Well playoff time is here. (Cue NHL fans chiming in that they’ve been on for awhile). Correction the NBA playoffs are here. Yesterday the Bulls rolled over the 76ers, and then lost Derrick Rose. The Heat made the Knicks look like a high school roster, the Magic somehow beat the Pacers and the Thunder got some very Dirky things from Kevin Durant to douse the Mavs.
No it’s on to Day Two. The Day I care about. (No offense other teams). The Boston Celtics will open up their last drive for a title tonight against the Atlanta Hawks. Other than Orlando, Atlanta was the team I wanted the Celtics to face more than any other. Yes they have some talent and some good players but come on. The Celtics lost on the road to them last week by just five points when Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett and Pietrus were on the bench. In other words the Celtics still almost beat them when guys like Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic were playing a ton of minutes. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the Hawks threat level.
Still it is the playoffs and the Hawks did finish the year 40-26 and earned the fifth seed so although I think the Celtics should have an easy time in this series I still have some concerns.
First and foremost is that the Celtics will be playing this series as the road team, despite having the higher seed. I don’t really
understand how the NBA goes about seeding and explaining this. Wouldn’t it make sense for the teams with the best four records to have the top four seeds no matter who won the Divisions or just give the division winners the top three seeds (like in hockey) regardless of records. The confusing scenarios that are created with how it is currently set up seem odd. Anyway the Celtics are the away team and that doesn’t sit well with me. The Celtics went just 15-18 on the road this season. And don’t think that the Hawks don’t defend their home court well at 23-10 in Hotlanta this season.
Number two is the health of this team. Everyone’s been resting over the last few weeks but there are still concerns. Especially in the ankle of one Ray Allen. If Allen can’t come back a team that has already struggled all season scoring (91.8 ppg, 26th in the NBA) losing Allen’s scoring, especially in the clutch could be very detrimental. The ascension of Avery Bradley has made this a bit less of a worry but if the Celtics are seriously going to contend for more than a first round series win they need Jesus Shuttlesworth.
Finally is the age concern. These teams are wildly different in that regard. The Hawks players grew up on 2Pac and Biggie while the Celtics more likely were popping RUN DMC and NWA albums. The Celtics age is something Doc Rivers tried to counteract by completely tanking the rest of the season to give Garnett and Co. rest which I firmly agreed with. Now it will have to be seen if there is enough in the tank for the Celtics to down a Hawks team whose idea of a veteran presence is Tracy McGrady and Kirk Hinrich.
But then there are the positives. The Celtics three most important players are playing extremely well entering the playoffs. Kevin Garnett has reinvented himself into a very good center that spreads the floor with his ability to hit mid-range shots and has also taken on an increased scoring load while still playing tight defense and rebounding well. Paul Pierce is playing some of the best all-around basketball of his career, scoring at will, defending opposing teams best scorers while still passing and rebounding at a high rate. Then there’s Rajon Rondo who has been the best pass-first point guard in basketball this season dropping double-digit dimes every single game for a ridiculous amount of games in a row to become the first Celtic since Bob Cousy to lead the NBA in assists per game. Being in the same company as the xix-time NBA champion Couze is pretty special.
Celtics in Six. Boston has just been playing at another level for the past few months and even if Allen can’t go right away the C’s are just too well coached and talented to fall to a disjointed Hawks team. Expect ATL to take on of the first two games but drop both in Boston and then after defending their home court in Game Five getting knocked out in Game Six in the 617.
PS. My picks for the first round in general (Yeah I know a little cheating because it already started). Bulls in Five. Heat in Five. Pacers in Seven. Spurs in Five. Thunder in Seven. Lakers in Six. Memphis in Six.
How confident should the Celtics be? How will this series be decided. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.