In a repeat of the 2008 series that saw the Hawks take the eventual National Champion Celtics to seven games, an aging but strong Boston team meets a banged up Hawks team in what will surely be a thrilling series. Let’s preview the series by comparing different factors of the teams involved.
It would seem that Keyon Dooling gets squeezed out of minutes with teams tighting up the number of players in the rotation. The last three years, Rajon Rondo has averaged about 40 minutes in the postseason. Avery Bradley would pick up the remaining minutes at the point, while starting at shooting guard with Ray Allen coming off the bench, assuming Doc Rivers retains the rotation he’s had down the stretch of this season. The key for the Hawks will be stopping Rondo’s penetration as he had 33 combined assists in the two games he played against the Hawks. In the third game against the Hawks, Avery Bradley, usually known as a lockdown defender, had a career night, going 12-22 for 28 points. Kirk Hinrich will have his hands full chasing the ageless Ray Allen around back screens.
Jeff Teague has built upon his breakout play in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, and in my opinion is a serious candidate for Most Improved Player. Kirk Hinrich has had a rough season coming back from hamstring and shoulder injuries as his .412 FG% would suggest. He eventually slotted into the starting shooting guard role, pushing Joe Johnson to the 3. Many around the country and world saw Teague’s performance in the playoffs last year against the league MVP Derrick Rose and there’s no reason to think he can’t replicate that, even across from one of the league’s best in Rondo. Jannero Pargo and Willie Green are big question marks as to what amount of minutes they receive and their ability to find their shot against a stout Celtics defense.
Paul Pierce is slowly winding down his career in the green uniform, recently passing Larry Bird for second all-time on the Celtics leading scorers list. Most NBA fans have seen his gamut of offensive tricks over the years, having the ability to pull up and drain shots with a hand in his face as well as an apt to draw shooting fouls. He has played about 38 minutes per game in his playoff career and put in 20 points per game in that span. Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams will most likely draw the defensive matchup. Brandon Bass is an Al Horford-type of player that does the dirty work in the paint in addition to having the ability to consistently hit a midrange jumper. Mickael Pietrus had been banged up this season but is a long, talented defender and scorer. Sasha Pavlovic and Marquis Daniels may get minutes but their contributions would be marginal, merely as defensive presences to match up with Joe Johnson.
Since Joe Johnson’s move to the small forward starting on March 11, he’s scored 20.6 PPG on 49% shooting. Joe is a consummate pro and will be depended on for clutch shots in late game situations. Hawks fans have seen him deliver so many times but the playoffs are a different beast. His frontcourt-mate, Josh Smith has thrived on opposing defensives all season long in many facets. We know his contributions in rebounding, assisting and defending, but the key will be for him to improve on his poor shooting numbers from the 2011 postseason when he shot a poor .404 FG%. He may be wooed by Boston’s tough aggressive defense to shoot mid-range jumpers, however he is a 35% shooter from 16-23 feet this season, according to Hoopdata.com. He has to commit to beating Garnett or Bass from the low block and in transition, where he’s been a force all season long. Marvin Williams is the wildcard, being the owner of a 29 point game on 10-14 shooting, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks in 39 minute against the Knicks Sunday on a national stage. His postseason disappointments are well-documented but this could be the year he breaks out in a big way. Similarly, Tracy McGrady has had but a hand full of great games during the season, however his background in the postseason is strong, being one of the best postseason scorers since 2000. Of course, his knees have limited his effectiveness in recent years but he can still be counted on to set up teammates by driving and kicking to spot up shooters. Vladimir Radmanovic will, in all likelihood, see very little to no floor time, unless a late three pointer is needed.
Kevin Garnett was shifted to center due to the injury to Jermaine O’Neal but is still the fantastic pro he’s always been, even though he prefers to hoist long jumpers these days as opposed to bang in the paint. The defensive leader at all times on the floor, he can get under the skin of an opponent with his antics. Backup Greg Stiemsma comes in at 6’11” and has a similar story to Ivan Johnson. He was undrafted in 2008 out of Wisconsin and his journey took him from Turkey to South Korea and then to the NBA D-League before making the Celtics team out of camp this season. He is raw offensively but is a serious shot blocker, registering 4 blocks per 36 minutes this season. The Hawks certainly have to take the ball to the hoop with authority lest they get swatted by the big Celtic. If either of the two above runs into foul trouble, Ryan Hollins can step in and be a capable post defender.
Ivan Johnson will probably come off the bench, but with injuries to Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, has proven himself as the best healthy center option. Though undersized at 6’8”, he is active around the basket, cleaning up misses and has steadily improved on the defensive end. Jason Collins had big impact on the floor, though not on the box score, against Dwight Howard in the first round last year, allowing the Hawks to play him straight up on defense. However, less attention is needed for one Kevin Garnett with a lot of miles on his body. He may get the start, but will probably see no more than 10 minutes on the floor. Erick Dampier will most likely be a non-factor, unless fouls become an issue. Though Al has been ruled out for the first round, Zaza is still a possibility, and it would be a huge benefit to the team as an offensive rebounder and a player that gets to the free throw line frequently.
Advantage: Celtics if no Zaza, otherwise push
Doc Rivers has won a championship and two Eastern Conferences. He drills the message of a cohesive defensive unit to his team game in and game out, no matter who is on the floor. Larry Drew has instilled a working motion offense and a strong aggressive defensive plan in his two years as the head coach.
Having the first two games and possibly the last will be a huge benefit to the Hawks in what will be a slugfest of a series.
I expect Joe and Josh to take over as the two best players on the floor, leading the Hawks to a thrilling game seven win in Atlanta with the nation watching.
Hawks in 7
What do you think? Leave some comments. Thanks for reading.