Monday, May 11

Game. Set. Match.

Check out the mid-90's Cavs logo I put up at right there. I thought it appropriate for two reasons, as I was reflecting on the Cavs' 84-74 win over the Atlanta Hawks that gave them their 8th straight double-digit win, another 4-0 series sweep, and advanced them to the Eastern Conference Finals. To be sure, the logo isn't appropriate because of the teams' quality; these Cavs are on another level, and the Pastel Cavs were so-so at best. No, I liked it because 1) Pastel-era Cavalier coach Mike Fratello called the game for TNT and 2) the stifling defense and slower pace of the game was reminiscient of the grind-em-out games the Cavs used to win back then.

First off, another big up to the Cavs' team defense. I simply can't overstate this. Atlanta shot 31.5% for the game, including 15% from deep. You're just not going to win professional basketball games shooting like that, and it continues to be encouraging to see the low percentages that Cleveland holds their opponents to. The Cavaliers were strong inside once again as well, outrebounding Atlanta by a commanding 48-33 margin and blocking 5 Hawk shots. I'm not going to belabor this point any further: the Cavs play great defense, and that's all there is to it.

Tonight's game was close throughout, though one never, ever got the sense the Cavaliers were in real danger. You know they'd pull away late like they always do, and you knew the charge would be led by LeBron James, and the Cavs indeed outscored Atlanta 22-17 in the final frame to win comfortably. There are two reasons why the game wasn't a total blowout: the Cavs turned the ball over far too much (15 times, including 11 in the first half), and shot horribly from the line (14-26). Without those miscues, they win by at least 20, but give the Hawks some credit for playing active defense. Nevertheless, the Cavs overcame those struggles with the aforementioned D and hot outside shooting; Cleveland's 10-18 (56%) from beyond the arc outpaced their accuracy on two-pointers (38%) or foul shots (54%). But hey, you move the ball well and get it to good shooters, and these things happen.

LeBron had another quality game, posting a typical 27/8/8 line but only earning a +1. Cavalier rebounders were paced by Varejao at 11 and Z with 10, while Joe Smith contributed 6 in 20 sturdy bench minutes. Mo Williams turned in a solid all-around game with 12/4/5 and a team-best +18, including some dagger threes down the stretch. Delonte West was superb as well, with an impressive 21/4/6 line highlighted by a monster baseline dunk. In contrast to the Game 3 win, where the starters totaly carrried the team, Cleveland had better balance this time out.

Poor Atlanta. They just never had a chance. They actually played a decent game as they faced elimination - they just couldn't get anything to go in the basket. Josh Smith led the Hawk charge with 26 points and 8 boards, and Joe Johnson had 18/6/7 on inefficient shooting (7-18). Mike Bibby (a team-low -16) was a total nonfactor, as was a less-than-100% Al Horford.

So, once again the Cavs face a long layoff, and they probably couldn't be happier about it. They await the winner of the Celtics-Magic series, currently tied at 2-2. Cleveland will be a heavy favorite to dispatch either squad, though one has to think this might be the round they finally drop a game. At this point, frankly, I don't have a preference who we play. Beating Boston would be more satisfying from a fan's standpoint, and watching Kevin Garnett yell "fuck" on the sidelines would provide some comedy, but in pure basketball terms I don't have a strong preference. Maybe Boston slightly, as they're minus Garnett and Orlando gives Cleveland matchup problems. We'll see how it goes - for now, let's congratulate the Cavs on earning another relaxing vacation, even if it means we have to watch the Tribe the rest of the week.

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