#6 Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks aren’t approaching the regular season success they had a year ago but they still present the biggest challenge out of the 6 teams that are most likely to be playing the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks have not been piling up the wins like last year but they continue to be great on both ends of the court.
One of the scariest things about the Hawks is that they will embrace the Celtics’ pace. The Celtics are the third fastest team in the league and they often exploit their opponents with their pace. They certainly will not be the case with the Hawks. The Hawks are only the 11th fastest team in the league but their ability to finish is much better than the Celtics. The Hawks are a top 10 shooting team and giving them all those extra opportunities through pace could be detrimental.
The Celtics will also struggle to get an advanatge with turnovers. While the Hawks are one of the 10 most turnover prone teams in the legaue, they play with good enough ball movement that they have the potential to manouver around the Celtics’ defense. The hawks are second in the league in assists per game and the Celtics’ ability to disrupt that offense and generate the turnovers may be the most important portion of this matchup. The Celtics have proven that they will not back down from any team but the Hawks are surely the biggest challenge to that defense of these 6 teams.
The Hawks would also be very challenging for the Celtics’ offense. The Celtics have great ball movement but the Hawks are 3rd in the league in steals and if the Celtics cannot move the ball properly then they will have no hope against one of the best defensive teams in the league. The paint may not be a great option either. The Hawks are also one of the best teams in the league blocking shots with 5.7 per game. The Hawks have incredible balance and it is tough to find a clear edge on either end of the court.
The good aspect of this matchup is that the Hawks are unlikely to take the Celtics out of their game. The Celtics will have an opportunity to play with the fast pace that has given them so much success this season and those 14.7 turnovers per game by the Hawks could loom large against a Celtics team averaging the second most steals per game in the league. These two teams may face off in the first round, but it could also be one of the best potential match ups in the entire eastern conference playoffs.