After defeating the Boston Celtics 104-92 in Game 6, the Atlanta Hawks will advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It took six games for the Hawks to put the Celtics series to bed. Though it was a struggle at first, Atlanta stepped their game up in Games 5 and 6 against Boston to end the series 4-2.
Now the Hawks will face an even greater challenge in the Cleveland Cavaliers, who hold the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs won Round 1 against the Detroit Pistons 4-0.
In previous years, the Hawks vs. Cavaliers series has appeared to be the beginning of the end for Atlanta. Cleveland beat Atlanta 4-0 in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, and again in the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals when the Hawks fell again to the Cavs 4-0.
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By the looks of the regular season, the odds are not in Atlanta’s favor either. On November 21, the Hawks lost to the Cavs 109-97 on the road. In their next meeting at Philips Arena on April 1, the Hawks took another loss 110-108. On April 11, they fell yet again to the Cavs 109-94 in Cleveland.
Between this matchup’s playoff history and results of the regular season, it would appear that there is little chance of the Hawks being successful in this series. However, the Atlanta Hawks have made some changes recently that could potentially be advantageous in Round 2.
One factor that has increasingly developed since last season is an improved Atlanta defense. The Celtics series proved just how physical the Hawks’ defense could be. In this series, their biggest challenge will be to limit the shooting of LeBron James, who averages 27.2 points per game.
Additionally, players who stepped up and made a difference in games against the Celtics – including Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Mike Scott, and Dennis Schroder – will also be critical to the teams’ success against the Cavs. It will be up them to step up when Cleveland limits playmakers like Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford.
Cleveland’s goal is to return to the finals. But if the Atlanta Hawks can get off to a good start by playing their game, working together as a team and imposing their will, they may be able to shake the Cavs early.
The Atlanta Hawks will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Monday, May 7, at 7 p.m.