It was a tense contest, a nail-biter
that came down to the final shot … will be the lead-in for some other
game. It sure doesn’t apply to the Cavs’ 110-76 pasting of
a depleted Atlanta Hawks team last night.
I would like to provide this complete
list of the game highlights for the Hawks:
To be fair, the Hawks were without
several key players: Joe Johnson (injured right calf), Speedy
Claxton (sore left knee), Zaza Pachulia (injured right leg), Josh Childress
(stress fracture in right foot), and Dominique Wilkins (retired in 1999).
The rest of the team knew that they were merely days away from ending
the nightmare that has been their 2006-07 season, and played like a
team that already had their bags packed and tee times set for Thursday
The Cavs had seven players in
double digits, led by LeBron James’ 23 (not bad considering that he
sat the entire fourth quarter). Zydrunas Ilgauskas posted a double-double
(14 points, 11 rebounds) in only 21 minutes. When he wasn’t
busy clubbing LeBron with his elbows, Josh Smith scored 23 points for
the Hawks, with Shelden Williams (do
it to me … Shelden; you’re an animal
… Shelden; ride me big … Shelden)
posting 13 points and 11 rebounds.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE GAME:
No Letdown Here:
A game against the lowly Hawks seemed like exactly the kind of trap
that has snared Cleveland far too often this season. Earlier this
season, the Cavs fell to the Hawks at home; and their struggles against
other possible destinations for Greg Oden (Charlotte, Boston, New York,
Philadelphia) have been well-documented.
Not last night. Cleveland
jumped on Atlanta from the opening tip (well, just after the
opening tip) and never let up. They never took the Hawks lightly
(Daniel Gibson and Donyell Marshall were still launching three-pointers
late in the game) and never provided even a small opportunity for Atlanta
to get back into the game. In other words, they played exactly
the way that a top team should play against a lesser opponent.
The playoffs start within the week; there will be plenty of time for
drama then. Last night was all about keeping pace in the standings
and continuing to get the team ready for the playoffs, and the Cavs
did precisely that.
The Byline Said
“Cleveland”, But It Was Really Pamplona: Usually, when
you see as much running as last night, there are bulls (no, not Bulls)
sprinkled throughout. After virtually every Hawks miss, Cleveland
was pushing the ball the other way, and it led to a lot of easy points.
They had five or six fast breaks in the first quarter alone; that’s
more than they have had in entire games recently. Even
big Z broke away from the pack for an easy dunk on one run-out.
To appease Coach Brown (we’ll
pretend he reads this column), the fast breaks were the product
of some suffocating defense and strong rebounding. The Cavs controlled
the boards, 44-32; and their swarming defense held the Hawks to 44%
shooting for the night, a number that is probably skewed to the high
side because of the fourth quarter garbage time. (In the first
half, the Hawks shot only 11 for 35, or 31%.) They held Atlanta
scoreless for a seven minute stretch of the second quarter, during which
time they pushed their lead from commanding (37-23) to “would it be
rude if we left at halftime?” (49-23).
See That Paint? Let’s
Shoot From There: Continuing their trend from the second half of
the New Jersey game, the Cavs consistently shot the ball when close
to the rim. These shots are Good, as they tend to go in more often
than shots taken from farther away. Part of the reason was the
number of Cavs’ fast breaks; however, they also did well at working
the ball inside to the big men and letting the offense flow from there.
In particular, Anderson Varejao had a very good game in the pivot, showing
some moves that he normally does not get to display (including one turnaround
jumper that I never would have guessed was in his arsenal). LeBron
had only one post-up opportunity, but that was more because the rest
of the offense was clicking so well, rather than because of any shortcomings
in the offensive plan.
To See A Higher Number, You’ll
Need To Find A Box Score That Includes A Line For
“Nash, S”: Another result from so many fast break opportunities:
the Cavs had 33 assists last night, nearly equaling the team high for
the season. Proving that it was truly a team effort, no individual
Cavalier had more than six assists (LeBron and Sasha Pavlovic tied for
this total). Perhaps the most impressive statistic of the night
was Damon Jones’ five assists in just under nine minutes of playing
time. At that pace, he’d average 27 assists a game! (We
like our false projections.)
I’m Afraid This May Encourage
Him, But…: …in the interest of Being Fair, Larry Hughes
shot the ball very well last night, making six of the nine shots he
attempted. Many of those were the “what are you doing … nice
shot!” variety. If he’s going to have a hot streak, April
is as good a time as any.
Enter Sentence With
“Can’t Stop” And “Hope To Contain” Here: For newer
readers of this column, I have a borderline-unhealthy infatuation with
Charlotte rookie forward Walter
Herrmann. You can
read about the origins of that infatuation (WARNING: Gratuitous
link to an earlier column) here. As a result, we discuss Walter’s
(yes, he has earned first-name status) progress more often than
you would find in the typical Cleveland basketball column.
