlanta would have a tough time competing in Cleveland. Down two starters, the Hawks never had a chance. Lo and behold, the Cavaliers went up nine by halftime and pushed their lead to 24 by the break. The largest margin was 36 points before Atlanta's deep reserves made the final margin slightly more respectable.
Suffice it to say that Mike Woodson never imagined that Thomas Gardner and Othello Hunter--who have played fewer than 250 minutes combined in their NBA careers--would see action in the first three quarters of a semifinal playoff game. The disaster reached epic proportions in the third quarter, when Joe Johnson rolled his right ankle. He ended up in a walking boot, though he vowed in the locker room to play in Game Three.
Is there any hope for the Hawks? If healthy, maybe. Home-court advantage has proven a tonic for Atlanta before. However, it was the healthy Hawks starters who really struggled in Game Two, including Johnson prior to his injury. He was 5-for-15 from the field, while Josh Smith was a disastrous 2-for-13 before being benched by Woodson when he failed to get back on defense. Atlanta has yet to establish any kind of consistent offense in this series, which probably shouldn't be a surprise given the same was true against a much less challenging Miami defense.
For the Cavaliers' part, they're now six games into the postseason and have yet to break a sweat. Even against weak competition, it's been an impressive stretch. Again, he's not dealing with the same kind of opposition, but the playoffs have reinforced the contrast between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Bryant will occasionally suffer through long shooting nights like Game Three at Utah and Game One of the current series against Houston, bouncing back each time. James just doesn't have those kind of games anymore. Last night was no exception to his ultra-consistent brilliance. James dropped 27 points in 31 minutes, and the only nitpick in his line was 6-for-12 free-throw shooting. The 27 points came on 20 shooting possessions, with nary a turnover. Don't make the mistake of taking James' performance for granted.
As a team, Cleveland shot 61.5 percent on two-point attempts, and the shot chart shows more than half of those coming within five feet. This is a Cavaliers team that is clicking at both ends. I will say any notion of sweeping through the Eastern Conference Playoffs is premature. Cleveland has been fortunate to play the weakest team to make the postseason (Detroit) followed by the worst of the semifinalists in the Hawks, and a short-handed Atlanta squad at that. Whichever team emerges from the Boston/Orlando series will dramatically improve the level of competition. That said, all the Cavaliers can do is play the games on the schedule, and so far they've been perfectly up to that task.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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