When anyone talks about the city of Cleveland, the first thing they will mention is the “blue collar” nature of the people who live there. Well, the Cleveland Cavaliers embodied the true essence of their city on Tuesday night, outworking and outmuscling the Atlanta Hawks on their way to a sweep of the Eastern Conference Finals.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) May 27, 2015
Sending the No. 1 seed packing, the Cavaliers defeated the 60-game regular season winner, 118-88. For those who did not watch, it was never close—as LeBron James and company raced out to a 32-20 first quarter lead and never looked back.
If you want to isolate how the Cavaliers separated themselves in this series, look no further than the rebounding edge in Game 4. Cleveland destroyed Atlanta on the glass 56-39—including a 13-7 edge on the offensive glass. The activity and emergence of Tristan Thompson with Kevin Love out of the lineup was one of the biggest ones all series, as Thompson crashed the boards for another 11 total rebounds in Game 4. He simply played on another level than anyone on the court in the post, grabbing an outstanding five offensive rebounds which created second chance opportunities for his teammates.
If you want to talk about rebounds in this one, it is difficult to leave out the “New York Castoffs,” J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. Smith grabbed 10 boards on the night, while Shumpert added an additional eight. Smith posted a double-double, with 18 points and 10 rebounds—shooting 50 percent from the floor. Despite an off shooting night (1-of-8), Shumpert found a way to impact the game with his rebounds and ball distribution (four assists).
— NBA (@NBA) May 27, 2015
While giving praise to the role players, you cannot forget the job done by the superstar James in just 29 minutes of work. He finished the night with 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists—falling just short of averaging a TRIPLE-DOUBLE for the entire series. Despite the lack of a three-point shot, James found a way to truly dominate and will his teammates around him despite missing Kyrie Irving for the majority of the series.
Speaking of Irving, he ended up surprising many and starting in the team’s close-out game. Irving logged 22 minutes, going 6-of-11 from the floor with 16 points, five assists and four rebounds. It was good to see him have some explosion and some lift underneath his jumper—two things that had been lacking when he attempted to play before taking games off. He will now have another nine days off to continue to get healthy and ready for the Finals.
Two more key contributors in this one were Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova. Mozgov grabbed seven rebounds and added 14 points thanks to his activity around the rim. Coming out to a standing ovation and constant chants of “Delly…Delly,” Dellavedova logged 17 minutes, scoring 10 points off the bench. The gritty, nuisance of a defender got in Jeff Teague and the Atlanta Hawks’ heads from the moment he stepped foot on the court, ending this series just the way it started–with Delly as the mayor of Atlanta and the owner of the Hawks.
After being swept in the 2007 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, James has led the Cavaliers back to the Finals in his first season back with the team since leaving for Miami. For a city that has not won a championship since 1964 (Cleveland Browns) and never won one in basketball, the continued theme of “There’s Always Next Year” has finally been squashed.
That’s right Cleveland fans, “Next Year” is now. So enjoy this victory, and celebrate the Eastern Conference Finals Championship until June 4th. Because once the NBA Finals begin against either the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets, this team is just four wins away from the biggest party any city has ever seen.