Skip to content

NBA Playoff Preview: Boston vs. Atlanta

Apr 27, 2012, 1:47 AM EST

Rajon Rondo, Jeff Teague AP

SEASON RECORDS
Hawks: 40-26 (No. 4 seed)
Celtics: 39-27 (No. 5 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Boston won the first two games of a three-game regular season series by a total of five points. The Hawks’ victory came when the most was on the line, however, as Atlanta upended a short-handed Celtics team last Friday to give themselves a lead for the East’s No. 4 seed that they’d never relinquish.

KEY INJURIES
Hawks: Al Horford played just 11 games for Atlanta this season since suffering a torn pectoral muscle in early January. There was some speculation that he might be able to play against the Celtics, but the latest reports say that he’s definitely going to miss the first round … Fellow big man Zaza Pachulia is day-to-day with a sprained left foot, but he’ll likely be available to start the series against the Celtics.
Celtics: The Celtics took the last few games of the regular season to heal up, costing themselves homecourt advantage while trying to ensure they’d be healthy against Atlanta. It worked for the most part, too, considering Ray Allen is the only player expected to be listed on the injury report when the season starts Sunday, and even then he’ll be listed as “probable” due to a right ankle injury.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possession)
Hawks: Off. 104.9 (16th in NBA); Def. 101.2 (6th in NBA)
Celtics: Off. 101.0 (27th in NBA); Def. 98.2 (1st in NBA)

THREE KEY HAWKS:

Joe Johnson: It’s incredibly difficult to believe that Johnson won’t be a huge part of this series considering he’ll likely be counted on to shoulder the majority of the scoring load for Atlanta throughout the playoffs. The swingman went through a bit of a slump through the first few weeks of April, but ended the season on a high note — and, for the history buffs among us, Johnson began his NBA career as a member of the Celtics in 2001 before being traded midseason for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers (whoops!).

Josh Smith: The enigmatic forward hasn’t made a lot of fans over his career due to a lot of people focusing on what he doesn’t do well on the basketball court. When one pays attention to what Smith does do well, however, they see that he’s a solid defender, a good rebounder (when he concentrates on that part of the game, of course) and is actually passing the ball better than every other big when looking at his 20.6 percent assist rate.

Jeff Teague: The quick-footed point guard broke out around this time last year when he was inserted into the starting lineup against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls during the second round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Teague will need to step his game up in the postseason again this year, too, as his matchup against Rajon Rondo could easily be the deciding factor if he’s unable to step up in the playoffs once again.

THREE KEY CELTICS

Rajon Rondo: It was almost a given this season that when the Celtics were on national television, their point guard was going to have a magnificent game. The Celtics-Hawks series will be nationally broadcast in its entirety, however, meaning Rondo will be counted on to carry quite a bit of the load — if not scoring, certainly distributing — while trying to move his team to the second round as injury-free as possible.

Kevin GarnettThe Celtics struggled early this season, but things seemed to undergo a huge change when head coach Doc Rivers decided to move Garnett to the center position. He might not be as good as he once was, but considering the Hawks have had dealt with massive center issues, he should have at least one more series in which he’s able to showcase his game-changing talent.

Paul Pierce: Way to go out on a limb and pick the three healthy Celtics starters as the three Boston players key to the first round, our lovely readers are probably saying upon seeing Pierce’s name in this slot. The longtime Celtic will certainly be important for Boston’s chances in the first round, however, as the Celtics could use some scoring until Ray Allen returns to full health.

OUTLOOK

This series probably isn’t the sexiest of the eight matchups in the first round of the postseason, but it should be one of the best. The veteran-laden Celtics are likely making one of their last runs in the postseason and, fortunately for them, they got better as the season rolled on. The Hawks are trying to get a monkey off of their back this year, too, considering they enter the playoffs with the memory of losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals the last three years. With both teams likely playing with a sense of urgency, it’ll be interesting to watch whether the Celtics are able to excel after starting the series on the road.

PREDICTION

These games could easily be very boring considering two of their three meetings during the regular season resulted in the winner scoring less than 90 points. Low-scoring basketball could also mean playoff-physical basketball, though, and both teams have two former D-League call-ups capable of delivering in those types of circumstances (say hello, Ivan Johnson and Greg Stiemsma). Hopefully it isn’t ugly basketball filled with missed perimeter jumpers, but it wouldn’t be so bad to see a sort of throwback game when the series starts on Sunday night.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, the veteran savvy of the Celtics should prove to be key.

