If the Boston Celtics are going to use their veteran experience to make another (and perhaps one last) run at an NBA title, they may have to do so without Ray Allen. The Hall of Fame-bound sharp-shooter has been dealing with an ankle injury for quite a while now and according to head coach Doc Rivers, has a 60% chance of playing in tomorrow night’s Game 1 match-up versus the Atlanta Hawks.
On the other side, Hawks coach Larry Drew said Al Horford is definitely out of the lineup tomorrow night, and his replacement, Zaza Pachulia may be as well. That could result in rebound extraordinaire Josh Smith (who averaged a team-leading 9.6 per game this past regular season) playing the center position. Going against Kevin Garnett, this could be one exciting but physical matchup to watch out for.
The Hawks took the C’s to a thrilling Game 7 in 2007-2008 before losing to the eventual champions. And now, with home-court advantage on their side, they should be more confident than ever in making noise in the playoffs.
The Celtics, meanwhile, were one of the best teams in the NBA in the second half, and despite a flood of injuries to key starters and role players (Allen, Jeff Green, Jermaine O’Neal, Mickael Pietrus, Rajon Rondo, etc.), they are coming into the playoffs riding on positive momentum more than anything.
Key to the Hawks for winning this series is their athletic style of play, rebounding, and scoring from the likes of Joe Johnson, Smith, and role players like Marvin Williams. Key for the Celtics, especially if Allen remains out or just plain ineffective for the series, is always going to be team defense first, and for Rajon Rondo to control the game and dish out his usual double-digit number of assists.
Both teams are terrible at rebounding, and both are pretty much even as far as three-point threats are concerned. But Boston has the edge in experienced players who can create their own shots like KG and Paul Pierce can and often do. But Johnson, an ex-Celtic, and some of Atlanta’s other young shooters can neutralize that aspect with their own outside shot if they get hot and the Celtics (and their so-so offensive output at under 92 points per game in 2011-2012) run cold.
The way I see it, with the Celtics bench players coming within five points of beating the Atlanta Hawks starters last week in a game that meant more to the latter team than the former, I just don’t see them faring well against Boston now that the starters and other key players have been rested up for the postseason. I’m not great at getting right who wins in what amount of games, but it’s safe to say that with three of the Big Four healthy enough to play, plus the emergence of Bradley (on offense and defense), shot blocker Greg Stiemsma, and key offensive contributions from the likes of Brandon Bass, it’s safe to say the C’s will have more than enough to eliminate the Hawks from the playoffs yet again.