clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NBA Playoffs 2015: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks Game 1 Preview

New, comments

The Cavs go to Atlanta to take on the Hawks in Game 1.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers were 1-3 against the Atlanta Hawks this year during the regular season and perhaps that's an indicator that the Hawks deserve to be the favorite in this series.

But both team are different now and it's hard to say how much from the regular season will carry over. The Cavs, without Kevin Love, are thinner than they already would be and are heavily reliant on isolations to get the offense going. Even if some of the sets are similar, the Cavs functionally different now. The Hawks aren't quite operating on the same level as they were during their regular season peak and aren't fully healthy.

Whether that's good for the Cavaliers is yet to be determined, but we'll have answer at the end of this series.

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks

Where: Phillips Arena - Atlanta, Georgia

When: 8:30 p.m. - Wednesday, May 20

TV: TNT

Music: In The A - Big Boi featuring T.I. and Ludacris

I used this song earlier in this season for a preview and it's awesome. And this game is in the A.

The Cavs and Hawks are aesthetically different teams.

The Hawks are Spursian - they move the ball constantly, always look to create open looks and don't resort much to isolation plays. They do run traditional plays for players - i.e. post ups for Al Horford or Paul Millsap -  but even those largely come as a product of something else.

Meanwhile, the Cavs have become isolation heavy in the playoffs. It makes sense of course - Love isn't available, etc.- and the Cavs have two of the best isolation players in the league in LeBron and Kyrie Irving. There are pick and rolls too but there isn't much variety to the Cavs offense. The Cavs create shots too, but it's largely been based on one player - LeBron - drawing a ton of attention and kicking it out to the open man during the playoffs.

This should result in a disjointed viewing. These teams are somewhat opposites. How this plays out might come down to who can best implement their style over the course of seven games.

Let's see what the Cavs rotation looks like.

James Jones has had to play in the absence of Love, as he's plays a position the Cavs needed minutes at and he can shoot threes. Jones hasn't exactly been good - he's shooting 34.3 percent from deep in the playoffs and he's a defensively liability against a lot of lineups - but the Cavs need him.

This is a line David Blatt is going to have to walk in Game 1 and over the course of the series. Jones' presence - particularly when he's on the floor with LeBron - creates space that the Cavs need to function on offense. The Bulls' lineup decisions allowed Jones to stay on the floor for extended stretches - he has averaged 11.8 minutes per game in the playoffs thus - but it's hard see how the Cavs can play him that much against Atlanta. This series is going to be closer and, while you might be able to get away with Jones on the floor when Mike Scott and/or Pero Antic come in, he's borderline unplayable when Millsap and and Horford are on the floor at the same time.

Where that leaves Blatt is tricky. Aside from Jones, the Cavs have seven other players that see regular time: LeBron, Irving, Tristan Thompson, Timofety Mozgov, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova. That's about as short as you can take the bench and there's already a good chance LeBron is going to play over 40 minutes a game in this series. The same could apply for Irving if he can move.

And let's find out how well Kyrie Irving can move.

Irving being healthier and being able to move would be huge for the Cavs against Atlanta. The Hawks' starting five presents the Cavs with some tricky lineup decisions and Irving being able to move would help in solving those. For instance, if he can move, it becomes a lot easier to put Shumpert and Jeff Teague and thus let Irving chase around Kyle Korver.

Irving being to do more then gimp up and down the floor would also be huge for the Cavs offense. Again, the Cavs offense against the Bulls was largely predictable and LeBron isolation (and LeBron PNR) oriented. If Irving can go, the Cavs can do some semi-funky things like Kyrie-LeBron PNRs or playing Kyrie without LeBron on the floor in order to give LeBron some rest. Having the option to do those things would be huge for the Cavs in a series where they'll need some little things to go right to win four games.

Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction

I picked the Hawks in seven to win this series and I think they get their first win here. I will say, however, that this would be the perfect game for the Cavs to win on the road. Cleveland comes into this game off several days of rest and should be fresh. Still, Hawks 101, Cavs 94.