While last night emotionally resembled the Thanksgiving game against Orlando, tonight's game bears an even stronger resemblence. Hawks outplayed Cleveland in the first half of this game, clearly, carrying a 12 point lead into half-time. The artist formerly known as Joe Freakin' Johnson was on full display early, scoring 16 in the first half on 8 shots before picking up his third foul. But LeBron went nuts in this game (aided, perhaps, by a quick whistle, scoring 48 points on 23 shots and 16 free throws.
That 12 point lead at the half wasn't enough to sustain another really poor scoring effort from the Hawks in the second half, as they scored only 36 points. How a team can be such an offensive force for the first half of basketball games and then a trainwreck in the second half is close to shameful. The reason is clear to disagnose-Hawks get predictable late in the game, if the score is at all close. After weathering a 10-0 run by Cleveland to take an 8 point lead into the fourth quarter, I assumed the Hawks were in the clear, but the ISO-Joe monster reared its ugly head again, and the Hawks were held scoreless for the first 2:52 of the fourth quarter.
The great defense of Marvin Williams was absent-he played well off of LeBron, daring him to take jumpshots, and LeBron did, making 6 of 9 shots from outside of the paint. Of course, this doesn't entirely explain the absence of Marvin Williams during the final 7 minutes of the game. During the stretch run, the Cavaliers' best scorer was facing a tandem of Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, and Josh Smith attempting to guard him, all of which are good match-ups for him. Meanwhile, Jamal Crawford followed up a terrific night in Atlanta by being nearly useless: 11 points on 12 shot attempts, and a really sub-par defensive effort. Of course, he did come up with 5 rebounds, so he deserves a bit of credit there.
Overall, JJ did play a great game. He scored 35 points on 25 shots. But only three assists while he was touching the ball every possession creates some bad situations late: on a really late possesion, Josh Smith catches the ball with 5 seconds left on the shot clock 20 feet from the basket. Not shy, he of course bricked the jumper. And Bibby was forced into rushing a few jumpshots as a result of passes that weren't quite timely-most specifically the last one in the game that bounced harmlessly off to be rebounded by Jamario Moon.
Josh Smith continues to frustrate-after foul trouble kept him on the bench during some key stretches last night, he was very unever in his performance tonight in Cleveland. He got an early block on LeBron, but continued to take high-degree of difficulty shots, resulting in a 4-11 night, and a technical foul. With Josh, it's not that he's overly confrontational or foul-mouthed; the officials allow him 20-30 seconds in which to complain about calls, and he's still moaning about it two minutes later, which is when he draws the whistle. Bibby also gave away a point for a technical foul while the Hawks were leading, which makes one wonder just why this team is so allergic to success. Those two points ended up being huge in a game that came down to one possession.
Overall, this game was much more encouraging than the disaster that was last night-it took Varejao's first ever 3 pointer with 2 seconds on the shot clock to give Cleveland the lead with 17 seconds left. But the story was the same-the resulting Joe Johnson isolation play didn't go anywhere, and Bibby was asked to bail him out. That seems to be Bibby's role on offense as much as anything else-bailing out poor offensive possessions by knocking down jumpshots.
- While I feel, unlike several of you, that last night's game was well officiated, I cannot say the same for tonight's affair. Marvin Williams in particular was on the wrong side of the whistle on both sides of the ball. Josh Smith was in a bad way as well, though his incessant complaining makes me wonder how he ever gets any calls at all.
- Jason Collins played several useful first half minutes tonight. I never thought that he and Joe Smith would give useful, meaningful minutes together, but it worked out well early when Horford and Josh Smith were resting.
- Another DNP: CD for Teague. Considering that the Hawks delved deeper into their bench tonight, and the poor shooting effort by Crawford, I'm beginning to see that same old trend emerging from Woody.
- Speaking of Joe Smith two dots ago, he grabbed 4 rebounds in under 7 minutes of playing time. Would have been nice to have him later, while the Hawks were getting killed by Varejao on the boards late.
- LeBron James is just really tough to stop when he's knocking down jumpshots.
- The same is not necessarily true about Joe Johnson, who attempted only two free throws.
- I still can't get over Marvin Williams sitting for so long down the stretch while Jamal Crawford was in.
- Hawks end the year 21-10...the exact same record as last season at this point. Remember that poll about how many end of year wins were needed for this team to earn an A?
Try to have a happy New Year, be safe. I, for one, expect I'll drink enough to get over this game.