Predictions: ESPN Boston experts pick C's
Jackie MacMullan: Celtics in 6
The Hawks are thin in the middle due to injuries, but don't underestimate how critical it is for Ray Allen to play in this series. Boston should prevail but their margin of error is close to non-existent.
Chris Forsberg: Celtics in 6
Boston is too inconsistent to not slip up (no first-round sweep like the Knicks last year), but too talented to not win this series against a depleted Hawks squad. So long as Boston can steal one in Atlanta, this series should be short on drama (though each game will likely be a grind). In the end, Kevin Garnett at the 5 will be Boston's biggest advantage against the shorthanded Hawks.
As anyone who has paid even casual attention to the Celtics, they are a much better and deeper team now than they were two months ago. The emergence of Avery Bradley, the re-commitment to defense led by Kevin Garnett, the ongoing brilliance of Rajon Rondo and the versatility of the bench (Mickael Pietrus) makes them a tough out. Ray Allen might not be with them for some of the series, but the Hawks don’t expect to have Al Horford for any of it. Advantage: Boston.
Greg Payne: Celtics in 5
The loss of Al Horford for the Hawks opens up all kinds of possibilities for Kevin Garnett in this series. While Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins can play physical, neither has the defensive chops to slow KG down when he's looking for his offense. Couple Garnett's surefire productivity in this series with a distinct advantage at the point guard position for Boston (Jeff Teague is steadily improving, but he's not close to being on Rajon Rondo's level yet), and this first-round matchup will be over sooner rather than later.
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