When Avery Bradley's hamstring injury knocked him out of the Boston Celtics' Game 1 defeat against the Atlanta Hawks, it was a crushing blow for the team. But make no mistake—the Celtics are still in good position to win this series.
In order for them to do so, they'll need to win Game 2.
Fortunately for the C's, one of their greatest strengths is guard depth. Rookie Terry Rozier has some of that "3-and-D" ability that we saw from Bradley, while Marcus Smart is about as good of a defender as any guard in the league.
For Smart, staying out of foul trouble is the top priority.
One of the top concerns about the NBA playoffs is the officiating, because it goes both ways. Some officials tend to "swallow the whistle" and let the teams play a bit more physically (which is the right way), while others feel the need to halt play every five seconds with another ticky-tack call.
If Tuesday's officials choose the latter, it could spell trouble for Smart, and could force coach Brad Stevens to play Rozier longer than hoped.
But as crucial as the guard play is, Jared Sullinger has the unique ability to make or break Boston's chances.
Offensively, Sullinger can't afford another dismal performance. His deplorable 4-for-14 shooting night in Game 1 crippled Boston's offense, placing undue pressure on (who else?) Isaiah Thomas to provide additional offensive explosion.
Defensively, he can single-handedly take over the game if he keeps Al Horford and Paul Millsap at bay. The duo combined for seven offensive rebounds, more than half of the Hawks' team total of 13.
The bottom line is this: if Sullinger can impose himself on both ends of the floor, he'll severely cripple the effectiveness of the Hawks' big men, and in turn cripple the Hawks overall.
As weird as it sounds, replacing Bradley is not Boston's biggest worry. Having a strong front court presence was their biggest objective entering the series, and Bradley's injury does nothing to change that.
Regardless of the pressure on Sullinger to produce (especially if Olynyk is limited), I see this Celtics squad rising to the occasion. People quickly forget the tenacity, heart, and talent of the 2015-16 Celtics, and the fact that Stevens is perhaps the NBA's best coach not named Gregg Popovich.
Boston will have their chances to rip the game wide open. All they have to do is capitalize.
Final Score Prediction: Celtics 97, Hawks 91
By William Brabrook (@WillBrabrook)