Keys to the Game: Cavaliers vs. Hawks

Win or Go Home

The Cavaliers got their first win of this incredible season against the Hawks back in October. Now, they face Atlanta on what promises to be a wild night in downtown Cleveland – needing just one more win to reach the NBA Playoffs.

The Wine & Gold are coming off a tough loss to Brooklyn in the 7-8 Play-In Game – trailing, 40-20, after one period and unable to overcome that early deficit, dropping the 115-108 decision on Tuesday. The following night, the Hawks clobbered the Hornets in Atlanta, with Trae Young and Clint Capela netting double-doubles in the 30-point win.

That sets the stage for tonight’s battle – the fifth of the season, with Atlanta taking each of the last three.

Atlanta’s final victory of the series came against a seriously shorthanded Cavaliers squad. Since then, Cleveland has gotten Evan Mobley back, and Jarrett Allen continues to progress. He’s listed as questionable for tonight’s contest, but Coach Bickerstaff said on Thursday that he took part with the team’s walk-through in Independence.

On Tuesday night in Brooklyn, Kyrie Irving hit his first 12 shots and he and Kevin Durant combined for 59 points and 23 assists in the win.

Darius Garland went blow-for-blow with Kyrie, netting 16 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter.

Kevin Love doubled-up with 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds and Evan Mobley notched 19 points, seven boards and the Cavs only two blocked shots.

The Hawks shot 52 percent from the floor and 50 percent from deep in their Wednesday night win over Charlotte. Trae Young struggled from the floor but still led Atlanta with 24 points. Clint Capela (and the Hawks as a team) dominated the boards as the Hornets were crushed again in the Play-In game.

With the Guardians home opener getting started not long before tipoff, it should be a live one on Friday night at the FieldHouse. The loser of tonight’s Play-In packs up their lockers this weekend. The winner travels to Miami for an Easter Sunday meeting with the Heat.

Guard Duty

Trae Young was a starter with Team Durant in the 2022 All-Star Game in Cleveland. Darius Garland, making his All-Star debut on his home floor, was a reserve for Team LeBron. Tonight’s stakes are slightly higher.

Young played in all four meetings against Cleveland this year, averaging 32.5 points per – notching at least 30 in two games and going off for 41 in a New Year’s Eve win at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. In the series, Young drilled 14 three-pointers, shot .895 (34-of-38) from the stripe and averaged 9.0 assists.

Young led Atlanta with 24 points in Wednesday’s Play-In game victory, but it took him 24 shots to get there, adding a game-high 11 assists.

Like the Cavs, Atlanta has a solid veteran backup at the point in Delon Wright, who finished with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting.

Garland only played in two of the four meetings against Atlanta this year – going off for 30 points on 12-of-22 shooting in Cleveland’s February 15 loss and struggling on 7-of-21 shooting in the March 31 lopsided loss in Atlanta.

The Cavaliers are hoping to see more “Playoff Rondo” on Friday night. The 16-year man led Cleveland with nine assists on Tuesday night, and more importantly, allowed Garland to play off the ball as the team made its second-half push.

Find Your Center

It came as no surprise to anyone that Evan Mobley looked completely unfazed in his postseason debut.

Mobley was very good against the Nets on Tuesday, and he’s been just as solid in his three meetings with Atlanta this season – averaging 18.7 points and 9.7 boards, doubling-up in two of the three meetings, including a 22-point, 10-rebound effort on February 15. In the first meeting of the season, the rookie swatted four Atlanta offerings. In the next, he blocked three more.

In the one game neither Mobley nor Jarrett Allen was able to suit up for – the series finale on March 31 – it was Moses Brown who posted a double-double, netting 15 points and a team-best 13 boards.

Allen had similar numbers to Mobley’s in three games against Atlanta – averaging 15.3 points and 9.7 boards, doubling-up in the October victory.

Clint Capela’s numbers took a slight dip with Atlanta this year, but he still averaged a double-double for the fifth straight season. The 8th-year man led the Eastern Conference, averaging 11.9rpg this season.

Capela averaged 14.5 boards in four games against the Cavs this year – grabbing 23 in Atlanta’s December victory in Cleveland and doubling-up in three of those contests.