Boston: 98.9 points/100 possessions (24th)
Atlanta: 102.4 points/100 possessions (14th)
Boston: 95.5 points/100 possessions (2nd)
Atlanta: 98.6 points/100 possessions (6th)
Probably Hawks Starters: Jeff Teague, Kirk Hinrich, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and a mystery big, the identity of which Larry Drew refuses to disclose because he is profoundly sneaky.
Injury Report: Ray Allen traveled with the Celtics but remains a question mark for game one. Al Horford is out. Zaza Pachulia is questionable, but beautiful, no matter what they say.
The Celtics face the (1958 NBA Champion) Hawks in a rematch of the 2008 first round series that inexplicably went six brutal games before the Celtics realized they were way better than the Hawks and crushed them in game seven. Four years down the road, the principles on each side of the ledger are effectively the same, although Al Horford and Ray Allen may both be on the sidelines as we tip off tonight and both teams are struggling with questions that have plagued them since they last tangled.
The Hawks still haven’t shown this era’s core is capable of taking down an elite opponent (Otis Smith’s Magic don’t count) and the Celtics may, like Georgia native and presumptive Hawks fan Jimmy Carter, go down as a one-termer if they’re unable to add a second title in the next two months. One of these things is a greater concern than the other, but both teams enter the playoffs looking to define themselves as something more than middle-seeds.
Most Celtics fans seem to regard this series as a warmup, with Boston fated to dispatch Atlanta and move onto the second round to take on the now-emotionally-crippled Bulls. This is what I expect to happen as well but as Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert taught us yesterday, seasons change on bended knees, so the Celtics are best to come out crisp and vicious and end this series quickly.
Problem is, that may not be so easy.
Even more than the Celtics, the Hawks are here for the slow jams. They were the eighth slowest team in the league this season (Boston was ninth) and a top-6 defense so this is gonna be a grinder of a series. Halfcourt execution is critical on the offensive end for both teams and turnovers that lead to easy points could decide games. These are areas the Celtics are traditionally vulnerable, although they’ve proven capable of reducing their turnover numbers in playoff years past.
This first game should be a feeling out process. What exactly will Drew do with his damaged frontline and which matchups will Doc Rivers try and exploit? If there’s anything to watch tonight, it’s what kinds of shots are both teams getting. If the Celtics are able to force the Hawks into long jumpers by Johnson and Smith, and keep Teague contained to the perimeter, they’ll win easily. On the other hand if they don’t force the issue and attack the basket, via KG in the post, Pierce and Rondo off the dribble and Bradley cutting baseline, they could struggle to score. The best shot, however good we all feel about it, will usually not be a Brandon Bass jumper. Especially early in the shot clock.
Another assumption is that we’re headed for a rough series. Consider these morning quotes:
Joe Johnson: “We are down a few bigs so that means us guards and forwards, our play has to get a little nasty.”
A tough, physical game that Boston ekes out down the stretch.
Boston 85 Atlanta 79