Jeff_Teague_Hawks

Jeff Teague, a possible x-factor for the Hawks in this series, struggled with his shooting in Game 1 against the Cavaliers. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)

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Although the Hawks put a mighty scare into the Cavaliers after storming all the way back from 18 down, Cleveland ultimately hung on to take the series opener. In a tantalizing rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, our crack guests lead us through this iteration’s nuances. Checking in for the Hawks is Atlanta sports expert and NBA.com writer and podcaster Lang Whitaker. And out of Akron, Ohio, we have Jacob Rosen, who’s an MBA student at the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. Rosen’s also a longtime sports analytics writer for Hardwood ParoxysmNylon Calculus and Waiting for Next Year. Excerpts below:

Lang Whitaker (5:07-5:23): “[Kent] Bazemore’s a little bit more dynamic offensively than DeMarre [Carroll] was last year. There’s that saying ‘The best defense is a good offense.’ I think if you make LeBron work a little bit harder on that end, maybe that helps you in the long run as well.”

LW (5:25-5:45): “[Coach Mike] Budenholzer was trying a lot of different things. He had one lineup where Paul Millsap was playing center, where he went really small. I think he has a little more versatility with [Thabo] Sefolosha being healthy. He can go to these lineups where there’s two or three small forwards in there at the same time.”

LW (7:22-8:07): “Mike Budenholzer said after they beat Boston in Round 1 that in Round 2 there was going to be a role for Kris Humphries with the Hawks, and then he didn’t play in Game 1. To me, it seems like that might be a spot where you put in Humphries and ask him to just go after rebounds, just crash the boards time after time and get a body on Tristan Thompson. Humphries averaged double-figure rebounds a couple years ago. That’s something maybe where you say, ‘Look, we need you. This is what you’re here for. Come out and contribute to the team in this way.’ They’ve got to find some answer, other than just letting Cleveland out-rebound them by 10 or 15 rebounds a game.”

LW (11:06-11:34): “[Dennis Schroder’s] aggressive. That’s something he pretty much has every night. With [Jeff] Teague, sometimes that’s what he doesn’t have…When Teague doesn’t play that aggressively, that’s when you bring in Schroder, and the other way around. That’s also why you don’t trade one of those guys during the season. It’s kind of a unique combination, but they really complement each other very well.”

LW (14:24:15:01): “The thing that makes LeBron [James] so good is his passing. Last night, there were five or 10 different plays where they got the ball out of his hands, but LeBron made passes that most players in the NBA can’t make… When you play great defense and you leave this tiny little thing (opening) and that happens, you’ve just got to tip your hat to the guy.”

Jacob Rosen (20:29-20:41): “The encouraging thing for the Cavs is that they can lollygag for a few minutes here and there. They obviously can’t do that against the Western Conference teams, but in the East, it still seems that they have the ability to pull away when they really need to.”

JR (24:55-26:32): “With [Schroder and Bazemore], they have the athleticism on the wing that the Cavs can sometimes struggle against, and they were getting open looks. Schroder was just picking them apart with the dribble-drive and Kyrie [Irving] and—other players, it wasn’t just Kyrie— the Cavs were not prepared for it. ..So when they go back to the drawing board, the Cavs just have to strategize a solution where they’re not sagging off those guys, where they’re not letting the Hawks run around them on the offensive end…So when they look at playing these Hawks and they look at playing the Raptors or the Heat next round or one of the top teams out West, it comes down to the granular strategy of ‘How do you stop the most important offensive weapons?’ The Cavs have consistently done that with not letting Kyle Korver take shots against them…but what was missing obviously was a plan and an attack to also keep in mind Schroder’s dribble-drive ability, Bazemore’s athleticism and the open looks that can create. So the Cavs have to find a better solution for that. Perhaps it’s sticking [Matthew] Dellavedova on him, more directly it’s not sagging off those picks, being more attentive of the screen man, of the guy who’s kicking out for the 3. But it’s all correctable things.”

JR (29:47-30:36): “My favorite stat in the first round was how it was the first time in LeBron’s career that he didn’t lead his team in scoring in a playoff series… When Kyrie is attacking as well as he did… this is a very different Cavs team than the one we saw in the regular season or we’ve seen many times over the last two years, because Kyrie just wasn’t healthy last year in the playoffs when LeBron was at his very best. That’s why this Cavs team is so dangerous. When Kyrie is penetrating and distributing and shooting like he can, it’s just very hard to score with them.”

JR (31:54-32:16): “This is everything that fans have wanted to see, and they’re seeing it in prime playoff mode. It’s what players like J.R. Smith and Channing Frye allow you to do on the court, because everybody’s a spacer. The only guy who’s not is Tristan Thompson, who’s eating up the boards anyway. For the Cavs, that’s the fun part of this lineup. That’s the fun part of being in the playoffs with everyone healthy. You’ve got everything clicking.”

JR (33:20-33:36): “When [J.R. Smith]’s on and when he’s motivated and when he’s in a role like he’s been with this team when he’s never forced to do too much…within the context of the team…it’s very exciting and he gets hot too.”

Series Prediction:

Whitaker: Cavaliers in six

Rosen: Cavaliers in five

Music: “Who Likes to Party?” by Kevin MacLeod