Eastern Conference Finals: 10 Numbers to Know About the Hawks vs. Cavaliers Series
For all the jokes about the Eastern Conference being the "Leastern" Conference, the East Semis were chalked full of competitiveness and intrigue. Eventually, the Cleveland Cavaliers toppled the Chicago Bulls in six games, and the Atlanta Hawks did the same to the Washington Wizards. Now, we have an Eastern Conference Finals of the top-seeded Hawks, hosting the second-seeded Cavaliers -- just as many people assumed coming into this year's playoffs, the Hawks' recent struggles and a season-ending Kevin Love injury notwithstanding.
Many people are calling this one in favor of the Cavaliers, due to the Hawks' general inexperience and lack of a true superstar versus the Cavs' "LeBron effect" trump card. Granted, the Hawks have not looked like themselves for most of this postseason, but if they can find their midseason form and peak at exactly the right time, no one should be surprised if they build on winning the season series between these two teams 3-1 and manage to make the NBA Finals. Then again, superstars often prevail in the playoffs in this league and the Cavs still have two of 'em in LeBron and Kyrie Irving.
We know that how LeBron and Kyrie perform in this series will have a big impact on the outcome and dictate a lot of the narrative. Beyond that, though, what else should viewers be on the lookout for?
Here's what the numbers are saying.
Tristan Thompson's Playoff Offensive Rebound Percentage: 14.1%
That leads all remaining players in the playoffs and will almost certainly be a big factor in this series. The absence of Kevin Love will be discussed ad nauseam, but Love struggled this year against the Hawks with averages of 11.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, while shooting a pitiful 34.1% from the floor. Thompson, on the other hand, shot a blistering 79.2% while putting up comparable numbers (11.5 points, 7.8 rebounds) in three fewer minutes per contest.
This year, the Cavaliers grabbed 28.7% of available offensive rebounds while Thompson was on the floor, compared to a team-low 24.4% when he was on the bench. That's a huge difference, especially against an undersized Hawks team.
Tristan Thompson's Playoff Offensive Rating: 139.5
While we're on the topic of Tristan Thompson, he's filled in admirably for an injured Kevin Love in a variety of ways outside of rebounding as well. His 139.5 Offensive Rating leads all playoff performers over all rounds. In round two versus the Bulls, Thompson averaged 9.3 points, 11.2 rebounds (including a ridiculous 4.0 per contest on the offensive glass), 53.8% shooting from the floor, and 82.4% from the line. To say he's an x-factor in this series would qualify as an understatement.
Timofey Mozgov's Field Goal Percentage Against at the Rim: 34.7%
Remember when rim protection was the biggest concern when it came to the Cavs' title chances? Mozgov's 34.7% allowed at the rim on 7.2 attempts per game is the second-best in the playoffs, trailing only Anthony Davis. What's more, the Cavs rank second among all playoff teams in rim protection, allowing a stingy 46.4% at the rim (the second lowest percentage) on 24.8 attempts per game (the second highest average of attempts). What was once a huge liability has become one of the team's greatest strengths.
Cleveland's Playoff Three-Point Attempt Rate: 35.5%
Atlanta's Playoff Three-Point Attempt Rate: 33.4%
The Eastern Conference has a reputation for playing boring, grind-it-out basketball, but the Cavaliers and Hawks rank second and third in three-point attempt rate (percentage of field goal attempts that come from long range) among playoff teams, trailing only the Golden State Warriors at 36.1%. If you like seeing long-range bombs fly at will, this series will be for you.
Atlanta's Playoff Assist Percentage: 67.6%
While the Cavaliers are known for running a very isolation-heavy offense, the Hawks rely on ball movement to create their opportunities. They lead all playoff teams in assist percentage (67.6%), assists per game (25.4), and points created by assists per game (60.8). By contrast, the Cavaliers are third-last among the 16 playoff teams in assist percentage (52.5%), and second-last in assists per game (18.1) and points created by assists per game (45.0).
Cleveland's Playoff Free Throw Attempt Rate: .328
That's the highest free throw rate (free throw attempts per field goal attempt) in the playoffs outside of noted "Hack-a-whomever" victims, the Houston Rockets (.443) and the Los Angeles Clippers (.361). The Cavaliers have scored 20.6 points per 48 minutes on drives these playoffs (third of all 16 teams), get to the line a ton (26.2 times per contest, third again), and hit freebies at a solid rate (79.8%, fourth). With the Hawks relying heavily on ball movement and the Cavs focusing on getting into the paint (mostly out of isolations), expect a big contrast in offensive styles in this series.
Combined Playoff Minutes Played by Hawks Starters: 213
The Hawks starting lineup of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford has played 213 minutes together these playoffs, the most of any lineup in the playoffs outside the Los Angeles Clippers. The Hawks have decent enough depth, but the drop-off from the starters' Net Rating of 16.3 to just about every other lineup combination has been big. No other lineup has played more than 34 minutes together this postseason and 6 of the next 8 most used lineups have a negative Net Rating. The Hawks will live and die by that starting unit.
Cleveland's Playoff Offensive Rating: 108.2
Atlanta's Playoff Defensive Rating: 98.1
Both those numbers represent the best of all 16 playoff teams. Unstoppable force, meet immovable object.
Cleveland's Playoff Net Rating: 9.5
If the Cavaliers have the best offense and the Hawks have the best defense, the deciding factor will likely come down to who can bring it on the other end. The Cavaliers come in with the fourth-best playoff Defensive Rating at 98.8, while the Hawks come in with the ninth-best offensive rating at 102.0. The Cavs' resulting Net Rating is a playoff-leading 9.5, compared to the Hawks' fourth place 3.9. Edge: Cavaliers.
Atlanta's Win Odds: 57.22%
Both teams have noticeable advantages and disadvantages in this series. What kind of offense will win out? Will it be the Cavaliers' isolation-heavy, free-throw drawing attack or the Hawks and their crisp ball movement? Which kind of defense will get it done? Will it be the Hawks' overall balanced approach and notable defensive efficiency or the Cavaliers' newfound rim protecting proficiency that wins out? Will it come down to one unit for the Hawks or will the Cavs' superstars LeBron and Kyrie be too much for them to handle?
We're about to find out the answers to all these questions, but for now, our algorithms pick the Atlanta Hawks as winners by a hair at 57.22%, with the homecourt advantage obviously coming into play. It should be a tight one, though, as our most likely scenario is Hawks in 7 at 18.86%, with Cavaliers in 6 trailing only slightly behind at 17.29%.
This should be a fun one. Toss the ball up, already!