If the Cleveland Cavaliers do end up beating the Atlanta Hawks in the conference finals, LeBron James will make it to five consecutive NBA finals series. By the way, James Jones is on the same track to the same achievement.
How impressive is this? Win or lose in the next round of the playoffs, Bill Russell (going to 8 consecutive finals and winning them all) is the last player to make it to the finals that many times in a row. James has the two losses to the Mavericks and Spurs, but it’s just another example of how dominant he has been over the last four years, or maybe how putting team achievements as labels to determine a player’s quality means nothing. James Jones has been to four straight, and is probably heading to a fifth.
But the unstoppable force (at least in the Eastern conference) known as LeBron James isn’t the only reason the Hawks are looking outmatches in almost every minute of every game in this series. Despite the problems Kyrie Irving has been having with his knees and the complete absence of Kevin Love, there’s plenty of others to help around in Cleveland.
Take Timofey Mozgov for example, a midseason pickup via trade (along with a second round pick for two protected first round picks in 2015) that might not put up big numbers, but who needs him to? His defensive presence and ability has stabilized the rocky Cavaliers (remember they were under .500 almost midway through the season). Opponents are shooting just 37.2% at the rim against Mozgov, which is the best shooting defense in the playoffs for players averaging at least 20 minutes a night).
And there’s also what the Hawks have been missing. Maybe Thabo Sefolosha doesn’t score a lot of points, but his defense makes a huge difference. His net rating of +11.0 during the regular season was the second highest on the team. The highest? Why that would be +11.4 for Kyle Korver, who won’t be playing for the Hawks again due to an ankle injury.
To make a long story short? The Hawks are pretty much screwed.