On a day where the Cleveland Cavaliers found out Anderson Varejao would be out 6-8 weeks due to a spilt in his quadriceps, the Cavaliers put forth one of their most impressive performance of the season in a 99-83 win over the Atlanta Hawks. Led by a 33-point performance from point guard Kyrie Irving, the Wine and Gold largely dominated the fifth place Hawks from start to finish. Irving led the Cavaliers with 33 points, while also shooting 73.3 percent from the field. In fact, every starter except Dion Waiters finished in double figures. Josh Smith led the Hawks with 17 points.
The first quarter was the one competitive quarter in the entire game. The Hawks came out pushing the pace, and got out to an early five-point lead. The Cavaliers, however, were able to battle back as the teams traded baskets seemingly every possession. In the quarter, Alonzo Gee stepped up for the absent C.J. Miles, and hit four three pointers in the period. Irving scored 11 of his 33 points in the quarter, including a leaning three pointer to put Cleveland up 29-28 at the end of one. For the quarter, the Cavaliers shot 70 percent from three, as well as 47.8 percent from the field.
The second quarter saw a backcourt of Shaun Livingston and Jeremy Pargo take over for Waiters and Irving. With Omri Casspi also in the game for Gee, the Cavaliers offense looked completely dysfunctional early on. The Hawks were no better, as they were not able to score a bucket until right before the three-minute mark. Livingston’s play was what kept the Cavaliers offense afloat, as he scored four points in the period. Both teams struggled to get anything going in the period, but theCavaliers were able to put together a few runs and increase the lead to 49-40 at the half.
The third frame was when Cleveland was really able to extend the lead wide open behind a superb quarter from Irving. Relying on good defense and quality shot selection, Cleveland grabbed total control and was able to increase the lead to 14 by the end of the quarter. This quarter was also impressive considering the Cavs were able to buck their recent trend of collapsing in the second half, and repelled the majority of Atlanta’s offensive attacks. At the end of the quarter, Irving had scored 18 points in the third alone – including a deep three with only 1.5 seconds left. In fact, at the end of the three, Irving’s shooting percentage sat at an other-worldly 80 percent.
The fourth quarter started off ugly, as Tyler Zeller bricked two close shots in one possession, and it looked as though the Hawks still had a chance to make a game-changing run. However, that early trend was bucked, and when Irving reentered the game with a little under six minutes to go, the Cavaliers still had a 12-point lead. From there, the Cavaliers were in total cruise control, and used backups to close out the game. On their last bucket, Livingston threw an alley-oop to a cutting Pargo, capping off a sweet victory over one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
Before the game, this was a tough day for the Cavaliers. Not only was Varejao ruled out, but C.J. Miles and Daniel Gibson were also unavailable for action. Miles was ruled out with a back injury, while Gibson was cleared, but decided against playing due to not being comfortable playing five-on-five.
In the game, there was really not much to look at with a negative viewpoint. Both Thompson and Zeller had double-doubles, Irving played his best game of the season and the bench looks reinvigorated with the addition of Livingston. The one negative part of tonight’s game was the performance of Waiters, who started in place of Miles. Scoring nine points in 29 minutes of action, the Syracuse product was the one starter not to score in double figures. He shot 4-of-11 from the field, often forcing jumpers when he should have worked for a better shot.
All and all, this was an impressive performance for the Wine and Gold. They beat the fifth best team in Eastern Conference by 16 points without their second best player, their best shooter and one of their best role players. Behind budding superstar Irving, this was a game that showed the Cavaliers have talent on the roster, and are on the right path. There is just some fine tuning that needs to be done.
The Cavaliers next play the Denver Nuggets on Friday as the start of a five game West Coast road trip that will take them to Denver, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Portland and Salt Lake City.Tip-off is at 9 p.m. from the Pepsi Center in Denver.