Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Joshua Gunter/The Plain Dealer

By: Ravneet Singh

Thanks to a banged up Cavalier team, we might be in store for more of a competitive series than in the Western Conference Finals. Cleveland should be writing thank you letters to the NBA for scheduling the start of the Eastern Conference Finals five days later from Game 6 against the Bulls. Kyrie needed some time off, since he looked hobbled in the last series.

Even though he’s not able to drive as much, he was still effective at times (especially in Game 5) as a shooter or in transition. If we see the Irving from his Playoff debut, then the Hawks are going to have their hands full.

The loss of Kevin Love has forced Blatt to go with smaller line-ups at times. James Jones really stepped up against the Bulls and the spacing gave way for LeBron and Kyrie to attack the paint. As you can see here, Gibson has to stay close to Jones leaving Noah left to scramble back in to guard the basket.

Here’s another example of how good spacing allows Irving to go towards the basket with little resistance after a Thompson pick:

This spacing doesn’t exist when Thompson and Mozgov play at the same time. However, they crash the glass like crazy and their defense makes up for one less shooter. They are a plus 4.3 rebounds while both are on the floor, according to Basketball-Reference.com, and are outscoring their opponents by 9.1 on the floor.

Per Basketball-Reference.com

Brook Lopez was giving Teague and Schröder a lot of issues when those guys would go inside. Even Gortat at times gave them some issues. But what’s worrisome if you are Hawks fan is that Mozgov is a better interior defender than both of them. He ranked 9th in the league in defensive real plus-minus, per ESPN.com.

That doesn’t mean Mozgov isn’t vulnerable on the defensive end. In fact, Atlanta should go at him in the pick and roll and see how he reacts. The Cavaliers were horrific when it came to guarding Pau in the pick and pop in Game 1. Horford will have to make shots from the outside to keep Mozgov from staying in the paint.

Teague might be able to get these type of open shots against Mozgov after the pick like he did against Lopez:

If the big man closes out on Teague, then he can give it to Milsap or Horford as they roll, as such:

Another key player for the Hawks in this series will be Kyle Korver. He hasn’t been the same player in these Playoffs as he was in the regular season. Part of that definitely has to do with Bradley Beal chasing him around so well. Korver must be happy that he won’t have to deal with him any longer. He shouldn’t relax though. There’s another good defensive wing in Iman Shumpert, who will have to be on the floor while Korver is playing.

As good as Demarre Carroll has been for the Hawks recently on offense, we are bound to see a decline with him matching-up with LeBron. He’s going to have to work his butt off to guard James and will be guarded by a player who’s looking to go to the Finals for five straight years.

Butler had played pretty good defense on LeBron, and even then the Bulls weren’t able to win more than two games. Carroll isn’t as good a defender as Butler, so LeBron’s numbers will go up.

The Hawks had won two of the three regular season meetings against the Cavs, but Cleveland has generally gotten better after February (until Love got hurt) and the Hawks after slowly regressed since then. This was the Conference Finals I was hoping for after I saw what these teams are capable of. It nevertheless seems as if it won’t be as enjoyable as I previously thought thanks to the mediocre play of the Hawks in the Playoffs. The Cavaliers aren’t in a position to dominate the series either, but without a doubt they are the favorites because of one player. LeBron.

Cavaliers in 6