Despite missing Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers outshot and overpowered the Atlanta Hawks, 94-82, in Game 2 on Friday, led by LeBron James' brilliance on the offensive end. With two wins in Atlanta, they can return to Cleveland with a decisive lead in the series.
James broke down Atlanta's defense over and over, scoring 30 points but hurting them even more with his 11 assists that always seemed to find an open Cleveland shooter. The Cavaliers poured in 12 triples on 30 attempts, something the Hawks' offense -- looking nothing like the well-oiled machine of midseason -- couldn't match.
Almost all of Atlanta's starting lineup is banged up. DeMarre Carroll did play after a nasty looking injury in Game 1 but looked visibly hampered, while Matthew Dellavedova rolled up on Kyle Korver's knee in the third quarter on a loose ball play that sent him back to the locker room. The injuries have worn the team down, but the rhythm and unselfishness that highlighted their 60-win season have also abandoned them in a way that health can't quite explain.
The Hawks only trailed by five at halftime, but the second half was a disaster for them. They were outscored, 30-17, in the third quarter and only managed 16 points in the fourth quarter, even though the Cavaliers left the door open by scoring 10 themselves.
Here are three things we learned in the win.
1. Iman Shumpert was the role player of the night
Cleveland's approach in the last two rounds, with Love out, has been to rely on a role player stepping up to win games -- and it has worked. After J.R. Smith's Game 1 show, it was Shumpert who showed up in Game 2, scoring 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting and four rebounds. Tristan Thompson did his usual work down low, leading the team with 41 minutes while snaring 16 rebounds, and James Jones had a trio of made three-pointers. The Cavaliers had to have those performances after missing their second- and third-best players and once again, their bench came through when asked.
2. The Hawks look defeated
They dropped both games at home against an injury-stricken Cavaliers squad. Their offense is a shell of its regular season glory. The starters are dragging various ailments with them every trip up and down the floor. We've seen a team recover from a 3-1 deficit in just the last round, but expecting a comeback like that from the Hawks in this series seems grim, because there are just no signs of life from the club. After watching how good Atlanta was in the regular season, it's disappointing to see the team like this.
3. LeBron is so, so good
Cleveland was supposed to be different on his return, yet once again, it feels like the pre-Miami Heat James dragging a weak Cavaliers squad along for the ride. Throughout the game, James would take possessions upon himself and just make something out of nothing, whether it was a fading bank shot with defenders in his face or an incredible pass out to a corner shooter. With all due respect to Jones and Dellavedova, they really shouldn't be in the rotation of a team that looks poised to advance to the NBA Finals. The Eastern Conference is bad, but once again, this speaks to how great the NBA's best player is.
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