Celtics in 6.

Latest Posts
  1. Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: Is this rock bottom for Oklahoma City?

    Jan 29, 2015, 1:29 AM EST

    Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook AP

    The Sixers, Knicks and Timberwolves win on the same day? Isn’t that one of the signs of the apocalypse?

  2. Hornets’ Kemba Walker has successful knee surgery, expected to miss a minimum of 6 weeks

    Jan 29, 2015, 12:01 AM EST

    New Orleans Pelicans v Charlotte Hornets Getty Images

    The good news is that Walker may return in as little as six weeks, which means Charlotte’s playoff chances should remain intact.

  3. George Gervin on Klay Thompson’s 37-point quarter: ‘I don’t feel he broke my record’

    Jan 28, 2015, 11:15 PM EST

    NBA All-Star Jam Session 2014 Getty Images

    The Hall of Famer held the previous record with 33 points in a period, but did so before the three-point line was implemented.

  4. NBA says Matt Barnes’ $25K fine had nothing to do with Suns owner Robert Sarver

    Jan 28, 2015, 8:50 PM EST

    Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns Getty Images

    Barnes immediately played the victim card after receiving the fine, but the NBA (and the video) say otherwise.

  5. Phil Jackson denies illegally deflating basketballs while playing for the Knicks

    Jan 28, 2015, 7:50 PM EST

    Phil Jackson, James Dolan, executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company AP

    “Softer but not illegal,” Jackson attempted to clarify.

  6. LeBron James out Wednesday vs. Blazers with wrist injury

    Jan 28, 2015, 7:00 PM EST

    Cleveland Cavaliers v Golden State Warriors Getty Images

    Cleveland is just 1-8 without LeBron in the lineup this season.

  7. Kobe Bryant expected to be ready for start of 2015-16 season after undergoing successful shoulder surgery

    Jan 28, 2015, 6:37 PM EST

    Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images

    Bryant will miss the remainder of the current season, and is expected to be sidelined for nine months.

  8. J.R. Smith says he’s playing better in Cleveland because there’s less partying

    Jan 28, 2015, 6:13 PM EST

    Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit Pistons Getty Images

    One may have to work a little harder to find the late night parties in Cleveland.

  9. Bucks sign Jorge Gutierrez to 10-day contract

    Jan 28, 2015, 5:30 PM EST

    Jason Kidd AP

    Larry Sanders’ suspension allows Milwaukee to add 16th player

  10. Tayshaun Prince: “Obviously I want to be in a winning situation”

    Jan 28, 2015, 4:45 PM EST

    Boston Celtics v Denver Nuggets Getty Images

    He is likely bought out if the Celtics can’t find a trade partner.

  11. Nets doctor expects Mirza Teletovic to make full recovery

    Jan 28, 2015, 1:55 PM EST

    Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets Getty Images

    Teletovic being released from hospital today

  12. Phil Jackson once admitted championship Knicks deflated balls

    Jan 28, 2015, 1:17 PM EST

    Jackson AP

    Jackson said breaking rule gave New York an edge due to team’s style of play

  13. Kevin Durant out against Knicks

    Jan 28, 2015, 12:42 PM EST

    Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks Getty Images

    Thunder remain heavy favorites

  14. Report: Terrence Ross riding bench in Toronto but will not be traded

    Jan 28, 2015, 12:05 PM EST

    Philadelphia 76ers V Toronto Raptors Getty Images

    The Raptors are trying to be patient and tap into his potential.

  15. Nikola Mirotic’s unique style rewarding Bulls for waiting on him

    Jan 28, 2015, 11:17 AM EST

    Chicago Bulls V San Antonio Spurs Getty Images

    Mirotic, drafted in 2011, is a darkhorse challenger to Andrew Wiggins for Rookie of the Year

Featured video

Who should be All-Star Game reserves?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. K. Bryant (7010)
  2. H. Whiteside (6791)
  3. R. Rubio (6662)
  4. C. Anthony (6607)
  5. K. Martin (6436)
  1. D. Howard (6419)
  2. N. Batum (6256)
  3. K. Walker (6048)
  4. T. Jones (5648)
  5. L. Aldridge (5359)