And boy, did Walter give us something
to talk about last night. A career-high 30 points on 12-of-15
shooting from the field (including 6-of-8 from long distance), plus
nine rebounds, led the Bobcats to a big win over Milwaukee. He
better watch it, or else he’s going to get some Rookie of the Year
votes. (Although it would have been nice if he would have dropped
30 points in a more meaningful game – say, against the Bulls on Friday.)
Dusting Off The Bench:
One of the fun side bonuses of a blowout -- especially a blowout late
in the season – especially a blowout, late in the season, against
an opponent with an injury-depleted roster – is that you get to see
their towel-wavers actually play for a few minutes. And so it
is that Esteban Batista, backup to the backup to the backup power forward
for the Hawks, played seven minutes last night. He Lurched his
way around the court for a basket and three rebounds.
More importantly, he gives me
the opening to discuss late-night infomercials. When his name
was announced, I (and probably you, and upwards of six other fans still
watching the game) immediately flashed to Esteban, the guitar-playing,
Johnny-Cash-wardrobe-channeling fixture of après-midnight TV.
I can’t speak for anybody else … but when I have a dose of insomnia,
the only thing on my mind is, who is going to teach me to play
“Turkey In The Straw” on a custom-made acoustic guitar that I can
own for four easy payments of $39.99? That’s the void that
Esteban fills. If it’s one that you also need to fill (and who
doesn’t?), his web site is here. (Be sure to check out how you
too can stay in Esteban’s beach
As good as Esteban is, the vanguard
of infomercials is still Dual Action Cleanse. In this one, a man
named Klee Irwin (who has taken Drew Gooden’s grooming habits to the
next level, combining what appears to be a chocolate milk stain on his
upper lip with a Low Rent slicked-back embryonic mullet) is only too
happy to discuss his poops, his daughter’s poops, why their poops
are better than your poops, and (just in case you’re envious) how
you too can poop like them. I am not making this up. Unfortunately,
no viewers out there have wasted a half hour of their lives
been dedicated enough to upload the entire spot to Youtube, so we’ll
just have to rely on this
hilarious review and this snippet from the program.
DAC’s working thesis seems to
be that the world would be a better place if we all weren’t carrying
so much, well, crap inside of us. Their product (which is an “all-natural
herbal supplement”, all the better to evade any pesky FDA requirements)
allegedly cleans and detoxifies you, and lets you poop the way you’ve
always dreamed you could. (Some people want money; others,
power; but a large segment of the population
apparently has more modest desires.)
The DAC folks have their own web site. I visited the site, and was elated
to discover that they have a Live Chat option. Finally, the
opportunity to talk about my stools with a person who understands!,
I thought. Alas, the live chat feature was unavailable.
In the spirit of journalistic research, and also in the spirit of keeping
Swerb from complaining about the inadequate length of my columns (there’s
a common theme here, no? Maybe Swerb
needs some Dual Action Cleanse), I’ll keep trying it throughout
the week, and will provide updates as events warrant.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT
The Cavs just won by 34 points
– their greatest margin of victory this season – and you’re expecting
me to find something to nit-pick about? You got it! Here’s
one petty item that I’ll mention:
Where You And I Have Brains,
He Has A Monkey Playing The Drums: Even a 34-point blowout
has to see one rock-headed play from our favorite power forward, Mr.
Gooden. Last night, it came with the Cavs leading 17-11 in the
first quarter. Gooden ended up with a rebound after a missed Hawks
shot. He had opponents on either side of him, reaching for the
Now, let’s put ourselves in
Drew’s shoes for a moment. (Yes, you will also have to glue
part of a squirrel to the back of your head.) Your options
WHAT LIES AHEAD:
At Philadelphia on Tuesday night,
then home against Milwaukee the following evening. And then they
will play an as-yet-unknown opponent in the first round of the playoffs.
You probably know the playoff
picture, but here’s a recap: The battle is for the second seed in
the Eastern Conference, and it’s between Cleveland and Chicago.
(Toronto is still technically in the picture as well.) Both teams
have 48-32 records entering today’s action. Chicago plays at
Washington this afternoon, then at New Jersey on Wednesday evening.
Chicago owns the tie-breaker with Cleveland, as they had a better divisional
record this season.
That means that Cleveland has
to finish at least one game ahead in the standings to get the coveted
#2 spot. (Why is it so coveted? Because then Chicago, Detroit,
and Miami will all be left to pound the stuffing out of each other in
the first two rounds of the playoffs, while the Cavs would have a relatively
easier road to the conference finals.) Thanks to the NBA’s deep
thinkers (apparently, monkeys playing the drums are common), if the
Cavs finish with the third best record in the conference, they will
get only the #5 seed, as the other division winners will be slotted
ahead of them. So root for the Cavs to keep winning, and for the
Bulls’ team bus to get lost en route to one of those road games.