NBA Playoffs: Cavs 105, Hawks 85
CLEVELAND ó While the rest of the NBA exchanges elbows, flagrant fouls and menacing stares in the playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking for a fight.
So far, they can’t find one.
LeBron James scored 27 points, ending the first and second quarters with last-second baskets, and Mo Williams added 15 points as the untested Cavs overpowered the Atlanta Hawks 105-85 on Thursday night to open a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Now a perfect 6-0 in the postseason, the Cavaliers tied a league record by winning their sixth consecutive playoff game by double digits. The only other team to do it was the 2004 Indiana Pacers.
Maurice Evans scored 16 points and Mike Bibby had 11 for the Hawks, who were missing center Al Horford and forward Marvin Williams because of injuries. If that wasn’t bad enough, leading scorer Joe Johnson rolled his right ankle in the third quarter and did not return.
X-rays were negative and the Hawks said Johnson is doubtful for Game 3 on Saturday in Atlanta.
Just like Game 1, this one was easy for the Cavs. Too easy.
In his second game since being named MVP, James dropped a long 3-pointer in the final second of the first half as the Cavaliers opened a 24-point lead that swelled to 36 in the third. James and the Cavaliers starters spent the entire fourth quarter lounging on the bench as Atlanta’s reserves outplayed the Cavs’ backups in 12 minutes of garbage time to make the score respectable.
“Defense,” James said when asked how the Cavs dominated. “That has been us throughout the whole series and the whole playoffs. When we get D stops it’s easy to execute on offense.
“We had great defense … and then we got some great looks on the other end.”
The best-of-seven series switches to Atlanta’s Philips Arena, where the Hawks went 31-10 during the regular season and beat Cleveland once.
Nearly five months later, things have changed. The Cavs are 43-2 at home, 32-5 since the All-Star break, and playing their best ball.
“We are a confident ballclub, we believe we can win on the road as well as at home,” James said. “It will be a hostile environment, but we know we can handle that.”
Atlanta was hurting before the game got under way. Horford (sprained ankle) and Williams (sprained wrist) didn’t dress and Johnson was taken to Atlanta’s locker room in a wheelchair. It’s not known if any of the three will be available for the remainder of the series.
It may not matter.
On the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordan’s jumper ó known around here as “The Shot” ó over Craig Ehlo that beat the Cavaliers in the 1989 playoffs, James gave Cleveland fans a shot to remember.
Taking an inbounds pass with 5.4 seconds left in the first half, James quickly dribbled into the frontcourt, pulled up on Hawks guard Mario West and drilled a 36-footer to make it 59-35. As 20,000-plus fans erupted, James stood still after the horn sounded, playfully swinging his arms back and forth.
The Cavs wasted no time putting the Hawks away in the third. James hit a 3-pointer to push Cleveland’s lead to 30 and fed Zydrunas Ilgauskas for a basket that made it 83-47.