The Hawks have finally reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1970. Unfortunately, they now face the task of going against the best player in the universe and possibly the greatest player of all time in Lebron James. James is a 6 foot 8 inch, 250 pound physical specimen. He is strong, quick, and explosive. He can handle the ball and distribute like a point guard, yet he is also the best individual scorer in the game today. So how does a team go about guarding such a beast? How can the Hawks stop Lebron James?
First thing is first, there is no stopping Lebron James. The best thing any team can hope for is to contain him. The teams faced each other clicking and at full strength once all season. That game came on March 6th in Atlanta on Dominque Wilkins night. The Hawks came in on three days of rest and came out with a game plan for containing the 4-time MVP. It was one of the few times Lebron James was clearly frustrated on the court. Every time Lebron tried to get around a screen or caught a ball in a trappable area, the Hawks sent multiple defenders at him. James was only able to get off 13 shots and made 5 of them. He also contributed 9 turnovers to the Hawks cause. The Hawks game plan clearly worked, but James did not seem too worried about possibly facing the Hawks in the playoffs. After the game James said, “It was the first time they used that game plan on us. They kind of caught us by surprise. Down the road, if we get to that point, we’ll be all right.” James seemed confident the Cavs would be able to handle the Hawks strategy of doubling him almost every time he touches the ball, but will the Cavs actually have an answer?
The Hawks should continue to employ this same type of game plan. The controlled aggression on defense came out and set the tone. Lebron James and the rest of the Cavs were lost offensively. We saw how the Detroit Pistons employed the “Jordan Rules” to stop another all-time great. Can Mike Budenholzer, like his predecessor Gregg Poppovich, find a way to shut down Lebron? Also the Cavs will be without Kevin Love for this whole series due to his dislocated shoulder. Love was a key cog on this Cavs team and hit 4 threes on March 6th. Occasionally James was able to get the ball to Love for wide open threes, but with Love being out it is just another weapon the Hawks do not have to worry about when employing this type of strategy. Also, Kyrie Irving’s status for Game 1 is cloudy. If Irving cannot go, Lebron will have to completely shoulder the load for the Cavs. However, whether the Cavs are at full strength or down to just Lebron, it is imperative for the Hawks to put pressure on Lebron and try to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. Lebron is still going to get his numbers, but the Hawks have to make it as uncomfortable for him as possible because the weight of all of Cleveland’s hopes and dreams is on his shoulders.