The Cleveland Cavaliers have a few days off thanks to a sweep of the Detroit Pistons in round one of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Cavs will play the winner of the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics seven game series, a matchup which is currently tied at two wins apiece. The Cavs played each of these teams during last season’s run to the Finals, sweeping both in four games, so these teams are not unfamiliar to fans of the wine and gold. Since the series is tied and the Cavs could realistically face either team who should Cavs fans being rooting for?
The answer is simple, Cavs fans should be pulling for Tristan Thompson’s son Paul Millsap and his Atlanta Hawks.
Why The Hawks:
The Cavaliers played the Atlanta Hawks three times during the regular season winning all three games by an average margin of 9.7 points per contest. In comparison the Cavs also played the Celtics three times during the regular season, but only won two of those contests.
One of the main reasons I believe Atlanta is a better draw for the Cavs is the match up of Thompson and Millsap. As detailed by FtS' David Zavac, over the last two seasons Thompson has excelled against Millsap. This could be a huge advantage for the Cavaliers, as Millsap has arguably been Atlanta’s best player. The Hawks power forward ranks in the top three in both scoring and rebounding for his position through the first four games of the playoffs. The Hawks are not the same caliber of team when Millsap is not as his best and being able to effectively neutralize Millsap with Thompson gives the Cavs a match up advantage that cannot be ignored.
Another reason why the Hawks are a better draw for the Cavaliers is the Hawks are currently shooting very poorly. Prior to Monday night's game, the Hawks were shooting just 40 percent from the field and only 28 percent from three. These percentages represent huge drops from Atlanta's regular season averages where the Hawks shot 46 percent from the field and 35 percent from three. While some of Atlanta's shooting struggles can be attributed to the aggressive defensive schemes employed by Boston the Hawks are shooting just 29 percent on wide open shots as defined by NBA.com.
Why Not the Celtics
While I think the Cavaliers have considerable more talent than Boston, the Cavs just played in a series where a less talented team tried to increase the physicality of play in order to level the playing field. The Pistons game plan was straight out of the Celtics playbook from last year’s round one match up, a series that Kevin Love and Cavs fans won’t soon forget. While it is unlikely that Kelly Olynyk gets tangled up with Kevin Love for a second straight year, the Celtics have already shown that they didn’t get any less awkward and clumsy between last year’s playoffs and this years. Look how awkward and clumsy Isaiah Thomas was when he caught Dennis Schroder in the face here:
If the Cavs can avoid playing a team known for how awkward and clumsy their players are that would be my preference.
The Cavs will have more talent, rest and playoff experience than either Boston or Atlanta. Cleveland will be favorites in a series against either team and will be expected to advance to the next round. But not all opponents are created equal. The Cavs match up favorably against the Hawks and outplayed Atlanta in their regular season contests. Combine that those facts with very real fear of Boston's awkward and clumsy play style and it is obvious Cavs fans should be hoping to play Atlanta in round two.