Wow. What a freaking game against the Heat to end a very encouraging 48-win season. A tale of two halves and a good depiction of the season as a whole: at the green team’s best (2nd half), they can beat anyone (victories at Cleveland/Golden State), but any given night this arguably star-less bunch can lay an egg, like we saw in that pitiful first half. Unfortunately, even with the big season finale win, in a head scratching turn of events, thanks to a shocking Hawks loss against the folded Wizards, the C’s still end up on the road in Round 1 (#5 seed). They’ll match up with the aforementioned #4 seed Atlanta Hawks. Not a great outcome there, with Celtics fans collectively acknowledging our wish to host either Miami or Charlotte.
Below is the series schedule and projected starting 5 with per game averages for each squad.
Note: * means if needed
Game 1:Boston @ Atlanta Saturday April 16 7:00PM
Game 2: Boston @ Atlanta Tuesday April 19 7:00PM
Game 3: Atlanta @ Boston Friday April 22 8:00PM
Game 4: Atlanta @ Boston Sunday April 24, 6:00PM
Game 5*: Boston @ Atlanta Tuesday April 26 TBD
Game 6*: Atlanta @ Boston Thursday April 28 TBD
Game 7*: Boston @ Atlanta Saturday April 30 TBD
Boston Projected Starting 5
C: Jared Sullinger 10.3 PPG 8.3 RPG 2.3 APG
PF: Amir Johnson 7.3 PPG 6.4 RPG 1.7 APG
SF: Joe Crowder 14.2 PPG 5.1 RPG 1.8 APG
SG: Avery Bradley 15.2 PPG 2.9 RPG 2.1 APG
PG: Isaiah Thomas 22.2 PPG 3.0 RPG 6.2 APG
Atlanta Projected Starting 5:
C: Al Horford 15.2 PPG 7.3 RPG 3.2 APG
PF: Paul Millsap 17.1 PPG 9.0 RPG 3.3 APG
SF: Kent Bazemore 11.6 PPG 5.1 RPG 2.3 APG
SG: Kyle Korver 9.2 PPG 3.3 RPG 2.1 APG
PG: Jeff Teague 15.7 PPG 2.7 RPG 5.9 APG
The Hawks are an extremely well coached, well-balanced bunch, and are a year removed from a 60 win season with the same core intact. If our Celtics desire to continue playing meaningful basketball into May, they’re going to need to bring it for 48 minutes every game of this series. Both teams and their respective fan bases genuinely expect to win. It just doesn’t get any better than that. Let’s take it around the table and break this matchup down…
Who is your X-Factor for the Hawks?
Niko: My first thought was to go with sharpshooter Kyle Korver here, because if he gets hot for an extended period of time, for lack of a better term, we’re screwed. But I’m opting to go with backup point guard Dennis Schroeder instead. He played great in the matchup last weekend (15 points, 7 assists), and all things second unit ran through him for the Hawks. It is imperative the Celtics’ bench outperforms Atlanta’s over the course of this series, and if Schroeder can string together performances like that one, it will put a lot of stress on the green team’s starting five to keep par with the stronger Atlanta top unit.
Pete: For the Hawks to win this series, I am going to agree with everyone and say that Atlanta's bench has to play above and beyond. There is no question that the Hawks' starting lineup is just as good, if not better, than the Celtics' starting five, but the real matchup will be in the second quarter when the starters come out. Will Brad Stevens shorten up his bench or continue to play a very deep 2-unit rotation?
Jordan: For Atlanta, their x-factor has to be their bench. Their starting lineup can keep up with the speed the Celtics like to play with, and can even dominate down-low with Horford and Millsap. But the thing that separates the Celtics from man teams in the NBA is their very deep bench. In fact, their bench guys (Olynyk, Smart, Turner) played a huge role in the comeback win against the Heat on Wednesday. For the Hawks to win the series, Dennis Schroeder and Mike Scott have to step up and really become key players in the series.
Who is your X-Factor for the Celtics?
