The Atlanta Hawks may have closed the gap, but they still cannot beat the Cavaliers. LeBron James scored 27 points, including 9 points during a 14-0 Cavalier run in the 4th Quarter to lead the Cavaliers to a 93-88 win over the Hawks. It was the 9th straight time the Cavaliers have beaten the current #3 seed in the East, including a 4-game sweep in the 2nd Round of last year's playoffs.
The win was special for a couple of other reasons - coupled with Orlando's loss to San Antonio the Cavaliers have clinched the best record in the East - and the home-court that goes along with it. It was also win #60 for Cleveland, making the Cavaliers the 9th team in NBA history to win 60 games in back-to-back seasons.
"Our goals are huge much bigger than winning 60 games or clinching home court or anything like that," James said. "But you can't take something like that for granted. When those goals happen, you embrace it."
Atlanta has proved to be a feisty bunch this season, extending the Cavaliers in all three meetings thus far. The Cavs beat Atlanta by 9 in Phillips Arena on December 29th, and by 5 at The Q on December 30th. Game #3 was much the same with the Cavaliers unable to shake the Hawks until the 4th Quarter when Cleveland seemed to make all the plays they needed to in order to get the win.
With Antawn Jamison on the bench after suffering a shoulder stinger in the 4th quarter, Mo Williams picked up the offensive slack scoring 24 points - 5 during the decisive spurt. Williams also had 4 blocks for the Cavaliers and was able to shake off a recent shooting drought by going 7-14. Williams has struggled to find his nitch since the arrival of Jamison, but returned to his role as LeBron's sidekick.
"Our guys did a great job of bringing the juice," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "They brought energy, effort and focus."
The most impressive thing about the Cavaliers run this season - as compared to last year's 66-win team - is the adversity they have overcome to get there. Injuries, trades, new face - none of them have stopped the Cavaliers. They are now 15-2 since losing Shaq, and 3-0 without Anderson Varejao who sat out the game with a sore hamstring. Mutiple games without Mo Williams, Delonte West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas haven't stopped the Cavs either.
The final hurdle - at least during the regular season - comes with the next victory or Lakers loss. That would clinch the NBA's best record for the 2nd straight season and home court througout the playoffs and NBA Finals. The Cavaliers accomplished the same feat last year but couldn't take advantage. This year seems different. The Cavaliers may not win as many games, but they are a better team - built to win in May and June.
The first steps are completed. The rest - and best - is yet to come.