Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2015 NBA Playoffs - Eastern Conference Finals

#1 Atlanta Hawks vs. #2 Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland and Atlanta were both down 2-1 in their Eastern Conference Semi-Finals series, but each team stormed back to win three straight games and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals. A trip to the Conference finals has been a long time coming for the Hawks, while for Cleveland they are back for the first time since 2009. For the best player in the world, LeBron James this is his fifth straight trip to the Conference Finals.

Despite being without Kevin Love and also missing Kyrie Irving for stretches, Cleveland made the Chicago Bulls look silly. Irving is going to be back for Game 1 and his battle with Hawks point guard Jeff Teague will be fun to watch. Teague has blossomed under Mike Budenholzer's system and become one of the better distributing and all around point guards in basketball. Cavs SG Iman Shumpert isn't nearly the shooter that his counterpart Kyle Korver of the Hawks is. However, Korver had a rough series against the Washington Wizards and really struggled to find his shooting form. Against the Wizards the Hawks were able to get away with that, but to have any chance of beating James and the Cavs, Korver will have to be his usual lights out. Cleveland has really developed well in their interior with Timofy Mozgov and Tristan Thompson. Mozgov and especially Thompson were straight dominant against Chicago, grabbing every missed shot in sight. The Cavs playoff rotation is the usual 8 deep we see from most teams, and they received excellent contributions from their bench against Chicago. SG Matthew Dellavedova and SG J.R. Smith were crucial in closing out the Bulls and the Cavs will be unbeatable if they continue to get that type of production off their bench. James Jones will see minutes from time to time and the rest of the Cavaliers roster is littered with guys you are surprised to find still in the league, like Kendrick Perkins, Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood.

It will be imperative for Atlanta that Al Horford and Paul Millsap limit Thompson and Mozgov's effectiveness in a way that Chicago was unable to. The Bulls were definitely hurt by missing Pau Gasol for a few games and also having Joakim Noah playing injured. Millsap and Horford come into the series healthy, so it will be interesting to see if Mozgov and Thompson carry their domination over to this series. SF DeMarre Carroll will have the unenviable task of trying to guard or at least contain James. If you haven't heard much about Carroll you will know all about him after this series. That is because you will either be hearing a lot of "LeBron blows past Carroll" or "Carroll with excellent defense on James" during this series. Carroll is a great scorer but the Hawks will need him at his best defensively in this series. The Hawks shrunk their bench a bit against the Wizards, mostly using the weirdest looking man on the planet PG Dennis Schroder and PF Mike Muscala. PF Pero Antic and SG Ken Bazemore also see some minutes but Budenholzer seems to be relying more on his starters the further Hawks go into the playoffs.

The Cavs aren't seeming to miss a beat without Love and I don't think the Hawks are the team that can stop James from reaching his fifth straight NBA Finals. I think that the Hawks have the players to limit some of the contributions Cleveland's less heralded guys had against Chicago but the Hawks rely so heavily on some of their chuckers that I think that will be their undoing in this series. Cleveland will reach their first NBA Finals since 2007, and move one step closer to adding another heartbreaking chapter to their sports history.

Prediction: Cavaliers over Hawks, 4-2


chooban said...

I think it's going to come down to the Atlanta bigs. Can they stretch the court on the offensive side and crowd the lane enough to alter shots taken in the paint from a driving James or Irving.

chooban said...

I think it will come down to the Atlanta bigs. If they can stretch the court on the offensive side and alter shots on the defensive side, they may be able to pull it off. I don't think the CAVS have the defense to guard the ATL bigs but at the same time I don't think the ATL bigs really have the talent to stop/alter shots taken by James/Irving when they penetrate. WAS was able to compete and push the Hawks thanks to their ability to spread the court (i.e., Pierce playing the PF position). The CAVS will not be able to do that without LOVE which will crown the lane and force the CAVS to hit 3's consistently.