The first half was a back and forth battle that featured a lot of offense and very little defense. Atlanta shot 56% from the field (64% from three) while Cleveland shot 50% from the field (56% from three). After jumping out to a 25-16 lead in the first quarter, the Hawks allowed the Cavs to rally back and make it just a 29-27 lead at the end of the quarter. Cleveland followed the lead of Tyler Zeller who had eight points in six minutes, while Devin Harris led Atlanta with nine points. Dion Waiters also got off to a hot start scoring 14 in the first half to lead Cleveland.
The second quarter was close throughout and the Cavaliers had a lead over halfway through the quarter before the Hawks put in Ivan Johnson. Ivan was +15 in just 3:03 of playing time, and was a major factor on offense and defense. Ivan picked the pocket of Alonzo Gee which led eventually to an and-one bucket for Al Horford (off an Ivan pass), and he hit a 30-plus foot buzzer beater to put the Hawks up 11 at the half. Josh Smith was big for the Hawks filling up all areas of the stat sheet once again with 15 points, five boards, two blocks, and a steal. Al Horford continues to play well with nine points, six boards, and four dimes, while DeShawn Stevenson was 4-of-4 from three (his only four shots) for 12 points as he kept the Hawks in it after Cleveland started to make a run.
Atlanta has done relatively well on the glass and are only down 20-16 on the boards, but lead 9-7 on offensive rebounds. Anderson Varejao, the NBA's top rebounder, has been limited to seven total and two offensive. If the Hawks can keep up that pace on the glass and continue shooting well they should be able to pull away from the Cavs.
The Atlanta Hawks will go with a smaller starting lineup against the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight with Jeff Teague, Devin Harris, DeShawn Stevenson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford. Kyle Korver (back) will be inactive as he continues to battle back spasms, and Anthony Morrow (thigh) will be a game-time decision. The Cavs probable starters are Jeremy Pargo, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao. The backcourt defense should not be an issue considering Gee is an undersized small forward like Stevenson, but it seemed as though this might be a good opportunity to use the (very effective) big lineup featuring Zaza Pachulia at the five and Smith at the three. Varejao is the top rebounder in the league (by a lot) averaging an incredible 14.9 boards per game (Zach Randolph second at 13.2).
Horford will have a tall task to box out the big Brazilian and at least contain him, especially on the offensive glass (where he again leads the league with 5.8 orpg). Pachulia should expect to see big minutes, but it seemed like the gameplan could have been similar to when the Hawks faced off with the Pacers and Pachulia matched minutes with Roy Hibbert and limited him to just seven rebounds on the night. Also, Josh Smith has been incredible defending small forwards this year (limiting opposing SFs to a minuscule 3.1 PER against Smoove's D) and could have created a big mismatch in the post against the much smaller Alonzo Gee. However, Larry Drew has won six straight games and seems to have a good read of his team's capabilities, so I'll trust his judgement (although you better believe I'll ask him about it at his pre-game press conference at 6).