CLEVELAND - LeBron James was presented with the NBA's MVP trophy moments before tip-off and told a raucous home crowd he was anxious to go play after nine days off.
It showed, especially in the first half.
Yes, the Cavs easily beat the Hawks 99-72 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. But for a half, James didn't exactly play like the guy we saw in the regular season or the first round. He was valuable, all right, but he wasn't quite the same player.
While he was scoring in bunches 16 points in the first quarter, 22 for the half he was forcing the action and doing little to involve his teammates. (Maybe James was just a tad bit ticked the Hawks chose to stay in the tunnel and ignore his award ceremony?)
How often do you see James sitting with zero assists halfway through a game? Not often.
And the Cavs struggled because of it. Despite plenty of highlights from James, Cleveland led just 49-45 at halftime and was showing little interest in stopping Josh Smith from attacking the basket. Smith had 17 at that point, on 8-of-13 shooting.
- Cavs 99, Hawks 72 (Cavs 1-0)
- Nuggets 117, Mavs 105 (Nuggets 2-0)
- Magic 95, Celtics 90 (Magic 1-0)
- Rockets 100, Lakers 92 (Rockets 1-0)
- Playoff results, schedule
- 2009 NBA Playoff Central
- Smith: LeBron shows his true value
- Kriegel: Lakers don't look improved
- Goodman: Magic must involve Howard
- Rosenberg: LeBron is best of era
- Postgame: Hawks-Cavs, Game 1
- Tuesday's action | Monday
If LeBron's supporting cast went mostly ignored early on, they stole the show in the second half.
Mo Williams, who came to Cleveland in a big offseason trade with Milwaukee and was expected to take the scoring load off of LeBron, did everything that could be asked of him, finishing with 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
LeBron liked what he saw from his new sidekick, saying he told Williams, "Let me take care of the pressure. Just go out and play your game."
Delonte West picked up the playmaking slack and helped put the game out of reach with some big second-half baskets, finishing with nine assists and 13 points.
Another positive for Cleveland was the play of the second unit. The Cavs tend to let leads slip away when James starts the second and fourth quarters on the bench. In Game 1, they opened the second quarter with a 9-1 run before he returned. In the fourth he was barely needed as the subs helped West and Williams put the Hawks away.
There are plenty of excuses to be made for the Hawks getting blown out. They had just finished a tough seven-game series with Miami two days ago. They were in hostile territory with a crowd revved up to coronate the franchise's first-ever MVP. They faced an opponent that won three of four meetings this season.
And they can be hopeful they'll get more out of Joe Johnson and Al Horford, who combined for just 15 points. But this was probably the best chance they stood of stealing a game in Cleveland.
"I thought that in the second half, we just kind of gave up," Johnson said.
We'll see if the Hawks can come back and make a series of it, but they would have stood a better chance against that guy doing all the scoring in the first half. Because they probably don't stand a chance against the guy that came out of the tunnel after intermission, especially not when he brings his friends with him.
Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 6, 2009