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​Cavaliers First Round Recap 2016

Chad W. Lutz
​The birds are back, the leaves are flush on the trees, the sun is shining, and the air is finally beginning to show signs of warming. This can obviously only mean one thing: it’s Cavaliers playoff basketball season. Alright, alright. I know it actually means that it’s spring, but for those faithful and hungry for a championship, weather comes third. Food, at least for me, comes second.
 
Climate-Change Nazis, keep your pants on. There’s room enough for Cavs basketball and the environment in this Rust-Belt Renegade’s heart.
 
It’s been about a week since the Cavs wrapped up their first round series versus the Detroit Pistons in four-game fashion, and with the second round of the playoffs set to start tomorrow, things are looking optimistic. Everyone is healthy (for a change), Lebron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love are playing out of their minds, and the defensive breakdowns we’ve had have been momentary, at worst. There seems to be at least one or two others stepping up to support the Big 3 on offense every night, as well, which is important, considering that’s what got us to The Finals last season. Re: Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson.
 
We actually had no idea who we were playing in the second round until Friday, when our Eastern Conference Finals opponents of yesteryear, the Atlanta Hawks, finally finished off the ever-pesky Boston Celtics to move on in six games. Unlike our series, theirs was entirely back and forth. Atlanta took the first two games at home. Boston would come storming back in games three and four to even the series, and even looked, at one point, like they had all the moment they needed to send the team with the best record in the East last season to an early post-season exit. Games five and six, however, were dominated by the Hawks, and Atlanta was able to close out their first round action in Boston.
Lebron James reacts to a made basket during the first round series versus the Detroit Pistons. (www.nj.com)
​So, here we are again: Cavs v. Hawks. The Ultimate Team v. The Ultimate Player and his Band of Merry Basketballers. A lot of what happens in this series is obviously going to be dominated by the grace of No. 23, but what separated the Cavs and Pistons in the first round is what’s going to make the difference between the Cavaliers and Atlanta in the second round, that being defense. When it came to fourth quarter defense and those all-important stops down the stretch, Cleveland put Detroit in a vice.
 
The Cavs had the Pistons so flustered, there was little they could do but take to Twitter and the media tables after each game to vent their frustrations. There was one prolifically sweet moment in Game 1 where Detroit’s point guard Reggie Jackson literally abandoned play to storm over to one of the refs and bark at him incessantly. Jackson reminded me of a dog that’s caught up to a car it’s been chasing. He apparently thought he was fouled on a move he was trying to make; it wasn’t really clear what that move was because the ball just sort of squirted out of his hands, but the ref just stood there, listened to him rant and rave and flail his arms around, and then just as casually as Jackson lost it, the ref made his hands into the shape of a T and Kyrie scooted his way to the free-throw line for a pivotal extra point.
Meet Reggie Jackson, Detroit's up-and-coming wannabe Bad Boy. (www.detroitbadboys.com)
​There were dozens of other moments just like that fourth-quarter incident in Game 1. The Piston’s Andre Drummond, who was supposed to be a thorn in the side of the Cavaliers, and is arguably Detroit’s best player, was forced to sit out of crucial stretch minutes throughout all four game of the series because the Piston’s couldn’t afford to put him at the free-throw stripe. Drummond’s regular season free-throw percentage actually set the all-time single season mark for the lowest in the history of the NBA (35.5%). And the Cavs stymieing defense had he and the rest of the Pistons looking completely out of sorts on just about every critical possession. Reggie Jackson would trip over his own feet and toss the ball graciously into the arms of one of the Wine and Golders. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who lit us up for 21pts in Game 1 and for most of the four-game series, would toss passes out of bounds or take forced shots.
 
Say what you want about how well the Cavs’ offense gelled during the series against the Pistons, and it did; don’t get me wrong, but when the Wine and Gold needed to put the defensive clamp on, everyone stepped up and did their part. That’s going to be the key moving forward. Cleveland swept the season series against the Hawks during the regular season, mostly due to stifling defensive efforts down the stretch in a couple of really close games. Lest we forget the overtime victory the Cavs had to basically fight tooth, nail, and claw in order to steal away from Atlanta on their home court at the beginning of April. I bet the Hawks haven’t forgotten. And my guess is, they’re probably still a little salty after the four-game sweep we put to them last year in the East Finals. Redemption would be sweet for them; to knock us out of the second round when we’re the heavy favorite in our conference, wouldn’t it?
 
But, Lebron James knows this, and the entire organization knows this. And I’m sure, much like the movie Major League, they’ve got a cardboard cutout of this notion standing somewhere in the locker room that they pay special attention to and pick apart as a team one a night after practice, if only in their minds. Atlanta lost a key defender to free agency in DeMarre Carrol to Toronto in the off season, and their record, not just against the Cavs, but against the league, showed it. They won twenty-two fewer games this season than last. The Cavs won three more. But I wouldn’t count the Hawks down and out just yet. Any team that makes it to the playoffs is capable of doing some damage. The 98-99 Knicks ring a bell? And while I won’t go so far to say the Hawks of 2015-2016 are even a shadow of the 98-99 Knicks, you never can be too careful. You have to play defense.

Upcoming Schedule:
Game 1 vs. Hawks 5/2 at 7:00pm
Game 2 vs. Hawks 5/4 at 8:00pm
Game 3 @ Hawks 5/6 at 7:00pm
Game 4 @ Hawks 5/8 at 3:30pm
Game 5 vs. Hawks 5/10 (if necessary)
Game 6 @ Hawks 5/12 (if necessary)
Game 7 vs. Hawks 5/15 (if necessary)