For the Cleveland Cavaliers and superstar LeBron James, a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals isn’t exactly old hat but they know what it's like to be one round from the NBA Finals. While Atlanta, on the other hand, has never seen their Hawks past the second round of the postseason.
Cleveland marks its return to the conference finals for the first time since 2009. The Hawks, an organization that relocated three teams before finally putting down longstanding roots in Atlanta back in 1968, have to go all the way back to their days in St. Louis when they won their only NBA title.
The two sides will commence Game 1 of their seven-game series Wednesday night at Philips Arena, with both riding three-game winning streaks after facing difficult opponents in the semis.
Following a sweep of the Boston Celtics in the first round, the Cavs overcame injuries to James, point guard Kyrie Irving, and the season-ending shoulder injury to power forward Kevin Love to topple the Chicago Bulls in six games, capped by a blowout 94-73 victory.
Atlanta, which earned the top seed in the conference with a franchise record 60 wins, held home court against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, but lost their opening game against the Washington Wizards and fell behind 2-1 in the first three games before coming up three wins by an average of three points.
And as the Hawks stare down the four-time MVP James, they could be in for an even tighter series that’s far different from how things shaped up in the regular season. The Hawks owned the regular season series 3-1 over the Cavs, including a 127-98 shellacking on the road, though the Cavs were still developing chemistry following the return of James and the addition of Love.
With Irving dealing with an ankle injury as well as tendonitis in his knee, James has overtaken much of the responsibilities on both ends of the floor. He leads the Cavs in points (26.5), rebounds (10.2), assists (7.9), and steals (1.9) per game throughout the postseason. James appeared in only three games against the Hawks this season, averaging 23.7 points on 53.1 percent shooting from the field but Cleveland could on scrounge together one victory.
The Hawks enter the series healthy and with far more balance and depth. Small forward DeMarre Carroll’s the top scorer with 17.1 points through 12 games, while center Al Horford’s snatching 9.9 rebounds and swatting 1.8 steals per game and has six double-doubles in these playoffs. Point guard Jeff Teague has struggled from the floor, shooting 39.9 percent overall, but he’s still Atlanta’s top playmaker with 7.4 assists per game.
The full television schedule for the series is below, but for fans hoping to catch the series live there are ticket options available. On Ticketmaster seats for Game 1 in Atlanta are mostly left in the last few rows high up in the arena for as much as $189. It might seem steep, but on secondary market site StubHub.com many tickets are going for $162 a pop for the upper bowl along the baseline and several tickets reaching as high as $585,000.
The series will turn back to Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena for Games 3 and 4, and the seats are sold out directly through the team. On StubHub, tickets in the upper end sections are going for as little as $135, while floor seats are far more reasonable than lesser seats in Atlanta at $3,383 for Game 3.
TV Schedule (All times Eastern)
Game 1: Wednesday, May 20, Cleveland at Atlanta on TNT, 8:30 p.m.
Game 2: Friday, May 22, Cleveland at Atlanta on TNT, 8:30 p.m.
Game 3: Sunday, May 24, Atlanta at Cleveland on TNT, 8:30 p.m.
Game 4: Tuesday, May 26, Atlanta at Cleveland on TNT, 8:30 p.m.
Game 5*: Thursday, May 28, Cleveland at Atlanta on TNT, 8:30 p.m.
Game 6*: Saturday, May 30, Atlanta at Cleveland on TNT, 8:30 p.m.
Game 7*: Monday, June 1, Cleveland at Atlanta on TNT, 8:30 p.m.
(*) If necessary