If this was a conference final preview, the Hawks made another lasting impression.
“There is no statement win,” Kyle Korver said. “It’s a good win. We’ll learn from it, as we keep saying about every game. There is no statement win in the regular season.”
The Hawks celebrated Nique Week — honoring franchise star Dominique Wilkins in grand fashion. On the day a statue of Wilkins was placed in front of Philips Arena, the Hawks wore throwback uniforms in honor of the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
The Hawks (49-12) won their sixth consecutive game. They have held the opposition under 100 points in each victory.
Al Horford led six Hawks in double-figure scoring. He had 19 points and nine rebounds. He was followed in scoring by Jeff Teague (16), Paul Millsap (16), Dennis Schroder (15), Mike Scott (14) and DeMarre Carroll (11).
The Cavaliers (39-25) were led by Kyrie Irving’s game-high 20 points. The Cavaliers lost for only the fifth time in the past 25 games. LeBron James finished with 18 points, eight assists, six rebounds — and nine turnovers.
Carroll and Kent Bazemore harassed and frustrated James much of the night. The two defenders got plenty of weakside help on James. The Cavaliers star even exchanged words with Schroder as his frustration built.
“We just played Hawks defense,” Carroll said. “I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates because they were meeting him at the rim. They were helping me out. Like I said before, I just want to be a gnat. When you are outside in the summer and you just can’t get that gnat away from you, that’s all I wanted to be tonight.”
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer credited the team approach to limiting James.
“It always starts with taking individual pride, but it takes five guys, the whole team, working together and doing everything in unison,” Budenholzer said. “I think at the point of the ball, DeMarre and Kent were very good and the weakside was active and aware, and we were able to try to get out to shooters because he’s such a great passer and he sees the court so well. I think it’s like anything. It takes a group effort. It’s great to be tested and challenged like we were tonight.”
The Hawks led by as many as 17 points and improved to 42-2 in games they led by 10 points or more at any point.
The Cavaliers erased their double-digit deficit in the third quarter. They briefly took leads of one and two points late in the period. The Hawks took an 81-79 advantage into the final quarter.
The Hawks jumped on the Cavaliers in the first quarter. They led by as many as 17 points as they held a 36-19 advantage at the end of the period. They set a season high for points and shooting percentage (.708) in the quarter.
The Hawks slowed considerably in the second quarter. They shot just 33.3 percent (6-of-18) from the field and still managed a 10-point halftime lead, 53-43. James finished with more turnovers (6) than points (5) through the first two quarters.
“It’s basketball,” Schroder said of his exchange with James. “We were just competing. I think we got him out of his rhythm tonight. That was important for us.”
Pero Antic limped off the court in the second quarter. He did not return with what the team diagnosed as a left ankle sprain.
The Hawks play again Saturday at the 76ers in the second of back-to-back games.