The game at times swung back in forth between double digits lead for both teams but was mainly a nail-biter. The Hawks were able to finally pull away late in the fourth for a 102-94 victory.
The Hawks started fast, getting out to a quick 8-0 lead but the Cavaliers answered with a 11-2 run that cause Larry Drew to take a quick timeout. Josh Smith had 4 jumpers, hitting only 1, and 4 turnovers in the first 7 minutes.
Dion Waiters got off to a hot start, disposing of any defensive effort from Lou Williams to the tune of 9 points in the first 9 minutes.
Without Anderson Varejao, the Cavs were dependent on their guards, mainly Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving, to take control of the game. Kyrie Irving came into tonight averaging 22 points, 7 assists and 4.7 rebounds in three career games against the Hawks on 58.8% shooting (38.5% from three point). Though Waiters faded after a hot first quarter, Irving finished 12-20, including 4-7 from beyond the arc, for 28 points.
Larry Drew tinkered with the rotation since the Hawks were missing both Devin Harris (foot) and Ivan Johnson (illness). Mike Scott and Anthony Tolliver joined Zaza Pachulia to comprise the second team front court in the second half while Anthony Morrow entered in the second quarter with DeShawn Stevenson sitting the first game of the back-to-back. John Jenkins even came into the game in the fourth quarter after Morrow reported an injury at halftime. The first year player out of Vanderbilt promptly hit a runner off the glass upon hitting the court and added a three pointer.
Tolliver came into tonight with 47 points through the Hawks first 28 games, shooting only 13% from behind the arc, but hit two corner threes in the second quarter as well as two other long jumpers. Jeff Teague continued his aggressive streak started toward the end of the Pistons game by hitting getting to the bucket with ease and knocking down a few threes.
After a 14-3 Hawks run in the second quarter, the Thompson and Zeller were able to put in some easy buckets throughout the quarter to close the gap. Kyrie Irving cut the lead to one with a buzzer beating 35 foot off balance shot that brought the fans of Quicken Loans Arena to their feet. Despite seemingly outplaying the Cavs in the first half, the box score read a similar tale for both sides: a 55-54 score, 52.4% shooting to 47.7% (60% to 50% from three), 20-19 rebounding and 6 turnovers a piece.
The Cavaliers came out of the tunnel after half on fire with a decided attempt to get to the rim while the Hawks mostly settled for jump shots. The result was a 12-2 Cavalier run until a Teague three pointer cause Byron Scott to call a timeout. A couple of Kyle Korver threes and a Teague jumper with the clock winding down brought the Hawks all the way back from a 10 point deficit in the third quarter.
Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford played the entire fourth quarter and helped solidify the post defense to hold the Cavaliers to only 14 points in the deciding quarter, while adding 8 points of their own. A dagger three pointer from Korver stretched out the lead to 6 points with 80 seconds to go to give the Atlanta Hawks the win.
Josh Smith cannot have many, if any, more games like this if he aspires to be an All Star for the first time this season. To the right is his shot chart from tonight. His always outstanding defense could not come close to making up for 6 turnovers and 2-12 shooting. Many of the shots were not of the “bail-out” variety but rather long attempts with 10 second or more on the clock. This is not to say his 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 blocks in 27 minutes are not appreciated, but his shooting numbers have continually disappointed, especially for a forward, since coming into the league in 2004.
Josh Smith had a sore hip-flexor in the fourth quarter, according to Larry Drew in the postgame press conferences, so the fact that Josh sat out at the end may not have been because of his, to put it lightly, poor play.
The Hawks have certainly built a reputation of failing to put away worse opponents early in the game and did the same tonight in Cleveland. The Pacers are playing well as of late and the Hawks must refocus in less than 24 hours to take on a surprisingly tough opponent.
1. Jeff Teague: This one is very obvious. Clearly the chat he had with Larry Drew at halftime of the game with the 76ers hit home with Jeff, as he posted a career high 27 points on 19 shots, including 3 made three pointers, and 8 assists. He was aggressive early and often, carving up Kyrie Irving’s questionable pick and roll defense.
2. Kyle Korver: In addition to Korver’s normally automatic shooting numbers, he filled up the box score by adding 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks and 2 assists as well as tough defense on Alonzo Gee and Luke Walton (3-13 combined shooting). While those two are not exactly the guys that strike fear in any coach gameplanning ahead of the matchup, it was important to limit the damage to only what Kyrie Irving inflicted to have a chance at the win.
3. Anthony Tolliver: Surprised? The 13 points were the most he’s had since March of this year with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He lived up to his “stretch power forward” billing by knocking down two three pointers and two other long jumpers. His spark was much needed without Ivan Johnson to terrorized the young Cavalier players tonight.