The Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA playoffs have started off just the way we thought they would, with a victory for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Atlanta Hawks seemed like they were in the mood to put up a fight for most of the game, the Cavaliers eventually turned up the volume and the bass, and the Hawks trembled like treble as LeBron and company brought the boom to close out the game. Though the Atlanta Hawks ran away with the top seed in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, everyone and their drunk uncle knew who the real favorites were to come out of the east since the midway point of the season. Game One brought several key elements to light, elements that form the core of Atlanta’s eventual demise.
The Atlanta Hawks Have No Go-To Guy
PF Paul Milsap led the Atlanta Hawks in scoring during the regular season, while Jeff Teague has proven that he can come up big in key games during the playoffs. Yes, Teague is very good, but good isn’t going to be good enough this series. Kyle Korver is a dead-eye shooter from deep, but he’s only averaging 11 points per game in the playoffs and is something of a defensive liability despite his length and effort. The hustle and grit of C Al Horford and PF Paul Misap are formidable as well, but regular season fortitude is a far different animal than playoff resilience. When the game is on the line and you need someone who can create their own shot or dominate on either end, none of these players would be on anyone’s top 20 list as a closer.
Cleveland Has Too Many Weapons
The Cleveland Cavaliers just have too many ways to score. Even when LeBron James appears disinterested in scoring himself, he’s always a willing passer. Players like C Timofy Mozgov and PF Tristan Thompson get the lion’s share of those assists from King James, but PG Kyrie Irving benefits from the mere fact that LeBron is on the floor. Though his handle and ability to finish around the rim are unparalleled, the spacing would be a lot tighter if opposing players weren’t subconsciously looking for LeBron whenever he’s on the floor. Even though Irving has been hobbled considerably by a nagging foot injury, the Cavaliers didn’t seem to miss a beat offensively as J.R. Smith picked the perfect time to catch fire. His 28 points on 8 for 12 shooting from three point range was proof positive that he simply cannot be guarded once he’s on.
While we must concede that it is unlikely Smith will turn in such a performance in back-to-back games, it is also unlikely that Irving will only score 10 points in consecutive games as well.
None of them can guard LeBron
The Captain Obvious thing to say about LeBron James is his speed, strength and explosiveness present a problem that no single player is capable of overcoming on his own. However, one can hope to slow him down. Prior to the series any layperson could see that SF DeMarre Carroll was the odds on favorite for the task. However, in the three and a half quarters before an agonizing knee injury sent Carroll to the locker room, James was punishing him like he was others assigned to guard the King, abusing him to the tune of 27 points before Carroll’s unfortunate injury occurred. Milsap was tasked with the job of guarding James from that point, to which James seemed to scoff and visibly toy with the slower player on the perimeter. I couldn’t help but giggle to myself as poor Paul Milsap jumped, flinched and jerked at the slightest indication of a move. If Milsap is going to be guarding him the rest of the way it’s a wrap for Atlanta.
Whether or not Carroll is cleared to play for the rest of this series, the Cavs just have too many scoring options for the allegedly defense-minded Atlanta Hawks to compensate for. Remember, this is the same Hawks team that had some difficulty dispatching the 8th seeded Brooklyn Nets in the First Round, and came within a tenth of a second of being pushed to a Game Seven by the Washington Wizards in the Conference Semifinal.
As we prepare for Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Atlanta Hawks will certainly be playing inspired, passionate and desperate basketball to prevent the Cavs from returning to Cleveland with a 2-0 lead. If they fail to win on Friday then it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the James Gang will be able to sweep the Hawks right out of the playoffs in route to the NBA Finals. As we prepare for Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Atlanta Hawks will certainly be playing inspired, passionate and desperate basketball to prevent the Cavs from returning to Cleveland with a 2-0 lead.
If they fail to win on Friday then it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the King James and Co. will be able to sweep the Hawks right out of the playoffs in route to the NBA Finals.