Kyrie Irving was ruled out for Cleveland’s Game 2 matchup with the Hawks, and just how healthy he can be later in these playoffs will go a long way in determining the Cavaliers’ championship chances.
But for one night, against an Atlanta team dealing with injury issues of its own, LeBron James was more than enough for Cleveland to get the job done.
James finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists to lead the Cavaliers to an easy 94-82 win, one that put Cleveland up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
The best player for the Hawks in the postseason has been DeMarre Carroll, but his status was in doubt for this one after leaving Game 1 with a knee injury. He started and played 34 minutes, but was tentative offensively, and looked uncharacteristically awkward at times while trying to defend James.
With Irving’s absence and Carroll’s injury, James asserted himself from the opening tip. He scored 13 first quarter points to get things going, before moving into more of a facilitator role as the game went on — and his teammates rewarded him by knocking down shots.
Iman Shumpert and James Jones combined for 17 points in the second quarter, and LeBron’s first seven assists all resulted in makes from three-point distance.
The Hawks were able to hang around, however, and trailed by just four early in the third despite it never really feeling like they posed a credible threat to take the Cavaliers out. Cleveland made that perception a reality by putting together a 19-4 run that lasted almost six minutes, and extended the lead to 20 points late in the period. Atlanta never challenged the rest of the way, and the fourth quarter was, for the most part, extended garbage time.
Things got even worse for the Hawks when they lost two more key players with injuries. Kyle Korver left in the third with what the team was calling an ankle sprain, after Matthew Dellavedova rolled onto his leg during a scramble for a loose ball. A short time later, Al Horford was helped off the floor with a knee injury, but he returned after being examined on the bench.
Injuries weren’t the reason the Hawks were so overmatched, however, and they weren’t a factor for the victorious Cavaliers.
Atlanta hasn’t been dominant for quite some time; the Hawks won 40 of their first 48 games of the season, before finishing just 20-14, and losing twice in the first round of the playoffs to a 38-win Brooklyn Nets squad. Winning 60 games in the watered-down Eastern Conference isn’t as impressive as it may have seemed on the surface, and the Cavaliers, even without Kyrie Irving, were able to expose the Hawks for what they are, and are likely to continue to do so for the two more games it will take to wrap up this series.