Paul Abell/US Presswire
The Celtics and Hawks kick off their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series Sunday in Atlanta.The grind of the condensed regular season in the rearview mirror, now the fun begins when the fourth-seeded Boston Celtics (39-27, 15-18 away) visit the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks (40-26, 23-10 home) in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Sunday evening at Philips Arena (7 p.m., TNT). To preview the opener in this best-of-seven series, we play a game of 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne.
1. What will you be focused on in Game 1 of Celtics vs. Hawks?
Payne: Kevin Garnett's offensive production. He'll be as reliable as ever on the defensive end, but given the loss of Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia not being 100 percent, he can be a real difference-maker on the offensive side of the ball. I'll be looking to see if KG posts up routinely, and then works to stretch his game out and incorporate his customary jump shots. Garnett should average right around 20 shots per game in this series.
Forsberg: Early on, I'll be looking to see how the newer faces on the Celtics roster respond in the postseason. Can second-year guard Avery Bradley continue to thrive when the intensity jumps up a notch (he didn't get any postseason experience last year)? Will Brandon Bass be able to maintain his regular-season production (his last two playoffs series with Orlando saw his numbers dive hard in the postseason)? Can Mickael Pietrus play like he did during Orlando's run to the NBA Finals during the 2009 season? What do the Celtics get from rookie center Greg Stiemsma in his first taste of postseason basketball? Yes, Boston has its veteran core -- though Ray Allen is the biggest question mark of the series -- but the Celtics need contributions from their role players in order to have a legitimate chance to succeed in the second season.
2. Will home court actually matter in this series?
Payne: Not really. The Celtics are more than capable of defeating the Hawks in their building, and while it would have been convenient for them to open things in Boston, they're not concerned at all about opening the series on the road. Given the loss of Horford, home court definitely matters more to Atlanta than it does to Boston.
Forsberg: It'll matter if the Celtics don't steal a game in Atlanta. Sure, the Celtics won't be overwhelmed by having to travel to start this series, but a 2-0 deficit would be incredibly difficult to overcome (Boston simply isn't consistent enough to win four games in five tries, particularly in the postseason). It will be interesting to see if Atlanta generates an actual home-court advantage. During the regular-season meetings, Boston typically had plenty of green-clad supporters, but that could change in the postseason (this wasn't a fun place for Boston to visit in 2008). Bottom line: The Celtics don't have an incredibly large margin for error -- their own fault for slip-ups during the regular season -- and cannot afford to dig themselves a hole at any point during this playoff run.