Everything that last night's game was, tonight was not. Almost. After scoring just 14 points in a win against the Hawks last night in Atlanta, LeBron James exploded for 48 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists - on his 25th birthday - and the Cavaliers once again beat the Hawks 106-101.
Atlanta played the game at a much different level than last night when they scored just 10 points in the 4th quarter on their way to scoring just 85 points. The Hawks scored 64 in the first half and looked to be on their way to an easy win when their 12-point halftime lead grew to 17 - 69-52 - with just over 10 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson were draining jumper after jumper and the Cavaliers defense was slow to react.
That all changed in the 3rd quarter when the Cavaliers took just 6-game minutes to cut the lead to 2. To Atlanta's credit, they extended the lead back to 11 before settling for an 8 point lead heading to the 4th quarter.
That's when the Cavaliers really got going. Led by LeBron, the Cavaliers picked up the intensity on both ends of the floor - and when LeBron decides he is going to attack the rim, it is going to be hard to stop him. Going with his small lineup, Mike Brown chose to leave Shaquille O'Neal on the bench the final 17 minutes and it worked. Anderson Varejao was huge and Daniel Gibson provided a spark, specifically on the defensive end.
There was a bit of controversy late in the 4th quarter regarding the shot-clock. With Atlanta leading the game 99-98, with under two minutes to go, Mo Williams took an off-balance shot that hit nothing but the backboard - with 19 seconds to go on the shot clock. When the Hawks gained possession, the clock should have reset to 24. It didn't. The Hawks noticed the clock running down and Josh Smith attempted a hurried drive to the basket - the ball was swatter away, the Cavs broke out and Anderson Varejao finished with a lay-up to give the Cavs a 1-point lead.
Mike Woodson called time-out to argue. The referees, at that point, really had no recourse. The points stood, and the Hawks never really recovered. It was a huge mistake, yes, but there were other ways the Hawks could have and should have handled it.
1. Woodson could have called timeout, but he didn't even notice it until he was told by an assistant coach late in the possession.
2. Smith could have let the shot-clock expire, then ask the officials to check the video - which they are allowed to do.
By playing the possession out, then waiting until the Cavaliers scored, before bringing the issue to the officials attention, nothing could be done. Woodson has already said the Hawks would protest.
Then came the shot - Anderson Varejao's 3-point birthday present for LeBron James that broke a 101-101 tie. Vareajo got the ball with 3 seconds to go on the shot clock - 17 seconds remaining in the game - took one dribble, looked down to make sure his feet were behind the line, and calmly buried the 23-footer. AS Andy ran back down the floor, and as the Hawks called a time out, Varejao was greeted by a leaping 6-9, 270 pounder wanting a big-birthday hug. It was Andy's first career 3, and the Cavaliers are quickly starting a trend where their big men hit 3's at huge moments late in games -
- Zydrunas and his 3-3's in Overtime against Sacramento
- It was Ilgauskas again draining a huge 3 last night to put the Hawks to bed.
- Tonight it was Anderson Varejao that killed the Hawks.
The Cavaliers, minus LeBron James, were not very good tonight for long stretches. What they proved again, however, is the versatility to adjust during the game and find the combination to get it done. The defense in the 2nd half, both night, amazing. Last night the Cavaliers held the Hawks to just 33 points in the 2nd half. Tonight, almost as good as Atlanta managed just 37 2nd half points. It is becoming a trend for the Cavaliers as we head towards 2010.
Next up, a Saturday afternoon affair with the Nets in New Jersey. Game time is 1:00PM.