The postseason has finally dawned over Beantown and excitement is in the air. With Derrick Rose having had an unfortunate injury in tearing his ACL it seems that the Celtics have catapulted ahead in the pecking order of the teams in the Eastern Conference. Boston’s window of opportunity is open now more than it ever has been this season and with the way that they are playing right now it isn’t inconceivable that they could make it to the NBA Finals.
Before that, the Celts must get to the second round of the playoffs. Their opponent is the Atlanta Hawks. Boston won the regular season series with the Hawks 2-1 and didn’t play their starters in the final game that was played between the two. Al Horford and ZaZa Pachulia will not be playing in this game; Horford won’t be back for the series barring any unexpected turn of events in his health. Pachulia, however, will be a game time decision but likely will not play.
Coach Larry Drew has not presented any projected starting line up as of yet, but I suspect that the third string center Jason Collins will be plugged into the starting role. Ivan Johnson and Josh Smith will likely see a lot of time at center depending on if Pachulia is available anytime soon. Those are potentially dangerous line ups for Boston to face.
It still has not been said if Ray Allen will play tonight or not. Coach Rivers made a statement earlier today saying that Allen was “50-50″ as far as his game time status goes. Avery Bradley will, of course, remain in the starting role for Boston, but look for Sasha Pavlovic to see some more playing time tonight if Allen can’t go. Ray says that he feels better than he’s felt in a while and wants to be on the floor, however, Doc will not play him if he thinks it will hamper the teams success.
What to Watch For
The Celtics defensive scheme will dictate the outcome of this game. There are multiple line ups that I think that Boston can struggle with. If Josh Smith or Ivan Johnson, in particular, see any extended time at center it would open up the floor spacing for Atlanta. Both guys are able to catch from about 15 feet out and drive with relative success. They are also very versatile as big men as far as their skills go. They can pass very well in the paint and that will cause trouble with any team defensively.
I don’t know if Garnett has the quickness to be able to stick with Smith when he attempts to drive the ball. They’ll need to bait Smith and Johnson into taking the 16-23 foot jumpers that they aren’t so good at hitting. Boston shouldn’t struggle anywhere else on the defensive end because Atlanta’s offense is very simple. There is a lot of post up and isolation play involved; the Celtics defensive scheme seems to feast on those type of offenses more often than not.
They’ll need to beware of Atlana’s bench scoring. They’ve got some depth in their second unit with Tracy McGrady, Jannero Pargo, and Kirk Hinrich. They’re able to score the ball and keep their offense moving efficiently with guys who play their roles well. Their front court will be a little short today because of the Pachulia injury, but I’m sure Larry Drew will be able to figure out a way to keep his bench consistent. Boston’s bench play is very erratic and inconsistent at times. This is why if Allen cannot play, it could possibly be a huge hit for the Celtics. Someone would need to step up and carry the scoring load for the second unit or the starters will need to be overloaded with minutes.
I wanted to go with Garnett’s match-up here, but I couldn’t because I don’t know who he’ll see most of his minutes against. Since that was the case, I chose Rajon Rondo vs Jeff Teague. Teague has been hot as of late and in his last quality outing vs Rondo he managed to rack up 20 points and 11 assists. While Teague isn’t one of the best guards in the game, he can pose a threat when playing the right way. Rondo must stay on his toes playing against Teague and control the flow of the game. I think that Boston would want to remain in a half court battle with the Hawks and that all starts above the arch. If Rondo can play slow on the offensive end, and keep Teague from penetrating then Boston will not struggle against this team.