CLEVELAND — Chants of “MVP” rained down from the Quicken Loans Arena rafters while a young, athletic Cavaliers forward shot free throws.
He promptly tossed up a rare miss and the Cavs went on to lose 100-88 to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night.
This time, it was 22-year-old J.J. Hickson who was on the receiving end of the chants during a
career-high 31-point performance, not the guy who used to wear a No. 23 Cleveland uniform and actually won the award twice.
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“I was so focused I didn’t even hear it,” said Hickson, who was 11-of-17 from the field and 9-of-11 at the line in 32 minutes, but grabbed just five rebounds and committed five turnovers.
Hickson was just about the only Cleveland player ready to go at the outset, as the Hawks (4-0) outscored the Cavs (1-3) 40-27 while shooting a sizzling .714 from the field (15-of-21) in the first quarter.
To the Cavs’ credit, they battled back from what eventually became a 17-point second-quarter deficit and actually took a one-point lead early in the fourth, but a couple of bad 3-point attempts by Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson started a downward spiral from which they could not recover.
Williams, who had 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting in his season debut, and Anthony Parker, who added 10 points, were the only Cleveland players to join Hickson in double figures.
“It was difficult trying to find a rhythm,” said Williams, who played 24 minutes off the bench. “I was playing too fast. The game slowed down for me in the second half.”
Unfortunately for Williams, he and Gibson, who finished a combined 2-of-11 from beyond the arc, got a little 3-point crazy early in the fourth and Atlanta quickly turned a one-point deficit into a seven-point lead.
“We had climbed ourselves all the way back into the game and we took a couple questionable threes five seconds into the (shot) clock,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “We let them off the hook a little bit.”
Atlanta, which had five players score at least 15 points, outscored the Cavs 66-42 over the first and fourth periods.
Marvin Williams led the Hawks with 22 points, while Al Horford had 16 points and 12 rebounds and Sixth Man winner Jamal Crawford had 16 points off the bench. Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson had 15 points apiece, with Johnson atoning for a 6-of-21 shooting night with six boards and nine assists.
The Cavs had no such balance. Anderson Varejao, who did grab 12 rebounds, had two points on 1-of-6 shooting. Ramon Sessions had seven on 2-of-9 and Gibson, who tied a career high with seven boards, had six on 3-of-10.
No Cleveland player had more than three assists, with only Varejao and Sessions getting that many. All told, the Cavs had only one fewer turnover (14) than they had assists.
Despite those struggles, Scott was upbeat in his postgame press conference.
“I loved the effort our guys had tonight,” he said. “That’s what we’re talking about as a team.”
Unfortunately for the Cavs, after getting six quick points from Hickson and taking an 8-1 lead, they were outscored 31-11 as Atlanta made 13 of its next 15 shots.
Cleveland actually shot .647 from the field in the first quarter (11-of-17), yet still trailed by 13.
“We’ve got to play all 48 (minutes),” Hickson said. “We played 36.”
The Cavs held Atlanta to 34 points over the middle two quarters on 14-of-47 shooting and finally went up 75-74 on a Gibson runner with 11:40 to go in the game, but the Hawks quickly regrouped.
“We could have mailed it in,” Scott said. “Our guys kept fighting.”
Hickson, who already had a career-high 25 points at the end of the third period, was right in the middle of that battle. The third-year pro also set career highs in field goals made and attempted and free throws made and attempted.
“It was good,” he said of his performance, “but it didn’t mean anything because we didn’t get a win.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.