At times, it’s difficult not to compare the Atlanta Hawks’ present-day playoff series to their matchup with the Boston Celtics last season. In that series, Atlanta stifled Boston with an elite defense, going up 2-0 before eventually finishing things off in game six. Right now, plagued by inconsistency and poor shooting, the Hawks are down 3-2 as they prepare for game six at home.
There is a glut of information to go over in this series, and plenty of statistics that tell the story of its five games so far. These numbers show how John Wall and Bradley Beal have dominated the scoring for their team, how Dennis Schroder has embarked on a scoring frenzy, and how players like Paul Millsap have been as consistent as ever. But perhaps most of all, they give reasons for both optimism and concern going in game six.
As far as optimism goes, the Hawks have played much better at home in this series. While this shouldn’t be a surprise on its own, some of the underlying numbers are worth a closer look. According to NBA Stats, Atlanta is shooting 43.8% on field goals, and 31.1% on three-point shots in this series. This three-point percentage is concerning, but it gets even worse (down to 24%) on the road games so far. At home, the Hawks’ 37.5% mark on three-pointers is much more respectable.
The split in some of the advanced numbers is even more pronounced. On the road, in three losses, the Hawks have a net rating of negative-10.5. At home, in two wins, it’s up to positive-15.4. In any sample size this small, these numbers shouldn’t be overly picked over, and one would expect that net rating would be much better in wins than in losses. As far as the overall story it tells though, it’s still pretty significant. Atlanta has absolutely blown the doors off the Wizards in Philips Arena, and been much worse at Verizon Center.
Since game six is at home, the Hawks (if recent trends are at all indicative) should play much better on Friday night. Dwight Howard and Tim Hardaway Jr. have both looked more comfortable in Philips Arena, and this should continue as the series progresses. However, it’s worth asking whether or not that will be enough. The Wizards have been far from their peak intensity and performance over the two games in Atlanta so far, and will be a much more difficult opponent if anyone besides just John Wall is contributing on the road. If Beal and Otto Porter Jr. can play more like how they did during the regular season, game six could be much closer than games three and four.
As far as pessimism goes, the Hawks still haven’t shown that they can win a road game. The team came extremely close on Wednesday night, but couldn’t quite finish things up in the final minutes. Even with Dennis Schroder’s fantastic performance (one of his best in recent memory), Atlanta couldn’t close the final gap down the stretch. Game six won’t matter too much if the Hawks can’t finally win a road game in the seventh.
However, this has been the epitome of a back-and-forth series, and Washington hasn’t been anywhere close to the dominant force that many projected. Both teams have missed several opportunities to win games, and that could play a huge role in the next one or two. The Wizards are rightfully favored to win the series, as any team with a 3-2 lead and home court advantage should be. There are still reasons to trust the Hawks though, especially with Friday night’s game coming at home.