Niko: Evan Turner for the exact same reason Schroeder was my X-Factor for the Hawks. ET sets the tone for the bench unit, even getting some 6th man of the year award consideration after putting together a really solid year. When Isaiah is not in the game, Turner plays the role of facilitator and the offense runs through him. His impact is not limited to one side of the floor however, with his defense being solid all season long as well. ET needs a big series for the Celtics to move on.
Pete: While I agree with Niko in that Evan Turner is going to have to have a good, if not great, series, I think that Marcus Smart can really change the storyline for this season. If he can come off the bench and provide tenacious defense while also shooting at a relatively decent rate, the Celtics could pull off the upset. Additionally, this could be Smart's "coming out party," as, up until this point, he has not lived up to his full potential as an NBA player.
Jordan: The x-factor for our Celtics is their post defense. Last time these teams met, Paul Millsap and Al Horford had their way with Sully, Johnson, Olynyk, and Zeller. The Celtics have really struggled this season while facing above-average bigs, making this series very important for their front court. For the Celts to win the series, they have to keep Horford and Millsap from combining to average 50 PPG.
What’s your key matchup in this series?
Niko: On the court? Whoever the hell the Celtics try to check Paul Millsap with. Millsap dropped 31 points, not to mention collected 16 boards and 5 (!!!) blocks in last weekend’s matchup between these squads. He’s a matchup nightmare: too strong for Crowder/Jerebko, and too fluid/mobile for Amir/Olynyk. He can score from the block all the way out to three, and, in my opinion, is one of the more underappreciated/rated players in the entire league. But this plays into a bigger picture, the real matchup to watch, head coaches Brad Stevens and Mike Budenholzer, in my opinion two of the top four coaches in pro basketball (Pop, Carlisle round out my list). This is going to be an absolute chess match between two sicko film junkies, and a wrinkle or two from either could really change the scope of this series. If you’re name isn’t Greg Popovich, I’ll take my guy Stevens. Get your popcorn ready.
Pete: Interior defense, interior defense, interior defense. With Paul Millsap (Shoutout to Niko, again) and Al Horford down low, the Celtics are going to have their hands full. I don't know about you (but I'm feeling 22), but I don't feel very confident that Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger, and Kelly Olynyk are going to be able to hold them down for an entire series. The Celtics, in my opinion, may try out some different defensive schemes (zone?) and try to catch Atlanta off guard.
Jordan: My key matchup is Avery Bradley vs. Thabo Sefalosha. Two of the best defensive players in the league. Sefalosha is more defensive-minded than offensive and that could cause some serious issues for one of our top scorers, Avery Bradley. Bradley has shown glimpses of not folding when facing better defensive guards, but in the playoffs, all you did in the regular season goes away and it's time to step up. If you like defense, you will certainly enjoy watching this series, specifically this matchup.
Niko: At the risk of being biased (uh, ya) and a huge homer (*pleading the 5th*), I’m going to go with the Celtics here. Like mentioned above, Atlanta is the toughest draw of the potential first round matchups going into the season finale and it shouldn’t be easy or pretty, but I’m not going to waver from my “win a round, make round 2 interesting” stance from just last month. The C’s have the (albeit slight?) coaching advantage, and the better bench. Expect the Boston depth to be a huge factor over the course of this assumed long and tough series, with some clutch performances from Evan Turner and Marcus Smart off the pine. C’s in 7. In Brad We Trust. Let’s go.
Pete: I hate to do it, but I am picking the Hawks. The Celtics just don't match up well with Atlanta, and they don't have home court. Atlanta does have the tendency to crap their pants in the playoffs, and I am definitely not ruling that out for this series (look at their suckfest against Cleveland last year). I don't think I have ever picked a non-Boston team in these roundtables (I had the Pats going 16-0 last year), so this pains me a lot.
Jordan: I think it all comes down to how the first two games of the series go. In the playoff atmosphere that the Atlanta crowd brought last matchup, the Celtics folded and wound up losing to the Hawks. The C's don't have home-court advantage so it is a must that they get at least one in Atlanta to gain home-court. Assuming that happens, I pick the Celtics to win it in 6 games following a HUGE series from Turner and Olynyk (while Jerebko's energy could cause fits for the Hawks). Fingers crossed for a great series for the Boston Celtics. Go C's! Go Green or Go Home!