The best part of the NBA playoffs are the storylines, and sometimes they can come out of nowhere.
“I love it,” Atlanta Hawks star Dejounte Murray said, per Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. “Obviously Boston’s at the top because they went to the Finals last year. But last year is last year. …Me personally, I want the best. That’s how I was raised, to want to play the best. Boston is one of the best and it’s going to be a great series and we’re going to go out there and try to win.”
Murray is asking for a dangerous prize.
Not only were the Celtics in the NBA Finals last year, falling in six games versus the Golden State Warriors. But they also pulled off a clean sweep of the Hawks in the regular season winning all three head-to-head matchups.
Murray averaged 16.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.0 steals in both of his appearances against the Celtics this season.
All of those numbers were below his regular season averages.
The regular season ended on an uptick for Murray as he saw his scoring and assists numbers bounce back nicely – 20.4 PPG and 6.3 assists, over the last eight games. If there is one concern, it’s his three-ball which has not fallen consistently since February as he’s shot just 24.6% from beyond the arc in March and April combined.
But he is never one to back down from a challenge. One that few national pundits thought the Hawks would get the opportunity to face, a point Murray and teammate Trae Young were not afraid to remind them of.
“Jokes on you MFS,” tweeted Murray, tagging ESPN for their sweeping incorrectness.
Trae Young makes bold claim about Atlanta Hawks bench
“Definitely, for sure,” Young told Kevin Chouinard of NBA.com about this being the most athletic Hawks team he’s played on. “We have a lot of athletic guys. We’re a lot younger than we’ve been these last couple years. We definitely have a lot of young athletic guys. [Jalen Johnson]’s been playing really well for us and rebounding. Saddiq [Bey] has been coming in and doing the same thing and knocking down shots. They have been really good on the glass. Our athleticism has been showing in that way for sure.”
The Hawks bench, ranked 13th on the season in scoring, ranks second in the NBA since the All-Star break.
But rotations shorten up in the postseason as teams lean on their starters.
Atlanta’s starting five ranks in the 86th percentile, per Cleaning The Glass, while Boston’s checks in at minus-16.2, ranking in the second percentile. The Celts’ rating is a bit tricky because big man Robert Williams has been injured for much of the year.
Of course, their most frequently used lineup, featuring Derrick White instead of Williams, has a 12.2 net rating and ranks in the 98th percentile.
The Hawks will certainly have their hands full for however many games this series lasts.