It started fast and ended faster for LeBron James and the Cavaliers last night as they beat the Atlanta Hawks 99-72 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi's at The Q. With the crowd in full throat, and NBA Commish David Stern looking smug, the MVP of the League received his MVP trophy for a second time, this time for the home crowd to enjoy.
It was a special moment, another in many that lead me to believe LeBron will never leave the Cavaliers. It was after, as the game began, with everyone watching how the newly crowned MVP would play in his first game since getting the award, that let me know that any letdown after 10 days off would be nil. LeBron received the ball on the left block, dribbled around Maurice Evans and threw down a nasty 2-hand dunk over Josh Smith to let the Hawks and the 20,500+ in attendance that James was ready to go.
James seemed to carry the Cavaliers in the first half. Despite not recording an assist in the first 24 minutes, LeBron did score 22 points and added 4 steals. Atlanta was ready too. No matter what you will hear, the Hawks came out and played with alot of passion, storming out to a 13-4 lead and shooting near 70% in the first quarter. The only problem was the Cavaliers led by 4 after 1. That has been a theme this postseason for the Cavaliers. Even when their opponents think they are playing solid basketball, it isn't enough to give them a chance against the Wine and Gold.
The Cavaliers proved again that they are a very good team when LeBron leaves the floor as well. On two occasions, the bench extended Cavalier leads while James rested -- from 4 to 11 points to start the 2nd quarter, and again in the 4th, turning a game that could still be in doubt into a blowout.
The defense also did what it has done all season, get better as a game goes on. The Hawks scored 44 points in the first half, but could manage only 28 in the 2nd. You could see the looks on their faces - "We are playing well, but trail by 20. We have no shot."
Of course, while LeBron was spectacular, Mo Williams proved once again that he is the reason the Cavaliers have a shot at winning the whole thing. Mo was awesome, especially in the 2nd half when the game go out of hand. Williams finished with 21 points on 7-12 shooting(4-8 from deep). Williams didn't turn the ball over and the Cavaliers were a +20 when he was on the floor. Delonte West also chipped in 13.
It wasn't all bad for Atlanta. Josh Smith showed why people can love him and hate him at the same time. He has incredible ability around the basket, but seems to disappear for long stretches. He finished with 22 points, but his 6 rebounds prove his effort is lacking at times.
Mike Bibby looked like the Bibby of old. Bibby scored 19 while making 5-7 from deep. It could have really gotten ugly had Bibby not stepped up.
While LeBron gets all the attention, the star of the playoffs so far for Cleveland is the defense. Through 5 games, the Cavaliers have allowed an average of 76.8 points per game. That is going to win alot of basketball games, especially as the team moves deeper in. They also aren't working nearly as hard as some of the other teams in the NBA, at least not yet, and that too could pay dividends later on.
Keep on keepin' on. That's what the Cavaliers are doing. In race to 16 wins, the Cavs are 5 steps on their way.