The Hawks have been almost entirely retooled. Gone are Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Mike Bibby, and Flip Murray from that 2009 team the Cavaliers swept in the second round of the playoffs. In are Lou Williams, Jeff Teague, and Devin Harris and a faster paced style. One of the few remaining players, Josh Smith, led all scorers last night, but it was his failure to prevent Alonzo Gee from leaping up to grab Dion Waiters’s misfired three and putting it back in with 0.4 seconds remaining that helped propel the Cavaliers to victory 113-111 in Atlanta. Smith, primarily because of his attitude, inconsistency, lack of focus, and desire to play outside his strengths, has always been one player I’d never want on my team.
The Hawks are an up-tempo team now as they have gotten much smaller in their backcourt. About every turnover the Cavaliers had in the first half was converted into an Atlanta bucket. The Hawks turned 9 Cavalier miscues into 13 points. Two unlikable characters from the past led the charge for the Hawks in Smith, who had 15 in the first half and Deshawn Stevenson, who was perfect on four three-point attempts. The Cavaliers got some nice output from their bench, though, especially Tyler Zeller. The rookie center had a quick eight in the first quarter including a smash over the top of Lou Williams in transition. While Tyler has shown some issues defending larger centers, it’s also clear that he gives the Cavs a boost offensively off the bench.
Meanwhile, the other rookie, Dion Waiters, had a marvelous run in the second quarter. Playing the roles of creator, scorer, and distributor, Waiters piled up 14 points and 4 assists in the quarter. Waiters attacked the bucket, and he made several correct decisions to give it up before getting shoved to the baseline or drawing an offensive foul. Notice I gave only those two options, because Dion Waiters doesn’t get foul calls. At all. I mean, not even by a rookie’s standards. How many times per game do we see #3 tumble to the baseline after both makes and misses alike with no intervention from the gray-shirt trio? More than anything, it’s getting to be a matter of player safety. With the NBA getting all high and mighty about every little matter these days, why not get on a kick about the biggest travesty in the game, NBA officiating? Make the right calls, no matter who it is, no matter when it is.
As strong as Dion’s second quarter was, it did not end well as the Hawks soared with a 17-2 run to end the half, including a quick 10-0 in the final 1:17. In that stretch, Alonzo Gee had a teeth-grinding turnover that led to a runout and Waiters himself jacked up two way-off-the-mark three pointers. Add in an Ivan Johnson’s desperation heave that was answered at the buzzer, and the Cavaliers went from neck-and-neck to down 11. It’s completely expected for Waiters not to have a great handle on his shot selection yet, but it’s up to Byron to show him that good things happen when he gets inside that three-point arc. Sure, from time to time, Dion is going to light it up from deep, and that will be his contribution for the game. But hopefully many times over, Dion will have a more significant impact, finishing at the rim and dishing to let others score. That’s why Chris Grant took him fourth in the draft.
The Cavaliers did the little things in this game, and in the end, it helped them snatch the W. Cleveland, the 27th ranked team in free-throw percentage at 71%, made a stunning 21-of-22 from the charity stripe. To the surprise of no one, they won the rebounding battle too, but they did so in such a convincing fashion at 49-28. With Al Horford, Smith, and Zaza Pachulia, the Hawks frontcourt is quite large. Anderson Varejao continues to absolutely play out of this world as he turned in a now slightly-above-average performance with 20 points and 18 rebounds. Varejao, a career 62% free throw shooter, converted all six of his foul shots, including two with 15.8 remaining with the game on the line. In fact, Anderson is shooting over 80% from the line this season. All of that and so much more is why Anderson Varejao is vastly raising the asking price for him in a trade into the stratosphere.
I haven’t even brought up Jeremy Pargo yet, who led the charge in the fourth quarter. The Hawks had no answer for Pargo’s dribble penetration and high-arcing outside shot. Jeremy scored on three straight possessions with under four minutes to go as he sliced by Jeff Teague seemingly at will. Finishing with 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting, Pargo turned in another showing where he almost matched what Kyrie Irving would’ve brought to the table, which is truly remarkable. It’s hard to not start thinking about Pargo as a potential long-term solution as Kyrie’s backup. While Pargo’s not the most willing passer you’ll ever see at point, his offense and ability to stay in front of his man on defense are something this team sorely needs off the bench.
The wine and gold are right back at it tonight with a home matchup with the Portland Trailblazers.
(Photo: John Bazemore/AP)