The Atlanta Hawks advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1970. Atlanta will go on to face the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Hawks did not make it easy in the first two rounds, as they beat both the Nets and the Wizards in 6 games. Both losing teams were not talented enough to capitalize on the opportunities the Hawks gave them. The Cavaliers do have the talent to take advantage of every mistake the Hawks make and sweep this series. The Cavs are led by the best player in the world, Lebron James. The Cavaliers will be without a key asset in Kevin Love, as he is out for the remainder of the postseason (shoulder surgery). No matter the talent around him, James can single-handedly take over a game by himself. Look back to 2007 against the Pistons where he carried his team to win 109-107 in 2OT with 48 points. What about Game 6 in 2012 when James put up 45 points and 15 rebounds against the Celtics? Yes, Lebron James can be unstoppable, but the team around him is susceptible against a team like the Hawks. We will go in depth on this series below.
Eastern Conference Finals Schedule
(1) Atlanta vs. (2) Cleveland
Game 1 => Wednesday May 20, Cleveland at Atlanta, 8:30 PM, TNT
Game 2 => Friday May 22, Cleveland at Atlanta, 8:30 PM, TNT
Game 3 => Sunday May 24, Atlanta at Cleveland, 8:30 PM, TNT
Game 4 => Tuesday May 26, Atlanta at Cleveland, 8:30 PM, TNT
Game 5 * => Thursday May 28, Cleveland at Atlanta, 8:30 PM, TNT
Game 6 * => Saturday May 30, Atlanta at Cleveland, 8:30 PM, TNT
Game 7 * => Monday June 1, Cleveland at Atlanta, 8:30 PM, TNT
* => if necessary
Regular Season Series Results:
November 15: Cleveland 127, Atlanta 94
December 17: Atlanta 127, Cleveland 98
December 30: Atlanta 109, Cleveland 101
March 6: Atlanta 106, Cleveland 97
As you can see, Atlanta took the season series 3-1 against Cleveland in the regular season. Atlanta was actually the only team in the NBA to take three games against the Cavaliers. The Cavs won the first game handily, but the Hawks roared back to win the last three games. The two most notable games were played on December 17 and March 6. On December 17, Shelvin Mack took over the game at Cleveland. Mack was 6-6 from behind the arc, and the Hawks beat the Cavs 62-38 in the second half. On March 6, the Hawks won on Dominique Wilkins night. Atlanta put on the old-school uniforms and played with a lot of energy early. However, the Cavs responded with a huge rally, but it was to no avail as the Hawks notched their 3rd victory against the second-seeded team in the East. When experts make predictions, they need to remember that the regular season series has some sort of meaning.
Players to Watch:
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving
Everyone tuning into the Eastern Conference Finals will be watching Lebron James. The next best player is Kyrie Irving. Irving, like James, can sometimes take over games with his spectacular offensive play. The monumental question mark surrounding Irving is his health. Irving has been bothered by a foot injury and could not finish Game 6 against the Bulls due to a left leg injury. If Irving is not healthy, the advantage goes straight to Atlanta. The point guard is currently averaging 19.8 points during his first career playoffs. Cleveland head coach, David Blatt, has said he is “uncertain” that his starting point guard will be available for Game 1. However, this could all be a smokescreen, as Cleveland will have six days of rest heading into the game on Wednesday.
Atlanta Hawks: Kyle Korver
If the Hawks have an X-factor, Kyle Korver is that man. After an abysmal offensive series against the Wizards, Korver looks to rebound back to his sharpshooting ways. Korver was 12-42 (29%) from three point range in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Wizards did not have the talent to keep up with Atlanta, but the Cavaliers do. If Korver can regain his shot, that creates another offensive weapon for the Hawks. Atlanta has an arsenal of offensive weapons, but the sharpshooter has proven to be a difference-maker. His defense was spectacular last round, which was a big reason he was kept in games. Teams also have to respect Korver’s passing, which has been much improved over the last few seasons. Look for Kyle Korver to bounce back in this series and to regain his superb three point shot.
Key Postseason Stats:
Cleveland (10 games):
- 99.6 Points Per Game
- 43.2% Field Goals
- 44.9 Rebounds Per Game
- 12.1 Turnovers Per Game
- Outscored opponents by 18.1 points in the first-half
Opponents against Cleveland (10 games):
- 92.6 Points Per Game
- 40.8% Field Goals
- 22 Fouls Per Game
- 11.2 Offensive Rebounds Per Game
Atlanta Hawks (12 games):
- 99.8 Points Per Game
- 25.4 Assists Per Game
- 43.4% Field Goals
- 9.2 Steals Per Game
- Assisted on 67.6% of field goals, best in the NBA playoffs so far
Opponents (12 games):
- 95.7 Points Per Game
- 14.4 Turnovers Per Game
- 42.5% Field Goals
- 36.4% Three-Point Field Goals
Key Matchup to Watch:
Demarre Carroll vs Lebron James
This matchup has been the most talked about matchup when the Cavs and Hawks face-off, and it has every right to be. During the postseason, Carroll has broken out and many believe he has been best player for the Hawks so far. In the 35.2 minutes per game Carroll has averaged in the postseason, his field goal percentage is 52.4%. That is absurd. This series will be a little different for the Hawks small forward. He is going against a pretty good player. I’m kidding, he’s going against the best player in the world and one of the best all time in Lebron James. The four-time MVP is leading his team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals during the playoffs. He is the heart and soul for Cleveland. Not just the basketball team, but he is the hero of Cleveland. In the minds of the people in Ohio, Lebron James is their guy, and they believe that he will lead them to a championship soon. In the two games James faced Carroll in the regular season, he averageed nine points with a 20% field goal percentage. Carroll has made it known that he believes he can defend any player in the NBA, but can Carroll stop the best player in the world in the biggest series of his life?
The Atlanta Hawks vs Cleveland Cavaliers is the best series that could have happened in the Eastern Conference. The team that won 60 games in the regular season faces a team with the best player in the NBA. The key for Cleveland is to get everybody around Lebron James to play their best, because everyone knows James will get his. Matthew Dellavedova might have to step up if Kyrie Irving is not healthy, so look for him to get extended minutes. On the other hand, the key for Atlanta is to play the brand of basketball that allowed them to become the best team in the Eastern Conference over the regular season. Defense, high field-goal percentage, and ball movement will be keys to beating Cleveland. Just like last series, I think Al Horford has to play a key role. He is head over heels better than Timofey Mosgov, so look for Horford to expose Mosgov this series. Look for either Jeff Teague or Dennis Schröder to have big series, as both are engines that ignite the team. This kind of series changes players lives. This series can change perceptions of their teams worldwide. Lebron James has been to four straight NBA Finals in a row, but all good things must come to an end. Because Atlanta did what they had to do to secure home-court advantage in the East, I predict the Atlanta Hawks defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in 7 games to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since the team moved to Atlanta.
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