May 12, 2009

ATLANTA -- The Cavaliers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals by pulling out another gutty road win and extending their playoff win streak to eight games. Right?

"We have nothing to celebrate. What is there to celebrate? We have bigger goals than this. We won a game and we're moving on. That's about it," said center Zydrunas Ilgauskas after the Cavs' 84-74 victory (RECAP | BOX).

Guard Mo Williams, who burned the Hawks' double-teams of LeBron James with four three-pointers, agreed with his big man.

"It is not a celebration because this is not home for us. This is not where we want to be," he said. "Home for us is holding up that ball (the NBA championship trophy). That is when our celebration starts. That is all that we think about."

Such is life with the favorites to win the NBA crown and end the city of Cleveland's championship drought. Eight straight wins, all by double-digits, and it is met with a collective shrug of the shoulders. Things are going so well for the Cavs right now, they can have almost twice as many turnovers as their opponents, miss 12 free throws and still stick a road 'W' in their suitcases and head back to Cleveland.

"We ought to feel good about this win, because we got it in an ugly manner," said Cavs coach Mike Brown. "I'm sure Atlanta probably feels like they didn't play their best. I know offensively, we didn't play our best."

The possession that officially clinched the Cavaliers' four-game sweep took a remarkable 64 seconds. Leading by five with 1:56 to play, the Cavs milked the clock before James drove to the hoop and missed a layup. Anderson Varejao was there for the rebound, and the Cavs reset. James again ended up driving with little time on the shot clock, and again Varejao was there to tip the rebound. He missed his attempt, but Ilgauskas grabbed the ball and kicked it out. With the shot clock running down a third time, James was doubled in the corner and hit Williams for a back-breaking three. Cavs 82, Hawks 74, 52 seconds to play. Hello, Eastern Conference finals.

James did not dominate as he did in Game 3, but he still managed 27 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Delonte West was the Cavs' other star, going for 21 with six assists in 45 minutes. Included in there was a baseline slam over Marvin Williams early in the fourth quarter that James said surprised even West.

If the Hawks were able to knock down a few more open jumpers, their season would not be over. They shot 32 percent for the game, including a woeful 2-for-13 from three-point range. Josh Smith scored 26 and had eight boards, and Joe Johnson squeezed off 18 points around the tight defense of West.

"The effort was definitely there tonight," Johnson said. "They got a lot of loose balls, a lot of hustle plays that they beat us to. If I know my guys, I think this will leave a sour taste in our mouths all summer."

The Cavs still have plenty of basketball left to play. The Magic or Celtics are the next obstacle standing in their way. The Atlanta sweep already seems like a thing of the past.

"Why should we celebrate?" James said. "We are a team that is fighting for a championship. Advancing is advancing, whether it is four games or seven. We're not taking it for granted. We're excited we're playing great basketball. But we are not satisfied."

Delonte West. The Cavs guard had 21 points, six assists and four rebounds in 45 quality minutes. West's dunk early in the fourth quarter came with the Cavs clinging to a two-point lead, and his defense on Johnson all series was a big factor in the sweep. "Defense wins championships, and that's what I want to do. I want to put a ring on my finger," he said.

Mike Bibby. In what could have been his final game as a Hawk before he hits the free-agent market, Bibby had three points in 31 minutes and shot 1-for-6 from the floor. The point guard also had just one assist. "If I did anything more than I did tonight, I think we would have had a good chance to win the game," he said.

With 10 minutes to play, the Hawks trailed 64-62 and allowed just two points in the next 3:30. Unfortunately for them, they came up empty at the offensive end on seven straight possessions, missing a golden opportunity to seize control from the temporarily out-of-sync Cavs. A James three snapped Cleveland from its funk and the Hawks were never closer than four again.

The Cavs outscored the Hawks 11-2 to start the second quarter when James took his only rest of the game.

As he did prior to Game 3, James tossed in an underhand shot from the intersection of midcourt and the sideline during warmups. It took him seven attempts on Monday, four more than Saturday. ... The jumbotron tried to draw inspiration for the Hawks from other notable underdogs such as the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, Appalachian State and the New York Giants.

Cleveland will enjoy another mid-playoff vacation, as it waits for the Eastern Conference finals (starting as early as Sunday) against the Boston-Orlando survivor (series tied at 2). Will the layoff hurt? It certainly did not seem to affect the Cavs against the Hawks after they sat idle for nine days before the series. For the Hawks, it's time to reflect on a season where they improved their wins by 10 and advanced a round further in the playoffs. "I told those guys in the locker room I don't want them hanging their heads," said Hawks coach Mike Woodson. "This was a positive year for the Atlanta Hawks."

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