Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Hawks - Game 1

May 2, 2016
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Bring on the Birds

Following their four-game sweep of the Pistons, the Cavaliers had an eight-day layoff leading into their Second Round matchup against Atlanta, which tips off on Monday night at The Q.

Against Detroit, the Wine and Gold improved their postseason win streak to 12 games – tying the NBA’s all-time mark for one team against a single opponent.

They’ve had almost as much postseason success against the Hawks – having never lost to Atlanta in eight Playoff meetings, including last year’s four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference Finals. In those eight straight victories, the Wine and Gold have won by an average of 15.6 points and have outrebounded the Hawks by 13.3 boards per contest.

The Hawks got past the scrappy Celtics in six games – knocking out Brad Stevens’ squad with a 104-92 win on Friday night in Beantown. Defensively, Atlanta completely stifled the Celts, holding them to just 38 percent shooting in the series, including 28 percent from beyond the arc.

In three regular season contests this year, the Cavaliers took all three -- including an overtime win in Atlanta to begin the month of April and 15-point victory at The Q in the campaign’s penultimate contest that helped Cleveland seal the top spot in the East.

Key: Let It Reign

The only Cavalier who’s been part of both of the squad’s recent postseason domination of Atlanta is LeBron James – who led the 2009 sweep in the Conference Semis and last year’s four-game route in the ECF.

LeBron being “part of” those respective sweeps might be a misnomer; he was absolutely dominant against the Hawks in last year’s postseason – averaging 30.3 points, 11.0 boards and 9.3 assists in four games against Atlanta, averages that no other player in NBA history had amassed in a Playoff series.

In the Cavs’ First Round matchup with Detroit, James doubled-up in three of the four games – averaging 22.8 points, 9.0 boards and a team-leading 6.8 assists. In three regular season games with the Hawks, the four-time MVP got better with each ensuing contest – finishing with 19 points, 11 boards and eight helpers in the first meeting, 29 points, 16 boards and nine assists in the second and 34 points on 13-for-16 shooting in the third.

In last year’s postseason, DeMarre Carroll was the Hawks’ hope of slowing down LeBron, but with Carroll up north with the Raptors, that starting assignment’s gone to Kent Bazemore (with Thabo Sefalosha off the bench). The fourth-year pro from Old Dominion has been solid in two meetings with the Wine and Gold this year – grabbing 12 boards in the April 1 overtime loss and tallying 23 points in the April 11 matchup.

Key: Like He Drew It Up

For just the second time since he’s been making his perennial trip to the postseason, another player besides LeBron James led his team in scoring for a series.

Most recently, that player was Kyrie Irving – who was simply sensational in the First Round series against Detroit, averaging 27.5 points per contest – tying him for tops in the 2016 Playoffs – to go with 4.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game. In the four-game sweep, Irving topped the 20-point plateau in each contest and notched 31 points on two occasions.

Kyrie missed the first regular season meeting with Atlanta while still recovering from offseason knee surgery, but was the squad’s impetus in their two victories in April. In the overtime win, the three-time All-Star overcame a brutal shooting night in which he went 5-for-23 from the floor to hit a huge three-pointer and some huge free throws in the extra session. In the April 13 win – his tune-up for the postseason – Irving scored 13 of his game-high 35 points in the fourth quarter, going 14-for-28 from the floor, including 4-of-8 from long-range.

Atlanta’s Jeff Teague had another outstanding season for Mike Budenholzer’s squad and was even better down the stretch, averaging 22.0 points per game over the campaign’s final month and 16.5 points and 6.0 assists in the six-game set against Boston. Despite the three losses, Teague was very good against the Wine and Gold this year – averaging 20.7 points and 7.3 assists per contest while shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc.

Key: Love Machine

In their two seasons together, the Big Three hasn’t hit on all cylinders quite like they did in four straight games against the Pistons.

For Kevin Love, he got his engine revved up over the last three weeks of the regular season and kept right on rolling in the First Round series – averaging 18.8 points and 12.0 boards per contest. Love registered double-doubles in all four games – one of just three players in this postseason (along with Russell Westbrook and Dwight Howard). He tallied 28 points in the series opener and, in an odd way, Love’s worst game of the series was one of his most productive – going just 3-for-15 in Game 4, but leading both squads with 13 big boards, including four off the offensive glass.

Love also led both squads with 14 boards in the third of three games against the Hawks during the regular season. Obviously, Love missed last year’s ECF against Atlanta, but averaged 16.7 points and 10.3 rebounds against them this year.

Love will get a good run at the 5 when the Wine and Gold go small during the series, but for the most part he’ll match up with fellow three-time All-Star, Paul Millsap. Atlanta’s versatile, steady power forward led the team in scoring (17.1) and rebounding (9.0) in 81 games this season. His numbers against Love are almost exactly the same as Love’s against him: averaging 17.3 ppg and 10.3 rpg against the Wine and Gold in three games this season.

In last year’s postseason, the Cavs did an excellent job against Millsap – limiting him to 13.8 ppg on 35 percent shooting and just 7.8 boards per contest.

Key: Reserve Judgement

As fascinating as the Kyrie Irving-Jeff Teague matchup promises to be over the course of the East Semis, the battle between their backups – Matthew Dellavedova and Dennis Schroder – might be the most fun to watch.

Although they go about it in different ways, Delly and Schroder are two of the most tenacious reserve point guards in the league and this matchup promises to be one of the most intense pairings of the Second Round.

Delly was outstanding against Detroit – averaging 9.5 points per contest while piling up 16 assists and just a single turnover. The third-year pro was also the only Cavalier to tally double-figure scoring in any game during the series.

Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert hit some big shots during the First Round, and the Cavaliers will need to get that and more as the competition ratchets up.

Aside from Schroder, the Hawks best scorer off the bench is Mike Scott, who’s had some success against Cleveland before. Thabo Sefalosha and Kirk Hinrich are Atlanta’s defensive specialists off the bench, with Tim Hardaway Jr. rounding out the rotation. The heavy hitters are going to decide this series, but both squad’s benches are going to factor in big, beginning with Monday night’s Game 1 at The Q.

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