HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Last season, the Atlanta Hawks won 60 games and had home-court advantage in the conference finals … and got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This season, the Hawks won just 48 games. Expectations are lower and they’ll be in Cleveland to start the conference semifinals. But the Hawks may be better prepared to make things difficult for the Cavs this time around.
They’re certainly healthier than they were a year ago, when Thabo Sefolosha was out with a broken leg, Paul Millsap was dealing with a shoulder injury, and Kyle Korver was lost to an ankle injury in Game 2. The Hawks are also better defensively than they were last season.
Atlanta was the league’s best defensive team from Christmas to the end of the regular season. In the first round of the playoffs, they held the Boston Celtics to 12.6 points per 100 possessions under their regular-season mark. Their defense has been strong in transition and at protecting the paint, two huge keys to slowing down LeBron James and the Cavs.
But they weren’t able to do that enough in the regular season, when James averaged 27.3 points on 58 percent shooting as the Cavs swept the season series, 3-0. That’s seven straight wins against Atlanta for the Cavs, who are also healthier and better defensively than they were a year ago.
The Cavs are trying to get back to The Finals with their “Big 3” intact this time. Before they can play for that opportunity, they have to get through the Hawks, which could be a much tougher proposition than it was last year.
Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Cavs-Hawks, with links to let you dive in and explore more.
Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)
First round: Beat Detroit in four games.
Pace: 88.9 (15)
OffRtg: 115.8 (2)
DefRtg: 107.4 (12)
NetRtg: +8.4 (4)
Cavs playoff notes:
- Have taken 41.3 percent of their shots from 3-point range, the highest mark in the playoffs.
- Have averaged 13.8 shots per game in the last four seconds of the shot clock, 4.8 more than any other team.
- Kevin Love has grabbed 34.9 percent of available defensive rebounds while he’s been on the floor, the highest defensive rebounding percentage of the playoffs. He also leads the playoffs with 5.8 second chance points per game.
- J.R. Smith (17-for-33) is the only player who has shot at least 50 percent on at least 25 3-point attempts. Smith (4.3) and Kyrie Irving (4.0) rank first and second in made 3-pointers per game.
- LeBron James leads the playoffs with 8.8 shots in the restricted area per game and 14.0 points in the paint per game. But he shot just 28 percent from outside the paint and is 27 percent from outside the paint in the playoffs since returning to Cleveland.
- Tristan Thompson has averaged 5.0 screen assists per game, second in the playoffs.
- Opponents shot 68.0 percent at the rim when Thompson was there to protect it and 67.6 percent when Love was there to protect it. Those ranked as the two worst rim protection numbers among players who defended at least 5.0 shots per game at the rim.
- See Cavs-Pistons preview for regular season notes.
Atlanta Hawks (48-34)
First round: Beat Boston in six games.
Pace: 101.1 (3)
OffRtg: 97.7 (13)
DefRtg: 91.3 (3)
NetRtg: +6.3 (5)
Hawks playoff notes:
- Have taken 72.3 percent of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range, the highest rate among teams still in the playoffs. Only Boston took a greater percentage (73.4 percent) of its shots from the two most efficient areas of the floor.
- Have averaged 44.7 points in the paint per game, most in the playoffs.
- Starting lineup has allowed just 86.1 points per 100 possessions, best among lineups that have played at least 50 minutes in the playoffs.
- Al Horford has shot 27.3 percent from mid-range, worst among players with at least 20 mid-range attempts.
- Horford and Millsap have have contested 16.2 shots per game and 15.7 shots per game, respectively. Those numbers rank first and third in the playoffs.
- Outscored the Celtics by 71 points in 203 minutes with Korver on the floor and were outscored by 31 points in 90 minutes with him on the bench.
- Players off the bench have shot 24 percent (14-for-58) from 3-point range, the worst mark in the playoffs for reserves.
- Millsap’s 45 points in Game 4 in Boston is the highest scoring game of the playoffs.
- See Hawks-Celtics preview for regular season notes.
- The Hawks beat every other Eastern Conference team except for the Cavs.
- Irving and Kent Bazemore both missed the first meeting.
- Atlanta’s effective field goal percentage of 45.9 percent was its worst mark against any Eastern Conference opponent.
- The Cavs’ current starting lineup was a plus-11 in 31 minutes, but the Hawks’ starting lineup was a plus-31 in 42 minutes and outscored the Cavs’ starting lineup, 47-40 in the 20 minutes they were on the floor together.
- Thompson (13.3), James (11.0) and Love (10.3) all averaged double-figure rebounds over the three games.
- The Cavs were a plus-53 in 67 minutes with Matthew Dellavedova (who started the first game) on the floor and a minus-24 in 82 minutes with him on the bench. Thabo Sefolosha, meanwhile, was a minus-62 in 60 minutes.
- Jeff Teague, Korver and Bazemore shot a combined 19-for-38 (50 percent) from 3-point range. All other Hawks shot 9-for-50 (18 percent).