The Cleveland Cavaliers have been the Eastern Conference's clear favorite throughout the 2015-16 season (and the preceding offseason), but several minor controversies and rough stretches appeared to put that status into doubt, if only for short periods of time. After six wins in their first six playoff games, though, whatever doubt remained must have disappeared by now. The Cavs are clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference, and it's not very close at all.
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Wednesday's Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks confirmed Cleveland's supremacy in one of the most devastating offensive displays in NBA history. The Cavs shattered the record for most three-pointers in a playoff half, set a new record for most three-pointers in a playoff game a little more than halfway into the third quarter, and set a new NBA record for three-pointer in any kind of game during fourth-quarter garbage time. They led 74-38 at the half for the second-largest halftime advantage in the shot-clock era and cruised to a 123-98 win that opens up a 2-0 lead in the series ahead of Game 3 in Atlanta on Friday. The Hawks look like they would be fortunate to compete in another game this series, let alone win one.
Cleveland's historic shooting from deep was unquestionably the story of the night, although it took the team a bit to get going. After making just one three-pointer in the opening five minutes (and falling several points behind), the Cavs closed the period on a 19-4 run to finish the first quarter 8-of-12 from beyond the arc. Several of those looks were tough, but the Cavaliers were able to shoot so well in part because the Hawks collapsed on dribble penetration to allow open shots from the perimeter. Whether due to missed assignments or intentional tactics, those decisions backfired completely and allowed the Cavs to lead 35-20 at the buzzer.
It only got worse for the Hawks. The Cavs' continued to make two-thirds of their three-pointers, knocking down 10-of-15 in the second quarter to shatter the previous record of 12 three-pointers in one half of a playoff game, a mark set just 10 days prior by the Golden State Warriors. The record-setting three came at the 7:37 mark of the period, which gave them plenty of time to add to it. In fact, Cleveland's 18 first-half three-pointers put them ninth on the single-game playoff list with 24 minutes still to play.
The operative question at halftime wasn't if the Cavs would top the Warriors' playoff record of 21 three-pointers, but when they would do it. The answer came after fewer than seven minutes of game-time when Kyrie Irving made the record-tying and record-breaking shots on consecutive possessions:
The Cavs didn't make another three-pointer in the period, but the damage had been done. A 106-70 score after three turned the fourth quarter into full-on garbage time, with the Cavs holding most of the interest for their quest to break the NBA record of 23 three-pointers in a single game (regular or postseason). The moment came in the final minutes when little-used reserve Dahntay Jones made this shot:
Mo Williams added another shortly thereafter to bring the total to an absurd 25. Take a look at all of them here:
The Cavaliers have now made more three-pointers (40) than two-pointers (38) in the first two games of this series, which is probably something for the Hawks to work on before they go on vacation.
The individual totals are staggering for Cleveland — streaky shooter J.R. Smith went 7-of-13 from beyond the arc for 23 points, LeBron James shot 4-of-6 on the way to his team-high 27, Kyrie Irving made 4-of-5, and Kevin Love balanced an 0-of-8 showing on twos by making 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. Ten Cavaliers made three-pointers, with only James Jones failing to knock down any of his attempts. The shot chart is as impressive as it gets:
There is no silver lining for the Hawks. They allowed open shots, failed to improve their defense at any point, and didn't do much offensively to keep the Cavs from getting out in transition. Paul Millsap summed up the tenor of the night when he repeatedly said "I'm speechless" to reporters after the game.
Really, the only positive for the Hawks in Game 2 was the performance of their official Twitter account:
At least someone on Atlanta's side managed to make something of the night. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the public will get to enjoy that creativity for much longer. Even counting a tight Game 1 as a positive for the Hawks, the Cavs have taken complete control of this series. It looks increasingly likely that they won't meet a tough test until the NBA Finals.
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