Atlanta - The Cavaliers finally got to play in a close game and, as it turned out, finally got a loss. Knocked out of their routine on many levels and for many reasons, Saturday turned into a test of not only their depth but of their ability to execute under pressure. The results were mixed and that simply wasn't good enough against the Atlanta Hawks, who stopped the Cavs' 11-game win streak with a 97-92 victory at Philips Arena.
It was an entertaining contest, with 10 lead changes and five ties in the fourth quarter alone. All-Stars Joe Johnson and LeBron James continually attempted to one-up each other in a variety of areas in the closing minutes, each trying to be the difference-maker.
Not exactly what the Cavs have been used to of late.
James scored 14 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter and had four of his six rebounds and two of his nine assists. Johnson scored 11 of his 17 points and had two key assists in the fourth.
Ultimately, though, the Cavs (20-4) collectively came up short in the playmaking department. It was the Hawks (14-9), one of the best home teams in the NBA with an 8-1 record, who executed at both ends when it mattered.
When it wasn't Johnson, who basically turned into the Atlanta point guard for the final stretch, it was Mike Bibby or Josh Smith.
When it wasn't James, no Cav was able to come up clutch.
Bibby, who had 24 points, hit a big 3-pointer to give the Hawks the lead for good with two minutes left. Then Smith came up with a crucial blocked shot on Delonte West to preserve the win.
West and Mo Williams, who had 26 points, both missed open 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds that could've forced overtime.
"We had our chances but they made more plays," James said. "We worked and we played hard and gave ourselves a chance to win."
It took quite a bit of work. The Cavs nearly trailed for more minutes in the first half alone than they have in the previous 23 games combined.
Without Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Daniel Gibson, the team's offense continued to struggle. After getting just 88 points on 41 percent shooting in the win Friday against the 76ers, the Cavs managed just 42 percent Saturday.
The leading rebounding team in the NBA in terms of differential coming in, the Cavs were outrebounded, 40-34. The Cavs were also beaten to numerous loose balls and got caught reaching on defense, putting the Hawks on the line 39 times.
It would be easy to point to fatigue, but both teams were playing their fourth game in five nights. It would be easy to point to the officials, which the Cavs seemed to do all too often when they weren't happy with the balance of calls. James was slapped with his fifth technical foul of the season.
Yet neither explained how the Cavs gave up 60 percent shooting in the fourth quarter and 29 points, the true culprit in the defeat.
"It was a great test for us down the stretch," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "Starting with me, I didn't think we had good composure. We didn't do a good job of communicating with each other."
Only six Cavs scored, only four earned trips to the foul line and James was forced to play 46 minutes, by far the most he's been on the floor this season. They trailed by as many as 14 points in the third quarter until putting together a 20-4 run that turned it into a battle.
"The Hawks are a good team and they did a great job," James said. "We didn't expect to go 79-3."
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