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Wrap-Up – Tuesday night’s matchup in Atlanta was supposed to be about how the game’s greatest player would perform on his 30th birthday. Instead, it turned into a battle of attrition for the Cavaliers, who were without LeBron James – out with a sore left knee – Shawn Marion – resting an ankle injury suffered on Sunday - and Kevin Love – who left the game in the third quarter with back spasms. With two stars on the shelf, the remaining Cavaliers scratched and clawed all night before relenting late and dropping the 109-101 decision at Philips Arena.
Cleveland’s third All-Star, Kyrie Irving – who missed the previous two games with a knee bruise – picked up the slack for his missing mates, netting 22 of his game-high 35 points after intermission. Irving went 13-of-27 from the floor and 6-of-7 from the stripe, adding a team-high nine assists, six boards and a pair of steals.
Tristan Thompson followed up with his second straight double-double – finishing with 18 points, going 9-for-12 from the floor, and 13 boards before fouling out late in the game. Rookie Joe Harris rounded out the Cavaliers in double-figures – coming off the bench to tally 13 points, going 3-for-4 from long-distance to go with four boards and a pair of assists.
But Harris wasn’t the only reserve to contribute in a big way on Tuesday. James Jones was good on both ends, canning three triples to go with three steals and a pair of blocked shots. Dion Waiters added nine points, four assists, three boards and a pair of steals.
Atlanta was also down a key piece, with Al Horford getting the late scratch after falling under the weather. Paul Milsap picked up the slack, leading five Hawks in double-figures with 26 points to go with nine boards and a game-high three blocks. Jeff Teague, who added 23 points in the win, also led both teams with 11 helpers.
Already in their third matchup of the season – with each team recording a blowout win at The Q – Tuesday’s game in the ATL had a distinctly different feel. The Hawks looked like they would run away with the game in the third quarter when they extended their lead to 17 points, but the scrappy Cavaliers continued to work their way back into the game before Atlanta pulled away late. One can only imagine what the series finale on March 6 will look like.
Turning Point – The Hawks went on a 12-3 run to end the first half and took a double-digit lead into intermission. And they were comfortably ahead through much of the third quarter. But the Cavs closed the gap to just five heading into the final period. Cleveland continued to push Atlanta and when James Jones drilled his third three of the night with 4:44 to play, the Wine and Gold trailed by just a deuce. Teague missed a trey on Atlanta’s next possession, but got back quickly and – as Matthew Dellavedova tried to hit Kyrie in the corner for the go-ahead triple – stole the ball and fed ahead to Milsap, who drilled a pair of free throws to put the Hawks back in charge.
By the Numbers – .639 … Tristan Thompson’s field goal percentage (23-for-36) as a starter this season. During those starts, the fourth-year big is averaging 14.5 points and 12.0 boards per contest, racking up his seventh double-double of the season on Tuesday night in Atlanta.
Quotable – Coach David Blatt, on how the Cavs performed as well as they did, following Sunday’s disappointing effort against Detroit …
”Some good-hearted soul searching and talking and leadership from within. (This is) the kind of grit that we should have as Cleveland people.”
Up Next – The Cavaliers wacky week continues as they wrap up the 2014 calendar year with a New Year’s Eve matchup against Milwaukee at The Q. The Cavs tip off 2015 on the road – taking on Kemba Walker and the Hornets on Friday night in Charlotte. On Sunday, it’s a marquee matinee in Cleveland when Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks come to town for a 1 p.m. meeting. The Cavs get back on the road Monday, traveling to Philly to take on the young Sixers. Two nights later, they face the Rockets at The Q in their final game before a five-game West Coast swing.