The Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the first seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2010 in a statement win against the Atlanta Hawks. The Cavaliers took over the game late in the first half and did not take their foot off the gas, earning their 57th win of the season, 109-94. The Cavaliers will now maintain home court advantage against all Eastern Conference foes in the playoffs. The Hawks, who dropped to 48-33, are still in a fight for a top four seed in the East with the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.
Tight first half
The first half of the game was headlined by runs from both teams, as the Hawks won the first quarter but the Cavaliers took over in the second.
The Hawks, who shot over 52 percent from the field as a team, took a 26-22 lead over Cleveland in the first quarter. Kent Bazemore was huge for the Hawks, shooting a scorching 80 percent from the field to lead Atlanta with 10 first quarter points. Al Horford and Jeff Teague contributed to Atlanta’s hot start, scoring six points each on three for four shooting from the field.
Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers with 12 first quarter points, starting the game off hot. Irving shot 50 percent from the field and was 66 percent from beyond the arch. LeBron James added to Cleveland’s hot shooting, scoring eight points off 60 percent from the field, including hitting both of his three point attempts.
Cleveland found a hot hand in the second quarter, bringing their shooting average for the half up to 51 percent. The Cavaliers made a late run at the end of the first half to take a lead over the Hawks, led by the continued hot shooting of James, who ended the half with 15 points and six assists. Kevin Love and Matthew Dellavedova also contributed to Cleveland’s second quarter run after slow starts.
For Atlanta, little contribution came from anyone other than Bazemore in the second quarter, as he ended the half with 21 points off seven for 10 shooting from the field. Horford and Teague, who each had six points in the first quarter, only ended the half with eight a piece. With their increased momentum and increased pace, Cleveland was able to halt Atlanta’s hot shooting and take a 51-45 lead going into the half.
Cleveland runs away
The Cavaliers managed to distance themselves from Atlanta in the second half. Cleveland took a commanding 17-point lead midway through the third quarter behind the continued hot shooting of James and Irving. James ended the third quarter, and the game, with 34 points on 13 for 16 shooting from the field and Irving upped his point total to 22 points. Horford and Teague both stepped up their scoring in the third quarter as well, ending with 18 and 17 respectively. Unfortunately, Atlanta got very little contribution from any other player on the team, including the hot shooting Bazemore who didn’t post a single basket in the third.
Atlanta was unable to mount a comeback in any form, as Cleveland maintained a double digit lead throughout the remainder of the game. Irving took over in the fourth quarter with James on the bench, ending the game with 35 points on 50 percent shooting from the field. Atlanta was unable to handle Irving, who put the responsibility of maintaining this insurmountable lead on his shoulders after admitting to being a big reason the Cavaliers lost their game against the Chicago Bulls Saturday night. The Hawks made up little ground, putting in their bench players for the remainder of the game. Bazemore led the team in scoring with 23, while Teague and Horford had 21 and 20 respectively.
The Cavaliers will close out their season at home Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons, whom they are likely to play in the first round of the playoffs.
The Hawks will finish their season Wednesday as well, on the road against the Washington Wizards.