Sunday, April 29, 2012
Celtics-Hawks Begins Tomorrow Night In Atlanta
The 2012 NBA playoffs started this afternoon and already, we have what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest storylines of the postseason: Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose tore his ACL so he's done for the spring. That has a direct effect on this series too since the winner of Celtics-Hawks will most likely get the Bulls (who are up 1-0 on the Sixers) in the next round. Suddenly, a team that looked like the class of the Eastern Conference takes a huge step back without the 2010-11 NBA MVP.
Lest Celtics fans start to overlook the Hawks (who have home-court advantage), we only have to look back to four years ago when Atlanta went seven games with Boston in the first round. The C's won that bout and eventually became NBA champions that June but the Hawks are still a tough matchup.
I normally wouldn't reference that long ago but Atlanta's squad is mostly the same; ex-Celtic Joe Johnson is one of the NBA's best shooters and Josh Smith is the ultimate up and down player in the league. The good news for Boston is that Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia are both out for the series which gives the Celtics a big advantage inside (somewhere they don't normally dominate by any means).
The only injury concern for the Celts is Ray Allen's mysterious ankle injury. It scares me because it has seemingly become Kevin Garnett from 2009 or Shaq last season. The team downplays it and makes it seem like Ray could return at any time but until I see him on the court in a game, I won't believe it.
Look for a huge series from Rajon Rondo, there's no chance that Jeff Teague can shut him down for more than a game or two. Likewise, KG should play well against Smith and I expect Paul Pierce to win his matchup with Johnson since he's a better all-around player. The NBA playoffs usually come down to star power and nobody could debate that Boston can trump Atlanta in that category. Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass also give the C's some young energy that will want to prove themselves on the big stage.
Neither team's bench is good by any means but Boston's has started to make much more of an impact late in the regular season (probably because they got big minutes then). Tell me who you would rather have as your top reserves: Greg Stiemsma, Mickael Pietrus and Allen/Marquis Daniels/Sasha Pavlovic or Marvin Williams, Tracy McGrady and Ivan Johnson?
Game 2 is Tuesday (7:30 p.m., CSNE) in Atlanta before the series heads to Boston for Game 3 on Friday (7:30 p.m., CSNE) and Game 4 on Sunday (7:00 p.m., CSNE) at TD Garden.
With the Bruins getting bounced out of the playoffs last week sooner than any of us expected, the Celtics will get much more attention from Boston sports fans and media. This is a team that really played very well in the second half of the regular season and morphed into a darkhorse title contender. Plus, I know I said it last spring but this has to be the last run with the Big 4. Therefore, I don't expect them to go out quietly because they are full of pride and they are winners.