The Atlanta Hawks will begin their second-round playoff series, and a rematch of last years’ not-so-good Eastern Conference Finals, against the Cleveland Cavaliers this Monday (May 2) at 7 on TNT at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Recapping their Regular Season Meetings
The regular season meetings did not go so well for the Hawks. They went 0-3, with only one game coming at home (and being the middle game of the three) and went to overtime, but the Cavs still won 110-108.
Game one during the regular season was just the 15th game for the Hawks and was before Thanksgiving. In that clash, the Cavs won 109-97. Then, the final regular season meeting between the two, coming just four games after the overtime loss and with only one game left in the regular season, ended with the Cavaliers finishing the season sweep with a 109-94 victory.
The one positive that the Hawks and their fans can take away from the regular season matchups is that they played twice in the final six games of the season, so they have recent memory of playing them (even if those two games did not go so well).
Jeff Teague led the Hawks in scoring in the three regular season meetings by averaging over 20 points per game, while also leading the team in assists with just over seven per contest. And both Al Horford and Paul Millsap averaged a double-double (Horford: 14.7 ppg & 10 rpg, Millsap: 17.3 ppg & 10.3 rbg). However, the Cavs did out-rebound the Hawks as a whole in every game.
As for the Cavs, they were of course led by the King, LeBron James, who averaged over 27 ppg, 11 rpg & more than seven assist per game. Kevin Love also averaged a double-double per game (16.7 ppg & 10.3 rpg). Kyrie Irving, who did not play in the first matchup of the season, averaged 27.5 ppg in the two he played in. Tristan Thompson was also unstoppable on the boards, averaging over 13 per game, including 16 in the first contest.
Game 1: Monday, May 2 @ 7 pm on TNT in Cleveland
Game 2: Wednesday, May 4 @ 8 pm on TNT in Cleveland
Game 3: Friday, May 6 @ 7 pm on ESPN in Atlanta
Game 4: Sunday, May 8 @ 3:30 on ABC in Atlanta
Game 5: Tuesday, May 10 @ TBD on TNT in Cleveland (if necessary)
Game 6: Thursday, May 12 @ TBD on ESPN in Atlanta (if necessary)
Game 7: Sunday, May 15 @ TBD on TBD in Cleveland (if necessary)
What to Watch
The obvious is LBJ. In my opinion, he is still the best all-around player in basketball when he wants to be. He may not win another MVP as long as Stephen Curry stays healthy, but LeBron is a phenomenal offensive and defensive player (good luck to Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha who will be tasked with stopping (more like slowing) him down).
The not-as-obvious would be Tristan Thompson. The Cavs dominated the boards during the season, and Thompson was a big part. Horford will be asked for the most part to try and keep him off the boards; a task he did not succeed at handling in their regular season matchups (see: averaging 13 per game in the recap section).
The other Cavalier that the Hawks should look out for is Kevin Love. I know, another big-man. But Love is not your typical big-man in that he is a monstrous shooting threat. Yes Horford is also a big-man shooting threat, but not like Love. Love is a big-time outside scoring threat (averaging making more than two 3’s per game this season while attempting close to six per game; Horford only makes one and attempts about three).
On the Hawks side of things, watch out for Kyle Korver. He only averaged just over 10 ppg in their meetings during the season, but last year, in the conference finals, Korver was completely taken out of the equation (we all remember the injury involving Matthew Dellavedova; another player to watch out for in terms of any type of retaliation by the Hawks). But Korver has to be a factor if the Hawks are to have any chance in the series. The same could really go for Tim Hardaway Jr. too; his shooting will most likely be needed as well.
The other big piece that the Hawks will need to win is Paul Millsap. Millsap did have the huge out-put, albeit in a losing effort, in game 4 against the Celtics in the first round, but for the first three games, he was a relatively non-factor on the offensive end. He needs to show up early and often against the Cavs if they have any chance of taking them down.
This matchup really does not look good on paper. Even last year, when the Hawks won 60 games and had home court advantage, no one gave them a chance against the Cavs and the Cavs proved those prognosticators right.
So, I am looking at this series positively for the Hawks…Cavaliers win in 5 (the Hawks manage to win a game this time, woohoo!)