Five Keys: Cavaliers at Hawks - Game 2

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Key: Straight to the Point

In Cleveland’s last two games – Game 6 of the Second Round against Chicago and Wednesday’s win in Atlanta – Kyrie Irving was severely limited in the second half. And in both contests, the Cavaliers opened up double-digit leads before holding on for the win. Irving tweaked his knee again in that Game 1 victory and was limited to just nine minutes of action in the second half, including just over three in the final quarter.

Matthew Dellavedova, who dropped 19 points on the Bulls last week, didn’t get in the scoring column against the Hawks – though he did play excellent defense on both Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder, helping to hold the duo to just 10 combined points in the second stanza. Coach Blatt said on Thursday morning that if Kyrie (and Cleveland’s medical staff) feels that he’s ready to go, he’ll play in Game 2. At the same media session, LeBron James insisted that Kyrie can help the Cavs spread the floor just “by having the name ‘Irving’ on the back of his jersey.”

The Cavs’ three-time All-Star has logged just 39 combined minutes over the past two games, attempting just 12 shots in that stretch. If the Cavaliers are going to extend their season – especially against Atlanta’s tough point guard combination – they’ll need Kyrie to contribute in any way possible.

Key: Containing the King

Atlanta’s DeMarre Carroll (like most NBA players) was going to have his hands full defending LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals. But after Wednesday’s injury – which the Hawks revealed was not structural – his odds of returning to the series at 100 percent are pretty long. Coach Budenholzer wasn’t able to say whether (or when) Carroll will be able to return to the Hawks’ rotation.

For his part, LeBron continues to struggle with his jumpshot, but that’s about the only area of his game that’s wavered. James led all scorers again on Wednesday, netting 31 points, going 12-of-26 from the floor to go with eight boards, six assists and a steal. LeBron’s huge second quarter changed the game’s momentum and his massive right-hand dunk with 27.9 to play sealed the deal. LeBron admitted that he got too heavy into isolation plays as the Cavs tried closing the Hawks out in the fourth quarter and vowed to fix the issue in Game 2.

If Carroll – who also came into the Eastern Conference Finals as Atlanta’s leading scorer – is unable to go, the Hawks will probably go with a mix of Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore.

Key: Cutting Out the Middle Men

The Hawks frontcourt duo of Millsap and Al Horford were two of four Hawks to be named to this year’s All-Star Game. But on Wednesday night, the Wine and Gold’s bigs might’ve gotten the better of Atlanta’s 1-2 punch.

Tristan Thompson continues his impressive playoff run in place of the injured Kevin Love. In Game 1, the fourth-year forward from Texas notched his third straight double-double and fourth in the last five games – finishing with 14 points, 10 boards and a pair of blocks. Mozgov tallied his second double-double of the postseason with 10 points and a game-high 11 boards.

As they had over the past three games against Chicago, the Cavs won the battle of the boards on Wednesday night – out-rebounding Atlanta, 49-37, including a 12-7 edge on the offensive glass. Millsap was just 3-of-11 from the floor for 13 points and seven boards; Horford finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. With Carroll less than 100 percent, the Hawks’ duo will have to generate more offensive pop, and if Millsap has to check LeBron, doing so might be a tall order.

Tristan has been the best big man on the floor since being inserted into the starting lineup after Game 1 of the Second Round. The Wine and Gold need him to revive that role on Friday night and beyond.

Key: Three Kings

The Cavaliers came into the Eastern Conference Finals with serious (and rightful) concerns about Kyle Korver and the Hawks ability to shoot the long-ball. Aside from the Warriors, no team in the league was more effective from beyond the arc during the regular season.

But Atlanta ran into the one playoff team that defends the three-pointer better than any other, and the advantage went the Wine and Gold’s way on Wednesday night. In Game 1, Korver was limited to just four three-point field goal attempts – and five shots from the floor overall. On the night, Cleveland held Korver to just nine points in 36 minutes of action – and the Hawks to just 17 percent from downtown.

With Wednesday’s performance, the Cavs moved into the top spot among playoff teams defending the trey – limiting foes to .292 shooting, including 8-of-43 over the last two games. J.R. Smith, meanwhile, was absolutely en fuego in Game 1, setting a Cavaliers playoff record with eight three-pointers – the NBA-record 14th time he’s canned at least eight treys in a game.

The Hawks were deadly from long-distance all year and the Cavs were one of the league’s best during their second-half renaissance. It’ll be bombs-away for the rest of the series, and the squad that does it better might be the one that takes the seven-game set.

Key: X-Men II

it’s going to be common Key for the rest of the way, so get used to it: the story of the night might just hinge on a player or performance that nobody saw coming.

On Wednesday night, the Cavaliers bench outscored Atlanta’s, 28-19. The problem is that J.R. Smith had all 28 of Cleveland’s points. We’ve seen all year (and during the postseason) that Delly is able to affect the game without scoring and he did exactly that in Game 1 – getting under both Teague’s and Schroder’s skin in the second half of Wednesday’s win. But with Kyrie Irving hurting, the Wine and Gold would love to get a little more offensive production out of their backup point. James Jones got some good looks in Game 1 but was unable to connect in three attempts from long-distance.

Atlanta didn’t get much from their reserves aside from Schroder, who went scoreless in the second half. Now that we’ve reached the Conference Finals, both coaches will essentially tighten up their rotation to eight players (nine, max). But those role players will be expected to bring production to the hardwood. Both Delly and James Jones had big games in Cleveland’s Second Round win over Chicago. J.R. Smith did his part on Wednesday. Who will bring it off the bench in tonight’s Game 2?