The Eastern Conference Finals have been unchartered territory for the Atlanta Hawks organization. However, they have a really good shot at making their first trip a very successful one. The Hawks, of course have home court advantage. But, they could also have another very important ‘leg’ up on the Cavs. The leg of Kyrie Irving that is.
Irving, played through tendinitis in his knee, and a strained right foot in the Chicago series. But, it was obvious he wasn’t the same Kyrie. The Cavaliers got by the Bulls in six games. But, that was against a team that basically didn’t have Pau Gasol after Game 3, and that ultimately quit in Game 6. We didn’t see maximum effort from the Bulls. It would be shocking to see anything less than maximum effort from Atlanta.
The Hawks aren’t an offensive juggernaut, but they’re very unselfish. Their ball movement is textbook. Head coach, Mike Budenholzer has done an excellent job implementing his system, which of course is very similar to the one he helped coach with the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant. While, the burning question about the Hawks
has always been who is their go-to-guy? Who is their closer? They do have several players that can hurt you.
Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, AL Horford, and Kyle Korver are the identifiable players on this squad. All of whom, made All-Star-Game appearances this past season. However, it’s a Hawk that you may not know that’s made the biggest strides as of late. DeMarre Carroll, has been outstanding. His claim to fame has been on the defensive end throughout his career, but in the playoffs he’s averaging 17 points per game, after averaging 12 during the regular season. His offense has made up for what Korver hasn’t given them in recent weeks. Still, the Hawks struggled to put Brooklyn away in seven games, and it took six to close out Washington, who struggled after John Wall was injured.
So, how can the Hawks possibly win this series?
The biggest question about the Hawks after trying to figure out who’s going to take the big shot, is can they hold their own on the boards? That’s even more questionable now with the emergence of Cavs big man, Tristan Thompson. With Timofey Mozgov, and Thompson inside, the Cavs have a decided advantage. The good news is Horford and Millsap are no slouches on the boards, and they’re more adept at scoring and could cause problems for the Cavs big men trying to cover them on the Perimeter.
The other huge dynamic is what to do with LeBron James? The Hawks won 3 of the 4 meetings in the regular season. However, only one of those games took place after each of these teams were formed as we know them now. The Hawks had a great deal of success against LeBron, who had one of his worst games of the season, scoring only 18 points. Hard to imagine LeBron not having a huge series this time around, but who’s going to join him? Irving, is hobbled. Matthew Dellavedova, had an incredible series against the Bulls. But, can he continue at that pace? You pretty much expect J.R. Smith to have his moments. Possibly the same for Iman Shumpert, but beyond that the Cavs could be limited offensively if Irving isn’t fully ready to go.
Players like Dellavedova will also be tested defensively. Shumpert, should be fine. But, against guards like Teague and Dennis Schroeder, Dellavedova will have his work cut out trying to stay in front of them. James, is more than capable to make up for any possible defensive deficiencies, but with the way the Hawks move the ball, the Cavs will have to be a lot more disciplined than they were against the Bulls.
It’s been an incredible season in Atlanta. The Hawks have surpassed everyone’s expectations by a country mile. However, there’s one more leg to get to have their chance on the NBA’s biggest stage. A lot of things need to fall right for them. Namely, a lot more three-pointers from Kyle Korver. If they get a few of those and can hang on the boards, the Hawks stand a good chance of giving LeBron his first loss in the Eastern Conference Playoffs since 2010, and bringing the NBA Finals to Hotlanta for the first time ever.
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