What happened: J.R. Smith happened. Smith scored a playoff career-high 28 points as the Cavaliers defeated the Hawks 97-89 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Cavs built an 85-67 lead with a 22-4 run from the 3:27 mark of the third quarter to the 9:59 mark of the fourth quarter, and Smith had 17 of those points – 15 on three three-pointers. Smith was 10-for-16 from the field and 8-for-12 on three-pointers. He also had eight rebounds, becoming just the fourth player since 1985 to have eight rebounds and make eight threes in a playoff game.
"Probably overlooked in his great shooting performance was the fact that he defended as well as he did and he got eight rebounds," Cavs coach David Blatt said.
Injury-plagued playoffs: Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll went to the locker room at 4:59 of the fourth quarter with an injured left knee and did not return. The tea, called it a sprained knee but Carroll will undergo an MRI on Thursday to determine the extent of the injury. He did not put weight on it as he was helped off the floor and into the locker room. He is Atlanta’s leading scorer in the playoffs, and the player assigned to guard LeBron James. If the injury is serious, it will be devastating to Atlanta’s chances, especially with Thabo Sefolosha – another noted Hawks perimeter – out for the season with fractured fibula and ligament damage.
What worked for Cavs: Besides Smith, LeBron James went to work in the low post, and the Hawks had few answers. James scored a game-high 31 points on 12-for-26 shooting and he attempted just one three-pointer. He also had eight rebounds and six assists. It was his 52nd playoff game with at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists – more than any other player in NBA history.
What worked for Hawks: Hawks guards Jeff Teague’s penetration created problems for the Cavaliers, who had trouble stopping his drives to the bucket. Teague scored 17 of his team-high 27 points in the first half.
What didn’t work for the Hawks: After a blistering offensive start – 57.9% in the first half – the Hawks struggled offensively against an improving Cavaliers defense. The Hawks shot just 30.8% in the second half and were 4-for-23 on three-pointers for the game.
"If we continue to attack and we continue to play with pace and move the ball better, then I think that’s going to give us our best chance going into Game 2," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Said Teague: "Shots weren’t falling. Guys were open, but we just didn’t capitalize on the shots tonight.
What didn’t work the Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving (strained right foot and tendinitis in his left knee) is still slowed by those ailments. He had no explosiveness off the dribble and finished with 10 points. He did not play in the final 8:39.
"That’s my role at that point, to let him know when he’s on the floor, no matter what he’s going through," James said. "We need him to be aggressive, as aggressive as he can be with the injury, and not worry about things that he cannot control. Only worry about the things that he can control."
Unheralded performances: Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov each had double-double in points and rebounds, and helped keep the Cavs in the game early with 11 first-half points. For the Hawks, Al Horford had 16 points and six rebounds.
What’s next: Game 2 is Friday in Atlanta, and the Hawks need to win to avoid a 2-0 deficit with Games 3 and 4 in Cleveland.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS HIGHLIGHTSTags: car, game, player, sports, today