There are days when the hype feels real. For the Cavaliers, Saturday was one. After Friday’s 122-121 win over the Celtics, we wondered about the state of coach David Blatt’s defense. Those questions are legitimate over the long haul and potentially pressing come playoff time. But when everything’s going right on the other side of the ball, as was visible in a 127-94 drubbing of the Hawks, it’s easy and acceptable to focus on the Cavaliers' pure entertainment.
Put simply, the Cavaliers were unguardable from start to finish, with emphasis on the start. After Friday’s close call, LeBron James set the tone with 11 of Cleveland’s first 14 points, including three threes, in the first four minutes. And when it gets like this, what can you really do? The Cavaliers became the first team in league history to make as many as nine straight threes in a quarter and they ended up hitting their first 11. They ripped off a 13-0 run in the second quarter and led 71-43 … at halftime. The sellout crowd at Quicken Loans Arena probably dropped a little extra at the concession stands.
For all the discourse in the season’s early stages regarding the shape of Cleveland’s attack, the Cavaliers assisted on 39 of 49 baskets, consistently weaving passes outside-in for easy points. They certainly looked like a team, spacing the floor effectively in the half-court and swinging the ball for open looks. The open floor remains the baseline for their success, and the Cavaliers more than pushed the pace for the game’s first three quarters before the starters sat. On a night like this, only 13 fast break points was a good indicator of offensive growth. Cleveland shot 54.4 percent from the field and drained a franchise-record 19 threes at a 61.3 percent clip (starkly contrasting Atlanta’s 3-for-22 mark from deep).
In your obligatory Big Three update, James finished with 32 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Kyrie Irving scored 20 points and had five assists, and Kevin Love, still finding his way in the offense, added 13 points, six rebounds and five assists. Shawn Marion looked spry with 11 points including a throwback one-handed jam on Paul Millsap. And maybe the night’s most telling stat was Dion Waiters posting a plus-45 in 27 minutes of play.
To Atlanta’s credit, the Hawks shot 11 for 19 in the first quarter, but just 9 for 27 in the second, after which the game was completely out of hand. Likely due to the game’s pace, Atlanta couldn’t keep sharpshooter Kyle Korver on the floor for more than 13:33, and he only took one shot. Otherwise, it wasn’t that any one guy played that poorly, and though there were obvious struggles to guard, when your opponents shoot like that, you tip your cap. That said, let’s all take a minute to appreciate the show.
With Cleveland’s dominance in this one firmly established, it is time to wonder what this means for everyone else. No, the Cavaliers won't score like this every night, and yes, there are defensive issues to fix. The depth leaves something to be desired, though the role players were good Saturday (Waiters had four steals and eight assists!). But this team might be so gifted with the ball that the old “score more than the other team” trope is all that really matters more often than not.
"Nothing is ever as good, or as bad as it appears,” Blatt said after the game. “You don't need to get too high ... you don't need get too low.” And he’s right. Look, it’s still November, but with one of the league’s most potent offenses able to fire like this and three players capable of carrying it when necessary, what’s not to like?