Eastern Conference Finals: Examining Individual Matchups in the Cavaliers vs. Hawks Series
We can see the huge difference between the Atlanta Hawks' and the Cleveland Cavaliers' offensive styles.
We know that King James reigns supreme over 1 seeds (he is 3-0 with a Finals berth on the line).
And we're also aware that Coach Blatt and Coach Bud have just under three full NBA seasons under their head coaching belts.
Those are all significant factors to consider as we look into this year's Eastern Conference Finals matchup. However, they are only three of several more.
We could look at team versus team stats and learn a lot about where each team has excelled over the course of the season and the playoffs. While that's all fine and dandy, playoff basketball is influenced by individual matchups as much as anything else.
With that being said, let's take a look inside the starting lineups, as well as the key bench player for each team, to see what we should watch for in this highly anticipated matchup.
PG: Kyrie Irving vs. Jeff Teague
For the 2015 NBA Playoffs Irving sports an Offensive Box Plus/Minus (OBPM) of 4.1 and an Offensive Rating of 121. When healthy, Uncle Drew has been an offensive firecracker.
Jeff Teague hasn't been that great offensively with an OBPM of 1.5 and an Offensive Rating of 102 in the playoffs. More importantly, he hasn't been good at all on the defensive end.
After facing off against the likes of Deron Williams, Ramon Sessions and John Wall, Teague has earned a respectable Defensive Rating of 103 but has a substandard Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) of -1.6. He also allowed Williams (35 points, 7 assists) and Wall (20 points, 13 assists) to have a few big games, so he'll have to defend at a higher level if the Hawks want to keep a hampered Kyrie from breaking out offensively once again.
SG: Iman Shumpert vs. Kyle Korver
It's needless to say how important this matchup is in the grand scheme of the series. If Korver gets loose and finds some open shots beyond the arc, the Cavs could be in some big trouble. During the course of the regular season, Korver shot 49.2% from three as he gave opposing defenses nightmares on a nightly basis.
But as great as Korver was in the regular season, he's been really average in the postseason -- and for him average is just awful. Shooting a mere 35% from three in the playoffs, Korver seems to have lost his biggest value to his team. In last round's matchup against the Wizards, in six games, Korver shot just 12 of 42 (28.6%) as Bradley Beal tailed the sharpshooter all over the court.
Korver's eyes shouldn't be lighting up anytime soon. As well as Beal defended him in the previous series, Iman Shumpert might do him one better in this matchup. In the playoffs, Shumpert is allowing opposing shooters (who average 43.8% shooting coming into the matchup with Shump) to shoot just 38.2% from the field. Compare that to Beal's 42.6% Defended Field Goal Percentage and it's clear that Korver might be in for another long series.
SF: LeBron James vs. DeMarre Carroll
Yeah, Korver's been off in the playoffs and especially recently -- but who's been there to pick up the slack? Unsung Atlanta star DeMarre Carroll. After shooting an impressive 39.5% from three in the regular season, Carroll has been deadly from deep this postseason.
He's shooting 46.7% from three while making 2.3 of his 5.0 attempts per contest. Carroll's been especially hot as of late. In the Hawks' Game 6 closeout win in Washington, Carroll finished 9 of 14 from the floor and 3 of 5 from three as he tallied 25 points on the evening.
But that wasn't against LeBron James...
In his three regular season matchups with the King and his cast of Cavaliers, Carroll managed only 10.3 points per game with an abysmal three point percentage of 28.6%. And that was against regular season LeBron, who posted a Defensive Rating of 105. Playoffs LeBron? A different story of course. James is posting a Defensive Rating of 98 and a DBPM of 4.5 to go with his
basic 1.9 steals and 1.6 blocks per game.
Can Carroll keep up his hot shooting and overcome the beast that is playoff LeBron?
PF: Tristan Thompson vs. Paul Millsap
Nearly a month ago, we were talking about how good Tristan Thompson has been. A month later, nothing's changed. Or has it?
Thompson has been even better for the Cavs as of late. In a series-ending Game 6 in Chicago, Thompson had his best game of the playoffs (according to BasketballReference.com's Game Score). Thompson earned a score of 15.0 as he contributed 13 points and grabbed a total of 17 boards -- 6 of those being offensive. But that's nothing new -- Thompson's been a beast on the boards. In his first playoff appearance Thompson is 9.4 total rebounds and 3.9 offensive rebounds per game with an Offensive Rebound Percentage of 14.1%.
However, in this series Thompson won't be schooling the undersized Celtics frontcourt, and he will he be taking advantage of what appeared to be a spent Bulls frontcourt. Paul Millsap will be a more formidable match for Thompson. Millsap is pulling down 9 rebounds per game in this year's playoffs while grabbing 20.2% of available defensive rebounds. With his versatility, Millsap will have to keep up his effectiveness on the defensive glass if he wants to keep Thompson at bay.
C: Timofey Mozgov vs. Al Horford
Just as we've talked about Tristan Thompson and how his rebounding has been a huge plus for the Cavaliers this postseason, the same can be said for Timofey Mozgov and his defensive impact in the playoffs.
Mozgov struggled at times, particularly with foul trouble in Games 3 and 4, in the previous series with the Chicago Bulls. But even then he tallied three games of at least seven rebounds and two with three blocks. Against the Celtics, though, Mozgov averaged eight rebounds and three blocks per game, which has contributed to his Block Percentage of 6.7% and a Defensive Rating of 100. But will Mozgov even get the chance to affect the series?
The Hawks might just have the right guy to neutralize Mozgov and his strengths. Al Horford has proven that he can stretch defenses with his outside shot. He's great on the pick and pop with both Teague and backup point guard Dennis Schroder and the numbers agree.
In the playoffs, Horford is taking over 35% of his field goal attempts from 16 feet to just inside the three point arc and he's making 38.7% of those. That, coupled with Horford's ability to crash the glass and score down low, has Horford shooting over 49% from the floor. I'm not sure Mozgov will be comfortable enough to get out on the perimeter and defend Horford's versatile offensive game.
The Other Guys
This might not be a direct matchup on the floor, but it is a matchup of two guys likely to come off their respective teams benches and play the most minutes from it. Though they do it in different ways, both Schroder and J.R. Smith are offensive spark plugs off the bench for their teams and will be looked at to take on a role as such in this series.
J.R. Smith lives on the perimeter and loves hitting threes from the outside -- and why not? He's been pretty good at it in a Cavalier uniform. In the regular season Smith shot 39% from the three, scoring 12.7 points per game. In the playoffs, his percentage might be down just a bit (35.1%) but he's still averaging 11.3 points per game and was extremely effective in the Chicago series. In four games, Smith put up 12.8 points on 50% shooting from the floor and 44.4% shooting from three point land.
Schroder is effective in a completely different way. He hasn't developed a consistent jumper from the outside, so he does most of his damage on the aforementioned pick and roll or pick and pop. In just 19.8 minutes per playoff game, the point guard has 10.1 points per game while taking 41.7% of his field goal attempts from 0 to 3 feet, finishing on 62.5% of those attempts. But Schroder's passing may be his best contribution to this Hawks team. Schroder's averaging 4.3 assists per game and assists on 37.7% of his team's field goal attempts while on the court.
Which player will show up big for his team? Which player's style will be most effective in sparking his team's offensive attack in this series?
Who will win their individual matchups? Who will outplay their counterpart and give their team a much-needed advantage? We'll see soon enough with Game 1 tonight in Atlanta.