5/11/2009 8:00:00 PM
The Hawks were one of the best home teams in the NBA during the regular season, even beating the Cavaliers once and losing to Cleveland by just one point in the other meeting in Atlanta. However, the Cavs further proved that they were the class of the league by dominating the Hawks on their home floor in Game 3. With the Hawks beset by injuries to their key players, avoiding a sweep tonight will be tough.
The Atlanta Hawks are a tremendous team at home. But the Hawks we’ll see on Monday night at Philips Arena aren’t the same ones we saw during the regular season.
Sure, the names are the same. But some of Atlanta’s best players are hurting badly enough to take the starch out of their performances. Joe Johnson (ankle), Al Horford (ankle) and Marvin Williams (wrist) are all expected to play in Game 4 of their second-round NBA playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It could very well be their last game of the season, too. Cleveland is up 3-0 in the series and laying 10 points on Monday with a total of 183.
Atlanta is just 17-29 SU and 22-24 ATS on the road including the postseason after getting blown out twice in Cleveland. We were originally looking for the Hawks to come up big in Game 3 based largely on their home record of 34-11 SU and 25-19-1 ATS. Johnson did his part with one of his best efforts of the playoffs (21 points on 9-of-19 shooting, five rebounds, three steals) despite spraining his right ankle in Game 2. Meanwhile, Horford (six points, minus-23) and Williams (four points in 13 minutes) are still receiving treatment for their injuries and are clearly well below 100 percent capacity.
With Atlanta’s failure to launch at home in Game 3, the effect of these injuries has become the pivotal betting storyline for Game 4, and Cleveland is the beneficiary. This is already a team that has yet to lose a playoff game at 7-0 SU and ATS. The books have adjusted somewhat by moving the betting odds from 8.5 points in Game 3 to the full 10 points, but the betting public is still all over the Cavs. Market surveys at press time had 98 percent of bettors supporting Cleveland against the spread. The Hawks are paying handsomely enough at +500 to pull in two-thirds of moneyline bettors – roughly the same percentage taking the over.
It’s easy for casual fans to overlook the contributions the younger Horford and Williams have made to a Hawks team led by Johnson and point guard Mike Bibby. But let’s throw down some APBR-friendly regular season stats in their defense.
Johnson: 18.2 Player Efficiency Rating, 362.0 Value Added, 7.4 Win Shares
Bibby: 16.3 PER, 219.9 VA, 6.7 WS
Horford: 17.0 PER, 216.2 VA, 6.6 WS
Williams: 16.0 PER, 173.1 VA, 6.0 WS
Johnson is the best player on the team, but there is little separating the other three in terms of production. At least, that’s when they were mostly healthy. Here’s what Horford and Williams have done in the playoffs:
Horford: 14.1 PER, 12.2 VA, 0.4 WS
Williams: 11.8 PER, 1.3 VA, 0.0 WS
The PER is the dead giveaway here. Value Added and Win Shares are accumulated stats, and Williams has particularly small numbers here because he’s only played in five of the team’s 10 playoff games, and scant minutes at that. Player Efficiency Rating is an index with the league average pegged at 15.0. In short, two of Atlanta’s above-average starters are now playing like below-average reserves. That is a painful disadvantage on a team with some issues on the bench; next on the depth chart and logging heavy minutes are center Zaza Pachulia (11.9 PER) and swingman Maurice Evans (9.3 PER).
If all that wasn’t enough, Williams and Evans have a very tough assignment against Cleveland’s small forward – a certain Mr. LeBron James of whom you may be familiar. James had one of the best playoff performances of all-time in Game 3: 47 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists. The newly crowned league MVP had a fantastic 31.7 PER in the regular season; in seven playoff appearances, James is up in the exosphere at 44.8 PER. This is how the Cavs have been able to cover double-digit spreads – their lowest margin of victory so far is 11 points, at Detroit in Game 3 of the first round. They won the next contest by 22 and swept the series. It doesn’t look like there will be any letdown in Game 4 of the second round, either.
Our friends at TNT have the action starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, followed by Game 4 of the Mavericks-Nuggets series from Dallas at 9:30 p.m.