Golden State Warriors, best in the West. Atlanta Hawks, best in the East.
This should be a crazy fun game. Not just the two best teams in the league playing, but two teams that are very similar in structure and principles. Two coaches from the Popovich tree, stressing ball-movement and pace. Two teams built on Nellieball principles, with tough as nails stretch-fours and long three-point shooting wings. Two teams that play with high character and utter unselfishness.
Two teams that play the beautiful game.
As far as differences go, the Warriors have two clear superstars, and the Hawks arguably none. The Hawks, on the other hand, have balanced scoring from all five positions, while the Warriors have limited offensive skill all across their front line. On defense, the Warriors have a clear edge. Better rim protection from Bogut than Horford, Klay much better than Korver, Green better than Millsap.
A couple of matchups will fascinate me:
Draymond v Millsap: Two players close to the same size, and equally tough. Millsap is much more skilled offensively, and indeed I think is the Hawks leading scorer this season. Which argues in the Warriors favor doesn’t it? Green is perfectly placed in the Warriors defense in this game.
If I were Coach Bud, I would do what almost every coach in the NBA has failed to do so far to neutralize Draymond. Pull Millsap all the way out to the three point line, removing Dray from the Warriors’ interior defense. You’d think that would be obvious to a great coach with Dirk Nowitzki, wouldn’t you? But no, Rick Carlisle fell into the same trap as everyone else, and tried to post Dray up. Eat stone, Rick Carlisle. Let’s see if Coach Bud is any smarter.
If the Warriors win this game, it will likely have to do with Green shutting down his man.
Bogut v Horford: I assume this is one road game that Bogut will show up for. Unfortunately, he hasn’t looked that great since coming back from his knee injury.
I expect the Hawks to attack this matchup with a fury. Horford has a deadly midrange shot, and pulling Bogut out of the lane has obvious benefits. Expect a lot of high-post action.
I also expect a ton of Teague-Horford pick and roll. Teague is a lightning-quick nightmare, and pick and roll defense is a noted Bogut weakness. Keep a close eye on the Warriors pick and roll coverages, as Ron Adams will have his hands full.
Other matchups: Curry will have a real tough time staying in front of Teague. Will the Warriors crossmatch? The Warriors’ last two losses came against Teague-like guards (Westbrook and Rose), so defending the point-guard will be a major concern. On the other side of the ball, Teague will have no answer for Curry.
The Klay-Korver matchup likely will not occur, as if I’m the Hawks I crossmatch here. Get the great defender DeMarre Carroll on Klay, and hide Korver on Barnes. Even if they do matchup, the final numbers would be unfair to Korver. He has a far lower usage rate in the Hawks’ balanced attack. But there is little doubt that Klay is by far the better all-around player, and still growing into his game.
Barnes should have a chance to shine if guarded by Korver. Can he?
The Hawks are not a great rebounding team. Will Kerr have the Warriors crash the offensive boards? Another area where Barnes might shine.
Bench play will be a concern. The Hawks have a good scoring backup point guard in Dennis Schroder (pronounce at your own risk) and stretch the floor. But the Warriors bench veterans have stepped up their games lately, particularly Iggy and Barbosa, who the Warriors have been using as their own attacking point guard.
That’s all I got. Let’s rumble.