One of the most anticipated series in the Eastern Conference gets underway on Sunday when the Atlanta Hawks visit Madison Square Garden for Game 1 against the New York Knicks. The Knicks are favored by 1.5 points across the board, including Bookmaker Sportsbook, where the total for the series opener sits at 215.

Let’s take a look at this one and see if we can find a play on either side or total in this all-important tone-setting game for the series.

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks and Knicks seem pretty evenly-matched. Both teams go into this series having posted a NetRtg of +2.4 per Basketball-Reference. The Knicks won 41 games. The Hawks won 41 games. Both teams were 41-31 by Pythagorean Win-Loss as well. This is the #4 vs. #5 series, as each team had a 25-11 record at home and a 16-20 on the road. The Knicks won three in a row down the stretch and the Hawks won four in a row. Both teams went 7-3 in their last 10 games.

Maybe it isn’t quite the Spiderman meme when we look at the Hawks and Knicks, but it seems pretty darn close. The difference between the two teams comes on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

Atlanta ranked sixth in eFG% defense, which is quite strong. The Hawks were also 16th in eFG% offense, which is better than where the Knicks ended up. The Hawks were 29th in TOV% on defense during the regular season, which is an area in which they’d like to improve during the postseason.

Offensively, Atlanta shot 52.6% on twos, which ranked 19th. The Knicks were at 49%, which ranked 29th. To make up for the bad offensive performance inside the arc, New York comes into the playoffs third in 3P% at 39.2%, whereas the Hawks ranked 12th at 37.3%. The Hawks were third in defending the three-point line, however, so they should be able to hold their own in that department.

It could all hinge on how Trae Young plays in his first taste of the playoffs. Young had over 25 points and more than nine assists per game during the regular season. The Hawks got a lot of secondary scoring help, as four different players averaged 15 or more points per game, including Bogdan Bogdanovic and Clint Capela. John Collins was also highly efficient in his minutes. The Hawks have scoring threats at each level on the floor, but Young has to stir the drink, both by filling up the cylinder, but also with distributing the basketball.

New York Knicks

3 and D. That’s how the Knicks have won a lot of games this season. Defensively, New York finished up the regular season with the best 3P% against in the NBA at 33.7%. They were also fifth in defending against two-point shots. Even though the Knicks had no offense to speak of in the paint or in the midrange, they filled it up from deep.

Unfortunately, the Knicks ranked 24th in 3P Rate, taking a three less than 35% of the time. Given that they made so many of them, you would think that an adjustment would have been made to take more of those long jumpers, but that was not the case.

Finishing 26th in FG% on shots within three feet of the rim could ultimately be the death knell for the Knicks in the playoffs. On the other hand, we’re talking about small sample sizes filled with variance in playoff series, so things could certainly go better. Julius Randle could use some help all over the floor, whether that means more twos or more threes. Randle scored 24.1 points and pulled down 10.2 rebounds per game this season. Only one other player had more than 15 points per contest and only Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel had more than six rebounds per game.

The Knicks do a really good job of defending in the halfcourt, so maybe the lack of supplemental offense won’t come back to hurt them. On the flip side, the Hawks do have a lot of it, so the onus will be on Randle to play as well as he has all season long, if not better, to make up for the lack of secondary production.

The Knicks did win all three regular season meetings, for whatever that’s worth.

Hawks vs. Knicks Game 1 Free Pick

All three regular season games sailed over the posted total for this one, but it is the playoffs and the idea is that games tighten up quite a bit with a lot more on the line. It’s hard to argue that point, but it is some food for thought. A lot of guys are getting their first real tastes of the playoffs, which could cause some early-game jitters that could speed up the game as that nervousness melts away.

I’ll be taking a look at the Knicks in Game 1. Madison Square Garden is a tough shooting backdrop, which could negate Atlanta’s offensive upside a little bit. The Knicks are the stronger defensive team and that feels like a good starting point for Game 1.

Pick: New York Knicks