NBA Playoff Preview: (4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Boston Celtics

The league's shortest All-Star, 5'9" point guard Isaiah Thomas and his 22 points per game open the playoffs on the road in Atlanta.

The league’s shortest All-Star, 5’9″ point guard Isaiah Thomas and his 22 points per game open the playoffs on the road in Atlanta.

(4) ATL vs (5) BOS

Opening Game: Saturday, April 16 at 7 PM
Series Price: ATL -160; BOS +140
Game One Spread: ATL -5
Game One Total: 204.5

Betting odds c/o Bookmaker

The Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks both finished the season 48-34, but it will the Atlanta Hawks who will host the best-of-seven set to begin at 7 PM Eastern on Saturday. Atlanta is five-point favorites in game one and also -160 favorites to win the series, but writing off Brad Stevens’ Celtics squad may be a grave error.

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This series should feature a good strategy showdown between two top coaches with Stevens and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. The Hawks won 60 games a season ago, and it is a team still largely the same. But Stevens squeezes blood from oranges in getting his C’s team to rank No. 5 in the NBA in scoring largely without any superstars. Of course, the Hawks have understated stars of their own in Al Horford and Paul Millsap.

The talent in this series is disparate-by-position. The Celtics have the superior backcourt and the Hawks a better frontcourt, and it will be a battle of wills on both ends of the court. Boston’s backcourt is capable of playing suffocating defense with Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder all top-notch defenders.

The C’s acquired Thomas last season before the trade deadline, and he made his first All-Star team this year while averaging 22 points per game. He is a jetpack powered spark plug capable of having big scoring nights, and though 5’9” he averages 6.6 free throws a game (while knocking down 87 percent of them).

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The Celtics closed the regular season by losing two of its final three games, and one of those losses was a 118-107 loss to Atlanta. The Hawks won the regular season series 3-1, but the Celtics are a team carved for postseason success. Boston has depth beyond its top players, too. Evan Turner is a good playmaking point-forward off the bench and both Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger are good stretch 4/5s.

The Celtics get 1.2 threes per game from Olynyk at the 5-spot, and he is an intense player who even draws scrutiny for playing too dirty (e.g., his hard foul on Kevin Love last postseason). The Celtics are a team with a little edge to them.

The Hawks also closed the season with two consecutive losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards. Millsap led the Hawks in scoring this season with 17.1 points and nine rebounds per game, and the All-Star is a 6’8” power forward capable of playing inside or outside. He shot just 31.9 percent from three this year, but knocked down nearly one per game. Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver are the sharpshooters, with both shot 40 percent from behind the arc this season.

Al Horford will be a free agent this summer, but he will be making this final run with the Hawks. Much like Tim Duncan, Horford’s lack of excitement has failed to generate the deserved steam around his career. He posted 15.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season. Several teams have already been linked to Horford, but one would assume if the Hawks have a nice run he may stay in Hotlanta. The Hawks may seek to move Teague with one of the best backup point guards in the NBA behind him in Dennis Schroeder. Schroeder averaged 11 points and 4.4 assists per game this season. He could be ready to lead a team.

Several teams have already been linked to Horford, but one would assume if the Hawks have a nice run he may stay in Hotlanta. Th Hawks may seek to move Teague with one of the best backup point guards in the NBA behind him in Dennis Schroeder. Schroeder averaged 11 points and 4.4 assists per game this season. He could be ready to lead a team.

The Hawks also will have to resign swingman Kent Bazemore, who seems to have finally found a niche in Atlanta. Bazemore is a really long 6’5” 3-man who averaged 11.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game this season for the Hawks, and he could be a difference maker in this first round series. It is possible Crowder is shifted off of him to put more pressure on more volatile scorers, but Bazemore and Crowder are both top-notch defenders whose imprint on this series will not be insignificant.

Bottom Line: Celtics in 6

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Posted by on Apr 15 2016. Filed under Headlines, NBA. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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