Seems like only yesterday this 66-game compressed scheduled had kicked off. Flash forward a few months and the fourth seeded Celtics find themselves in Atlanta facing the fifth seeded Hawks in an epic rematch of their 2008 opening round series. A series that took the Celtics to the brink.
Head coach Doc Rivers, who played for the Hawks from 1983-1991, recognizes the potential threat the Hawks present with their athletic ability and potential matchup issues.
“They move Josh to [center] and go Marvin [Williams at power forward] and Tracy [McGrady at small forward] and Joe at [shooting guard]. That’s a tough lineup and they do it against us more than any other team for a reason, obviously, because it creates matchup [problems] for us and we’re going to have to deal with that.’’
Atlanta ranks ninth in the NBA at forcing turnovers and is in no way an easy opponent for the Celtics as they limp into the first round.
“Well, we can’t turn the ball over,’’ Rivers said. “They are great in transition. That’s who they’ve been. We have to guard the ball. They spread the floor and just try to take you off the dribble. That’s one of our weaknesses. Their bench, I think, may be the key to the series. When their bench plays well, they don’t lose. It’s a tough lineup for us.”
The Hawks have won three consecutive opening round series, but have never won more than one playoff series in a year. Hard to believe considering some of the great players and teams the Hawks have had over the years.
Former Celtic and current Hawk superstar Joe Joe Johnson summed up the Atlanta atmosphere the best he could.
“I know it’s going to be loud,” Johnson said. “I just hope it’s going to be in our favor.”
Kevin Garnett echoed the sentiments bestowed upon the Hawks from those in the know. “This Atlanta team is a very exciting team, athletic, better since we’ve seen them, a more mature team,’’ Garnett said. “Josh Smith has played some of his best basketball. Joe Johnson is classic Joe Johnson and they’re coming together as a team. They have a lot of confidence in themselves.
“They feel good about themselves and that’s a thing we have to reckon with.’’
There are many connections between the Celtics and the Hawks:
Josh Smith and Rajon Rondo both attended Oak Hill Academy.
Doc Rivers played for Atlanta from 1983-91. Rivers also holds the Hawks record for most assists in a career as a Hawk (3,866).
Celtics Assistant Coach Armond Hill played for the Hawks from 1976-80 and also during the 1983-84 season.
Joe Johnson was originally drafted by the Celtics with the 10th pick in the 2001 draft.
Hawks Assistant Coach Lester Conner was an Assistant Coach with the Celtics from 1998-2004.
Paul Pierce and Kirk Hinrich both attended Kansas.
Tracy McGrady played for Doc Rivers in Orlando from 2000-04.
Jannero Pargo and Brandon Bass were teammates in New Orleans during the 2006-07 season.
Erick Dampier and Brandon Bass were teammates in Dallas from the 2007-09.
All-Time Series Stats
All-Time Record vs. Atlanta: 218-131 (.625)
Current Streak: Two Celtics Wins
Largest Celtics Win: 32 points, 138-106 (1/6/65)
All-Time Home Record: 116-37 (.758)
Largest Hawks Win: 32 points, 117/85 (2/28/78)
All-Time Road Record: 102-94 (.520)
Single Game Celtic High Scorer: Larry Bird – 60 pts (3/12/85)
Single Game Hawks High Scorer: Dominique Wilkins – 54 pts (2/3/87)
Current Streak at Home: Two Celtics Wins
Longest Celtic Win Streak: 10 games (3/23/83 – 1/12/85) *since 1960-61
Current Streak on Road: One Celtics Win
Longest Hawks Win Streak: 10 games (12/3/96 – 1/27/99) *since 1960-61
Record against Atlanta since 2006-07: 12-8