While they’ve seemed to find a groove offensively, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ performance at the other end of the court remains a work in progress.
The Atlanta Hawks, meanwhile, have been one of the league’s better defensive teams during a four-game win streak, and they’ll try to extend that while attempting to contain LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Saturday night.
Cleveland has averaged 116.7 points in three consecutive wins after generating 96.5 per contest during a 1-3 start. The Cavaliers, though, needed all the points they could muster after giving up 42 in the third quarter Friday in Boston.
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"We gave up a 40-point quarter and that’s unacceptable if we want to grow," James said, "but we showed growth in the fourth quarter."
James had 10 of his season-best 41 points in the final period, including the tiebreaking free throw with 36 seconds left, and Kyrie Irving scored 15 of his 27 as Cleveland (4-3) pulled out a 122-121 victory.
The Cavaliers have given up an average of 107.3 points in the last six games.
"We’ll have a chance to be very, very good with consistent defensive play," coach David Blatt said. "Until we do, we’re going to have to win games like this."
Atlanta has allowed an average of 95.3 points in its last four games and held James’ former team, Miami, to 87 points until the final 4 1/2 minutes of a 114-103 victory Friday. Al Horford and Paul Millsap led a season-high eight players in double figures with 19 points apiece.
"We were getting stops. We were getting out and were able to run," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "We got some easy baskets and some good looks. It started with our defense in the first quarter."
Atlanta has won 12 of the last 14 matchups with Cleveland, including four in a row, and five of six on the road but James didn’t play in any of those games. He’s 34-9 all-time against the Hawks, including the postseason, and was 23-5 during his first stint in Cleveland.
James averaged 31.7 points in his final three matchups against Atlanta last season but the Hawks won the final two. Kevin Love had two contrasting performances against Atlanta in 2013-14 with 43 points and 19 rebounds in a road loss for Minnesota on Feb. 1 and 14 and 12 in a home victory March 26.
Irving had 40 points in Cleveland’s most recent home matchup against Atlanta on Dec. 26 but Jeff Teague hit the winning shot at the buzzer in a 127-125 double overtime victory. Teague averaged 27.0 points on 58.3 percent shooting and 13.0 assists in his final two games against Cleveland last season, and Mike Scott scored 26 on 12-of-13 shooting in the latest meeting, a 117-98 victory April 4.
The Hawks are seeking their first road win streak in 2014-15 after opening with three straight losses, and the Cavaliers are looking for their first home win streak since James’ return. They beat New Orleans 118-111 on Monday after losing 95-90 to New York in the season opener Oct. 30.