NBA Playoffs – Why Boston Celtics Should Want the King


The Boston Celtics should want to face Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of this year’s NBA postseason. The Atlanta Hawks have locked up home court advantage as the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, but many believe they are the second best team behind the rejuvenated and talented Cleveland Cavaliers.

Arguments about who is the better team, while interesting, is not relevant in regards to figuring out Boston’s ideal first round matchup. Instead, you must look deeper, into the dynamics of what makes either team great.

Mostly all NBA enthusiasts think that Cleveland is a better team than Atlanta at this exact moment. NBA title odds from Las Vegas Insider even have Cleveland at 9/5 to win the entire thing, with Atlanta sitting down in the second tier of contenders at 15/1. This same Hawks team that is second only to Golden State in win percentage this season, and has a commanding home court advantage heading into the postseason.

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Of course, the logic here is that the Cavaliers are just now starting to form an identity after the Mozgov trade, and still have the best player in the world currently on the roster. Preseason favorites, hit a small slump, rediscover form… It is all shaping up rather nicely for a storybook LBJ run to the finals a la 2012. The blueprint is almost exactly the same, and everyone can see it coming.

The Atlanta Hawks are a very different story. One of this season’s feel good teams that have surprised everyone in their massive successes. They utilize spacing, shoot the ball well, and have a very likable superstar in Kyle Korver who is closing in on 50/40/90 this season.

Led by an intelligent coach who implements a motion offensive system very similar to the one Boston shows at times, and one that is crafted to resemble that of a certain team out west who has had recent success. By recent, I obviously am referring to the last decade and a half.

However, as of late the Hawks have run into a lot of trouble. Teams have started to exploit deficiencies on the glass (28th in the NBA in rebounding) by sending additional players to the rim. Atlanta, as a result, has been out rebounded by a tune of nearly 3 rebounds a game.

They also hold the league’s lowest offensive rebounding percentage at .214. This leads to fewer possessions, and has cost them in recent losses to Charlotte and Detroit. The wrong interior matchup in the postseason could potentially spell the end for this year’s darlings.

Apr 10, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroder (17) reacts after colliding with Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor (44) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Hornets 104-80. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Hawks are also running into a bit of off the court drama, with the Thabo Sefalosha incident this past week covered in detail here. All of these things are happening right when they should not be, which makes the Hawks a potential upset candidate in round one.

Despite all of these facts, Celtics fans should WANT to play the Cavaliers as opposed to the Hawks.

The NBA is a league that is won or lost based on match-ups. The Atlanta Hawks are a much more difficult match-up than the Cleveland Cavaliers for more than a few reasons.

The Boston Celtics have a better chance of beating the Cleveland Cavaliers than they do the Atlanta Hawks.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Transition Defense

The Cleveland Cavaliers do not have a good transition defense. As good as the Cavaliers are at getting out and running, they are only 23rd in the league in transition defense. This can be a deciding factor in a playoff series that features teams that like to get up and down the floor.

While a lot of late game scenarios do not involve fast break offense, this glaring weakness in the game can let mid quarter leads evaporate, and also allow Boston to get out and run, which plays directly into the hands of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, who take a lot of transition jump shots.

The key to pulling off an NBA upset is for the underdog to hang around and keep every game close. You need to be able to steal a game or two in the series to really put the pressure on the favorite. Transition defense is an often overlooked part of a postseason series, and the Celtics can exploit this weakness in Cleveland’s game to go on serious runs that may damage the morale of a vastly inexperienced team. Once the Celtics go on a lengthy, crowd inducing spurt, can the King and co. answer?

Overall transition defense is about commitment, hard work, and a willingness to defend. Does this year’s Cavalier team have that? Even posing that question this close to the postseason should have Celtic fans salivating.

2. The Coaching Battle 

While neither of the head coaches have ever coached in an NBA playoff series before, the advantage here lies with Brad Stevens.

The Celtics have used 44 different players this season, and sit in the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have used 44 different players this season, and sit in the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference.


Apr 12, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens watches from the sideline as they take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half at TD Garden. The Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-78. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

David Blatt is still figuring out his team, even this late in the season. Using the lineup that includes spacing, Mozgov, and LBJ has found his team the most success lately, and expect him to use it for long stretches of this potential series.

Many people this season have been quick to point out Blatt’s passive approach to his huddles, letting Lebron speak his mind. While I tend not to overreact to this, some view it as a lack of command over his team. That issue is never a question with Brad Stevens, and since his days at Butler has always been a great “Player’s Coach”.

Along the same lines, Stevens is among the best in the Association at in game adjustments. He will be able to recognize and neutralize Cleveland’s offensive sets, causing many of them to end in isolation moves. This is where the exceptional perimeter defending of Boston comes into play.

This one is pretty unanimously agreed upon. The Celtics major edge in this series will be coaching.

3. Youth and Inexperience favors the Underdog

This is the single biggest reason why the Celtics should want the Cavaliers when Playoff seeding is finalized. This team is completely void of postseason experience apart from Lebron James, and has struggled with the issue of chemistry since the beginning of the season. Kevin Love has, most notably, found himself on the outside looking in.

When the going gets rough, is this team going to stick together and show a real championship swagger? We know Lebron is more than capable of carrying a team in the postseason, but can the Celtics defense shut him down the way Kawhi and the Spurs did last season? The model is in place, and the Celtics certainly have the size and athleticism on the defensive perimeter.

The Celtics share that same inexperience, but can use that to their advantage. They can play with a never say die attitude, and go all out knowing they have nothing to lose. Those who watched this year’s Celtics team know that when the momentum gets going there are few teams better in the league than Boston’s young and exciting core. This could prove to be a pivotal test for Cleveland if they really are trying to contend for a title.

All of these things boil down to one lasting theme. The Atlanta Hawks do not have the superstars that Cleveland does, and that is understood by all. However, the motion style the Hawks play, coupled with how they defend, rebound, and share the ball, could lead to a disastrous series for the Boston Celtics. They are well coached, and sound in all facets of the game. The Hawks are a MUCH worse match-up for the Celtics than Cleveland is.

Boston is one of the better defensive teams in the NBA, and if they can shut down, or even minimize the impact stars like Lebron, Kyrie, and Love have on the game, does Cleveland have enough to keep up? This series is a much scarier thought for Celtics fans than a matchup with Atlanta seems, but in reality it is exactly what this team needs to make the next step.

The Boston Garden hasn’t seen playoff basketball in too long, and you can bet it will be rocking when the King comes back to town.

The Celtics are ready. Brad Stevens is ready. The fans are ready.

We Want the King

Apr 12, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) sits on the sideline as the Cavaliers take on the Boston Celtics in the second quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

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