The Cleveland Cavaliers crushed an injury-ravaged Atlanta Hawks line-up 105-85 on Thursday to take a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semi-final series.
LeBron James stamped Cleveland’s authority early, scoring 18 of his game-high 27 points in the first half to help the Cavs to a 24-point lead and earn himself a fourth quarter rest.
“Defense [has been the key] for us throughout the whole series and the playoffs,” James said.
“When we get stops it’s easy for us to execute on offense. They’re an explosive team if you let them, but we’re a confident ball club,” said James, who won the NBA’s MVP and a place in the league’s All-Defensive First Team this week.
The muscular forward, averaging a formidable 31.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists for the postseason, closed the half with a remarkable 36-foot three-pointer at the buzzer.
Sidekick Mo Williams chipped in 15 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Cavaliers, who had the match wrapped up with a 30-point lead after three quarters.
Maurice Evans scored 16 points for the Hawks, who made just 35 percent of their shots and struggled without injured big man Al Horford and forward Marvin Williams.
To compound their misery, Joe Johnson left the court in the third quarter with an ankle injury.
“I have a boot on [the ankle] and hopefully I’ll be ready. I can’t see myself not playing [in game three],” Johnson said.
Cleveland has won all six of their playoff games by 11 points or more, while only conceding an average of 78.1 points per match.
“It’s been great for us, the fans here have been phenomenal all year,” said Cavaliers guard Wally Szczerbiak, who finished with 17 points. “It’s been fun to play from in front. It comes from our coaching staff — they won’t let us relax.”
The teams head to Atlanta today for game three of the best-of-seven series.
Meanwhile, Rafer Alston of Orlando and Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers were suspended for the next game of their NBA playoff series by the league on Thursday.
In the Orlando Magic’s 112-94 loss on Tuesday, Boston’s Eddie House was celebrating after making a shot when Alston reached out and slapped him in the back of the head. Each received a technical foul after standing face-to-face for a few seconds before referees intervened.
NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson said Alston would have been ejected if the referees had seen the slap.
For Los Angeles, Fisher was called for a flagrant foul when he collided with Luis Scola, who was setting a pick, as the Houston Rockets brought the ball up the court. He was ejected.
Both players were to sit out of games yesterday. The Magic were at home, tied 1-1 with Boston, while the Lakers were in Houston.
That series was also 1-1.
The league also assessed Kobe Bryant a flagrant foul one penalty for elbowing Ron Artest. However, Bryant was not suspended because the league ruled he elbowed Artest in the chest area. Had it been above the shoulders — and Artest said it was his neck — the Lakers All-Star likely would have been banned from yesterday’s game.