Monday’s roundup: Cavs hold off Hawks, win 5th straight
Cleveland — Rusty, rested or reeling, LeBron James and the Cavaliers find a way to beat the Hawks in the playoffs every time.
James scored 25 and Kyrie Irving added 21 as Cleveland withstood a strong second-half surge by Atlanta to maintain its chokehold on the Hawks with a 104-93 victory Monday night in the opening game of their second-round Eastern Conference series.
James converted a critical three-point play with 2 minutes 9 seconds left for the Cavs, who blew an 18-point lead in the second half and fell behind with 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter before making several clutch plays down the stretch.
Cleveland swept Atlanta in last year’s Eastern Conference finals and has won eight straight over the Hawks, moving to 9-0 against them in the postseason.
This was by no means easy, however.
“We needed everything,” said James, who added nine assists, seven rebounds and five steals. “We played an OK game. I don’t think we played to our standards. The first game is always kind of a feel-out.”
Dennis Schroder scored a playoff career-high 27 and rallied the Hawks before they crumbled in the closing minutes. Atlanta’s offense bogged down in crunch time and the Hawks only scored two field goals in the final 4 minutes.
Paul Millsap had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Kent Bazemore added 16 points for Atlanta, which got just eight points from Jeff Teague.
Game 2 is Wednesday night.
Despite the loss, the Hawks were mostly pleased with their effort.
“We felt good that we gave ourselves a chance,” said Bazemore, who left the floor clapping his hands. “No moral victories, but you want to keep your mojo positive. We’ll get another crack.”
James’ three-point play, which he punctuated by flexing his biceps, came after he stripped the ball from Schroder and the Cavs kept their possession alive with a pair of offensive rebounds, one by Tristan Thompson, the other by J.R. Smith.
The Cavs didn’t show any rust following an eight-day break after the first round until the third quarter, when their offense slowed and the Hawks got hot. But when it mattered most, the defending conference champions came through, and as always, James led the way.
Kevin Love, who was injured when the teams met in the postseason last year, added 17 points but was just 4-of-17 from the floor and appeared to hurt his right shoulder. Thompson added 14 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end.
Thompson has been a rebounding marvel for the Cavs, comparable to what Dennis Rodman once did for Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
“What Dennis did for the Bulls on the floor,” James said, pausing for dramatic effect, “Double-T does for our team, just giving us extra possessions.”
The Cavs came out strong and seemed intent on knocking out the Hawks. Love, who missed six of his first seven 3-pointers, knocked down a pair from long range and James finished a 2-on-1 break with a thunderous dunk to give Cleveland a 72-54 lead with 4 minutes left in the third.
With Cleveland’s sell-out crowd roaring, the Hawks looked to be in big trouble.
Atlanta, though, responded with its own deep barrage, draining four 3-pointers in a 16-3 spurt to close the quarter and pull within 75-70 entering the fourth.
But with a chance to steal Game 1 and end their futility against Cleveland, the Hawks came up short.
“We’ll be tossing and turning tonight, going over things we could have done better,” said Kyle Korver, who missed his only 3-pointer.
Oklahoma City 98, (at) San Antonio 97: Russell Westbrook had 29 points and 10 assists as the Thunder held on, evening the series at one game apiece when the Spurs failed to score on a wild sequence in the final seconds.
Kevin Durant added 28 points as the Thunder handed the Spurs just their second home loss of the season, rebounding from a 32-point beating in Game 1.
Oklahoma City’s Dion Waiters appeared to push Manu Ginobili while inbounding to start the final possession and Danny Green stole the ball from Durant. Patty Mills missed an open 3-pointer, LaMarcus Aldridge (41 points) lost the ball after grabbing the airball and Kawhi Leonard was unable to gather the ball before the buzzer sounded.
Doc Rivers said he would not break up the Clippers big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan during the offseason — regardless of any trade offers that might arise.
“I like our core and I like our bench, which was really good this year,” Rivers said three days after the Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Trail Blazers in six games.
“I think they all want to come back, and we’re going to make a strong effort to bring all our guys back. The good news about the free-agent guys who are opting out on their contracts — as they should because everyone knows what we can spend — I can’t find one who doesn’t want to be here.”
... Dirk Nowitzki told a radio show he will opt out of the final year of his contract, but has no intentions of playing anywhere but Dallas the rest of his career.