As the Eastern Conference Finals begin Wednesday in Atlanta, I’m thinking and really believing this is going to be an incredibly fun series. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks have had long strange trips to get to this point, but they’re here and it’s time to decide an Eastern Conference champion.
It’s been a tough playoffs for both of these teams. Cleveland while going 8-2 in their 10 playoff games lost Kevin Love in the 1st round and played the majority of the 2nd round with a banged up Kyrie Irving. JR Smith was suspended for two games, lineups have changed plenty over and they’ve had to adjust their game on the fly. Of course their one constant is LeBron James who when it was time to put up or shut up in Games 4 and 5 against the Bulls, the best player in the world followed suit with a buzzer beater in Game 4 and a 38-12-6 performance in Game 5 to put the Cavs in control of the series. Cleveland’s key in this series is not only diversity offensively, but their ability to guard the Hawks potentially potent offense. Atlanta won 3 out of the 4 games but you have to throw most of that out with all of the turnover from the start of the season plus these teams just look and feel different now as opposed to then.
As far as Atlanta goes, they’ve gone 8-4 in these playoffs and in a lot of ways are still trying to find the consistent ball movement that got them 60 wins during the regular season. Really from game to game they’ve been inconsistent. Their bench has struggled and they’re also a bit banged up as well. Here’s 5 thoughts on the series plus a prediction.
1. Kyle Korver has to get going again.
Kyle Korver shot 49% from the 3 in the regular season. He’s down 14% points from that in the postseason. The Cavs really don’t have a defender in my opinion who can contain him well like Washington did. I feel like he’s going to get loose. He has to if the Hawks are to advance. He’s such a big part of their offense and opens up things for everyone.
2. DeMarre Carroll can’t get into foul trouble.
Atlanta lost Thabo Sefelosha towards the end of the regular season and are really limited in terms of wing depth. If DeMarre Carroll gets into foul trouble the Hawks are in some trouble. We may see some Kent Bazemore but beyond that Carroll has to stay on the court and be able to make LeBron work on defense enough to make him inefficient on offense.
3. An explosive Kyrie helps Everyone.
Kyrie Irving played the majority of the last series banged up. He’ll have to be plenty more explosive to take pressure off of LBJ and everyone else on the Cavs. It will also help mitigate and lessen the impact of his defense or lackthereof as he’ll have to guard Jeff Teague. Irving has to be good more less great for the Cavaliers to get to the Finals.
4. The Frontlines Will Play A Big Part In This Series.
See what I did there? It’s no secret that Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov had a huge impact last series against Chicago with their activity, energy, and effort. Will they do the same here? It’s a tougher matchup for them as Paul Milsap and Al Horford are talented and tough to deal with offensively. Milsap has played banged up this postseason and we’ve only seen occasional spurts out of him. Horford won Game 5 of the Wizards series and has been consistent as well. The Hawks are undersized and have been out-rebounded for much of the season and playoffs. If the Cavs can make this matchup even, they have a good shot to win.
5. The Hawks Will Win This Series.
Everything on this series schematically tells me that the Hawks will win. Overall depth and health, more versatility in terms of lineups and matchups. The Cavaliers have to hope that LeBron is great, and Kyrie is good enough to help pull along the rest of the squad in order to win. If the Cavs had homecourt I might think of this series differently, but I like the Hawks in 6.