ATLANTA – Going into Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, all the talk was about the ailing health of All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, thanks to a playoff-best 28 points from J.R. Smith, the Cleveland Cavaliers wrestled away home-court advantage in a 97-89 victory.
Smith, one of two players acquired from the New York Knicks in a three-team deal for Dion Waiters, set a franchise record for most three-pointers in a playoff game made with eight, and went 8-12 from the field in a sizzling display of three-point marksmanship that helped Cleveland seize control of the game in the third quarter.
With LeBron James on the bench, Smith made shot after shot in helping the Cavaliers blow the game wide open in the third quarter. For the top-seeded Hawks, they had no answer, as the hot-shooting Smith outscored their entire bench by himself, 28-19.
Cleveland outscored Atlanta, 77-63 after the first quarter, and out-rebounded the Hawks, 49-37
For the game, James led all scorers with 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists on 12-of-26 shooting from the field. James passed Michael Jordan for most 30-point five-rebound and five-assist playoff games with 52.
Irving scored 10 points in 27 minutes as he re-aggravated the tendinitis in his left knee, Timofey Mozgov added 10 points, 11 rebounds and one block and power forward Tristan Thompson added 14 points and 10 rebounds.
For the Hawks, Jeff Teague lead Atlanta in scoring with 27 points on 11-of-24 shooting from the field, Al Horford added 16 points and seven rebounds and Paul Millsap chipped in 13 points and seven rebounds.
Kyle Korver was held to single digits with nine points, thanks in large part to the defense of Iman Shumpert. As a team, the normally-efficient Hawks shot 4-of-23 from three-point range
Atlanta may have suffered an even bigger loss than the final score as DeMarre Carroll—who has been charged with the task of guarding James—hyperextended his left knee, while going up for a shot, writhered on the floor in obvious pain, before being carried off the court.
MRI’s will confirm Carroll’s injury on Thursday, but if he is out for an extended period, it is a big loss on defense for the Hawks, who have already lost Thabo Sefolosha for the season with a broken leg.
Game 2 is Friday from the Phillips Arena.