While Cavalier fans have seen impressive performances against good teams this year, this game just seemed to be different. From start to finish Cleveland competed and looked to have control of the game. Maybe it was playing for their injured teammate, center Anderson Varejao who found out he would need surgery and will miss four to six weeks, or maybe something clicked for this team. Hopefully it did not click for only one night.
Despite playing well throughout the game, the Hawks made the run to get back in the game that all good teams do when trailing. After being down 13 at halftime, Atlanta was able to pull the game level at 51 with just under nine minutes left in the third quarter. The Cavaliers, who have let games slip away at this point much of the season, continued to play strong and went on a 26-12 run to close out the period.
Kyrie Irving was the catalyst once again for Cleveland, scoring 18 of his game-high 33 points in the third quarter to fuel the run. While he only managed four assists on the night, the point guard was able to get his teammates involved, as all the starters but Dion Waiters, who was starting for the injured C.J. Miles, scored in double figures.
Alonzo Gee had 15 points and six rebounds, while Tristan Thompson scored 11 points and had 14 rebounds and Tyler Zeller scored 11 as well while setting a new career-high in rebounds with 12. The two big men were effective defensively as well, using their size to force Atlanta to adjust their shot at the rim-usually resulting in a miss.
Shaun Livingston, who the Cavaliers claimed off waivers on Christmas, was effective throughout the night. He came off the bench to score eight points, dish out five assists, and have four rebounds. He was key for Cleveland in the second quarter while the starters rested, as he played tough defense and helped to keep the lead.
The Hawks had a well balanced night, but no one was able to put up the kind of numbers that would have pushed them over the edge against the Cavaliers. Josh Smith led the way with 17 points for his team, with eight rebounds and four assists. Jeff Teague, as expected, played well, scoring 15 points and giving out eight assists.
Al Horford, after a somewhat slow start, ended the night with decent numbers, finishing with 14 points and five rebounds. Kyle Korver also scored in double figures, as he scored 12 points to go along with seven boards.
This was a performance the fans at Quicken Loans Arena want to see out of their young team playing without their emotional leader. It will be a while before the fans see their team at home, as they go out on a tough west coast road trip. They will play two teams in playoff position, one that is a game and half out of the playoffs, and the Los Angeles Lakers on the trip.
It all starts Friday at the Pepsi Center, as the Cavaliers will take on the Denver Nuggets.
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