Perhaps this was the perfect time for a game like this. The hotter the Cavaliers get, the more and more your hear things such as "Cleveland LeBron's" and how the Cavaliers are LeBron and everyone else, or as my esteemed colleague over at Peachtree Hoops wrote -
Then again only crazy coaches around all-star game time have ever looked at the Cavs as anything but the best player in the league and four above average role players.
Now, I'm not pointing him out to be mean or anything, he was simply repeating a widely held belief that the Cavaliers are LeBron and some scrap parts.
Perhaps tonight changed that a bit.
More on that later. First, while I'm in the mood to quote people, how about this zinger -
The strengths of both teams will be put to the test when the Atlanta Hawks, averaging nearly 106 points per game, take on the Cleveland Cavaliers, who allow just under 94. That's a 12 point difference, and the team that can stay closest to their average will likely win the game.
That's right, I said it, in tonight's game preview. Sure, it doesn't take a genius to figure it out, but tonight it was exactly what happened. The Hawks scored just 33 points in the 2nd half, just 10 in the 4th quarter - Delonte West scored 10 himself in the 4th - and shot 44% from the field - they averaged nearly 48% per game coming in.
It was a classic case of the immovable force against the impenetrable object, and as has been the case all season it was the immovable force of the Cavaliers defense that got the job done.
That is the impressive thing about this team. Sure, the Cavaliers are fortunate enough to have LeBron James, on of the best players, if not the best, in the world. That helps, a lot! However, the Cavaliers have the perfect mix of hard-nosed, all-heart guys like Delotne and Anderson Varejao. Guys that can handle the ball and create their own shot like West, Mo Williams and Anthony Parker, and perfect role players, like Jamario Moon, Boobie Gibson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to make it all work. Don't forget Shaq, or J.J. Hickson, or....You get the point.
Tonight's game was the perfect argument to use against anyone that still thinks the Cavaliers are LeBron and anyone else. If anything, James might have played his worst game of the season - 14 points on 6/20 shooting; 0-5 from 3-point land; 4 turnovers. In true LeBron fashion, however, he pulled down 8 rebounds, dished out 10 assists and added 5 steals. A pretty good night for most, and bad night for LeBron.
If the Cavaliers were what people say they are, the Hawks should have won this game, and won it big. The Cavaliers of the past would have lost this game - difference team, different players. It was the Hawks that were one-dimensional, with Jamal Crawford scoring 26 points. Crawford was still a -22 when he was on the floor. Crawford brings points, but for a guy playing 34 minutes, handling the ball as much as he does, Crawford hurts his team with his "shoot first, maybe pass a little later' mentality. Need Proof? Crawford had just 1 assist in those 34 minutes.
Delonte West, on the other hand, was fantastic - 17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and 1 ferocious dunk over the NBA"s 2nd leading shot blocker Josh Smith. West was also a +24 during his 29 minutes - nearly a point a minute is impressive. Anderson Varejao was a +19, Moon a +13. That is the biggest difference with this season's Cavaliers and those teams of the past. The Cavaliers have an ultra-effective bench. The bench provided 35 points tonight, compared to 31 for the Hawks.
And lastly, the defense, starting in the 2nd Quarter was fantastic. The Hawks quarter scoring dropped every quarter, from 26 to 25 to 23 to 10. The Cavaliers were no scoring machines either, but they don't need to be to win. They can shut you down, and score just enough to win.
LeBron James scored 14 points and the Cavaliers beat a very good Atlanta Hawk team, in their building, by double-digits. Still think it is a one-man-band in Cleveland? Don't, or you'll have a rude awakening when the Cavaliers get to late-April.
Perhaps the best part is we get to do this all over again at The Q tomorrow night. One favor, Cavs fans - show up. I don't know if it was the TV or not, but Phillips Arena sounded TOO QUIET for my taste.