When the Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers meet in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday, all eyes will be on LeBron James and how the Hawks will attempt to slow him down. However, one of the biggest matchups of the series might be the battle at the point guard where Atlanta's Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder will square off against Kyrie Irving and Matthew Dellavedova.
Teague and Schröder experienced an up and down series in Atlanta's opening round win over the Celtics. Teague averaged 16.5 points and 6.0 assists while shooting 40 percent from the field and 24 percent from three-point range. He tweaked his ankle early in Game 6 and that slowed him somewhat but he is a guiding and sometimes calming influence on the team offensively.
Schröder struggled with his shot and his emotions against the Celtics. He and Isaiah Thomas became embroiled in a war of words over the last four games of the series after Thomas landed an open hand punch to Schröder's head that went unpunished early in Game 3. The situation appeared to affect Schröder's play and the series ended with he and Thomas again squaring off at center court.
Schröder did play his best basketball of the series late and ended up with a higher shooting percentage than Teague at 41 percent. Boston spent much of the series sagging off Schröder and he has to do a better job of getting his teammates involved particularly when his shot is not falling.
As important as Atlanta's point guard is offensively, their true value will be measured on the defensive end in this series.
Kyrie Irving is healthy and made up for lost time in Cleveland's first-round sweep of the Pistons. Irving led the Cavaliers in scoring (27.5) and shot attempts (21.8) in the first round and knocked down 47 percent of his three-point attempts.
Irving did a really nice job playing off the ball and finding space for kick out passes from James. He also knocked down a number of long jumpers off the dribble in the pick and roll. As you can see from his shot chart in the first round, the Hawks would be better served to keep Irving off the three-point line as much as possible.
Teague in the past has held his own in his matchups with Irving and the Hawks will need him to make Irving work on the defensive end of the floor.
Matthew Dellavedova also figures to play a big part in this series as he did in last season's Eastern Conference Finals. Dellavedova was involved in the play late in Game 2 that left Kyle Korver with a broken ankle as both scrambled for a loose ball. Dellavedova was also involved in the play in Game 3 that led to Al Horford being ejected.
Dellavedova is more than an instigator for the Cavaliers, however, and if Atlanta's point guards are playing well, he will be called upon as the better defensive option.
He is more than just a one-dimensional player however as he averaged 9.5 points and 4.0 assists against the Pistons and knocked down 40 percent of his three-point attempts.
In many ways, Teague could end up being the X-factor for Atlanta. If he can make Irving work and match him on both ends of the court, then the Hawks are one step closer to pulling off an upset. It is a tall order for sure, but Teague has averaged more points and assists against the Cavaliers in his career than against any other team.
The Hawks are again heavy underdogs in this series but if there is a path to an upset, it likely starts with Jeff Teague.