Next for the Cavs Eastern Conference finals, Game 1, Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics or Orlando Magic, The Q, TBD.
Atlanta - This has been a postseason of beauty thus far for the Cavaliers , but the gritty way Game 4 went Monday night felt much more natural.
The Cavs have been built to win in the playoffs with intense defense, the sort of physical, team-based approach that will keep them in every single game and leave it to their star to be the difference-maker. So while what turned out to be the finale with the Atlanta Hawks will look like the worst playoff effort in the first two series, actually it was a perfect segue to the Eastern Conference finals.
Because that is where the Cavs are going after completing a 4-0 sweep of the Hawks with an ugly 84-74 win at Philips Arena. The Cavs are now the first team since the 2005 Miami Heat to sweep the first two rounds as they put the Hawks on ice. The Cavaliers await the winner of the Celtics-Magic series, which is tied, 2-2.
Coming in averaging 100 points and shooting 48 percent in the first three games against the Hawks, the close-out game was much different for the Cavs. For a team constructed to deal with it, different was good.
The Cavs had periods of terrible offense, turned the ball over way too much and missed way too many free throws. But they defended relentlessly and put the game in the hands of their star and his well-armed teammates.
Or exactly the way the team was drawn up.
The Hawks got almost nothing easy and were held to just 32 percent shooting, which set a franchise record for lowest field-goal percentage allowed in a playoff game. It permitted the Cavs to get off the hook with the subpar offense as LeBron James scored 27 points with eight rebounds and eight assists.
"My belief is you have to defend to win on the road, especially in the playoffs," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "Our group understands that and respects it and embraces it."
In many ways it was a throwback to playoff games of the past few years, when the Cavs routinely won games of this nature. Especially on the inside, where they have been victimized at times this season. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao and Joe Smith combined for five blocks, three steals and 27 rebounds to give the Hawks nothing easy.
Had the Cavs' offense not turned it over 18 times, costing 22 points, the Cavs may have held the Hawks to close to 60 points. It helped that Atlanta could not take advantage of the open outside looks the Cavs were allowing - they went just 2-of-13 on 3-pointers.
"It's always good to have games like this because they help you along in the playoffs," James said. "The last two games we've had a little adversity."
Whatever it was, the Cavs handled it with aplomb. Several times when the Hawks got close in the fourth quarter, the Cavs shifted into the familiar mode. They put the ball in James' hands and let him make plays. Sometimes he did it himself, including a three-point play with two minutes left.
More often he gave it up because for the first time in the series the Hawks actually double-teamed him to make someone else beat them. The Cavs are prepared for that, and it showed.
Mo Williams hit two clutch 3-pointers to finish with 12 points, and Delonte West scored nine of his 21 points in the fourth. That included a vicious dunk in traffic and a 3-point dagger to stop a Hawks run.
Combined, they were 6-of-11 on 3-pointers to undercut the Hawks' plan on James.
Ilgauskas added 14 points and 10 rebounds to finish off a solid two games in Atlanta. Varejao had 11 rebounds, seven of them on the offensive end, to get the Cavs needed extra possessions to kill the clock and to make up for general sloppiness.
He was a big reason the Cavs won the rebounding battle, 48-33, on the night and a stunning 178-123 in the series.
It was all needed because the Cavs shot just 43 percent, had all those turnovers and missed 12 free throws.
The Hawks got 26 points from Josh Smith and 18 from Joe Johnson, but they combined to shoot just 15-of-34. It left the Hawks with an empty feeling - and feeling impressed with the Cavs.
"Their defense has been great throughout this series," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "They're playing at a championship level. I've seen that [as an assistant] with the Pistons in how we defended and shared the ball, and they're playing that way."
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