It took playing without an NBA head coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers to play like an NBA team. After fighting for a one point lead at the half, Sam Dekker said in an interview that the team was working to limit the tough two-point shots that they’ve been addicted to at the start of the season. They only attempted 24 three-pointers, but made over 54 percent of them, and attacked the basket relentlessly, usually off turnovers. It was their best defense of the season, and it led to their best offense.
Your Cleveland Cavaliers 136, the Atlanta Hawks 114.
Finally, a game Koby Altman, Dan Gilbert, and new voice Larry Drew can feel good about. This was the fast team that was promised in camp, one with energy players who would work defensively and get out in transition. The Cavs forced the Hawks into 22 turnovers and attempted 43 free throws. Tristan Thompson and Sam Dekker set the tone defensively, and even Rodney Hood had active hands and picked up three steals. George Hill was a steady hand for the starters, finishing with 17 points on eight shots and turned the ball over just once.
The night mostly belonged to Hood and Thompson. 26 points on 13 shots for Rodney Hood, who made all four of his three point attempts. He scored from all over the court and the Cavs somehow outscored the Hawks by 38 points in his 31 minutes. Thompson looked like a steady veteran in a game between two tanking teams, which he largely is. He passed Anderson Varejao on the all-time rebounding list with the Cavs, and played the kind of defense the team will need him to if they want to win 30 games.
The team’s commitment to running helped them overcome some bumps in the road for Cedi Osman and Collin Sexton. At one point Sexton was stripped and the Hawks took it the other way for an easy two; a few possessions later he came up with a steal and came back the other way to get them back. That sort of resilience is good to see. He finished with 17 points on 10 shots, and Osman with 20 points on 11 shots. Both had trouble protecting the basketball at times, but their motors were impressive and kept them productive.
Even if the Cavs end up being very bad, they’ll likely win 18-30 games. We should hope they’re all like this.