Boston Celtics: 2012Playoffs
Do the Hawks have a surprise x-factor on their roster?
* Brian Robb: Willie Green. Any time you have a guy coming off the bench that is shooting 44 percent, you have to at least take some notice. even if it’s Willie Green. The shooting guard won’t play much defense, but has been a sparkplug for Altanta, serving as a very poor man’s Jamal Crawford for this year’s squad. If he gets going on the offensive end, he could make life tough for Boston’s D.
* Ryan DeGama: It might actually be Joe Johnson, who has the potential to be the best offensive player in this series, particularly if he starts at the SG spot. Johnson’s been hot since the all-star break (48FG%, 44% from the arc) and neither Avery Bradley (small) nor Ray Allen (old, injured) matches up well against him. That means Boston will rely on Mickael Pietrus, whose health remains an ongoing concern. I don’t like Paul Pierce as a primary Johnson defender because he needs to conserve energy for the second and third rounds where Luol Deng and LeBron James will be waiting.
* Hayes Davenport: Jeff Teague. He’s maybe the only player on this team who can both shoot threes and consistently get to the rim, and as Boston focuses its energies on forcing Johnson and Smith to take difficult shots, Boston guards will probably be helping off Teague much of the time. If they do, he’ll be free to receive a kickout and either take an open three or cut to the basket, bailing out the blown Hawks possessions that are essential for Boston to pile up.
* Michael Pina: The Hawks are the Hawks are the Hawks—a talented group that unfortunately hit their ceiling three years ago. But the one player I’d say has the slightest sliver of a chance at becoming Atlanta’s x-factor is their newest member, Jeff Teague. Filling in for an injured Kirk Hinrich in last year’s second round series against the Bulls, Teague was a major reason why the Hawks pushed one of the league’s best teams to six games. He’s very quick, but has a tendency to poke an opposing team’s proverbial Hornet’s nest which usually gets both him and his team in deep trouble. He’s the closest thing Atlanta has to an x-factor, but against Boston he should be well contained by one of the league’s best defensive back courts.
* Brendan Jackson: Zaza Pachulia. The Hawks’ big man is a complete nuisance. Just the type of player the Celtics hate to play against but would love to have off their bench. Luckily for the C’s, Pachulia is hampered by a foot injury. If he is healthy for any part of this series, his activity level on the glass and in the paint could swing the momentum in the Hawks favor.
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Boston vs. Atlanta
Game 1: Sunday, April 29, Boston at Atlanta, 7 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Tuesday, May 1, Boston at Atlanta, 7:30 p.m. (NBA TV)
Game 3: Friday, May 4, Atlanta at Boston, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 4: Sunday, May 6, Atlanta at Boston, 7 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5*: Tuesday, May 8, Boston at Atlanta, TBD (TBD)
Game 6*: Thursday, May 10, Atlanta at Boston, TBD (TBD)
Game 7*: Saturday, May 12, Boston at Atlanta, TBD (TBD)
* if necessary
What remains to be decided is where the series will open. As Atlantic Division champions, the Celtics will be the No. 4 seed, but home-court advantage is determined by overall record, meaning the No. 5 Hawks can still host the series. In fact, Atlanta (38-26) owns a 1-game advantage over Boston (37-27) with two games to go. The Celtics are aided slightly by owning the tie-breaker in the event the two teams finish the season with matching records.
The remaining schedules:
Boston: Heat (4/24), Bucks (4/26)
Atlanta: Clippers (4/24), Mavericks (4/26)
By sending out a junior varsity lineup on Friday night in a head-to-head matchup with Atlanta, the Celtics have essentially stated they don't care who lands home-court advantage, preferring to err on the side or rest and health over opening the series in Boston. That said, it will be interesting to see how hard both sides push over the last two games with a chance to aid their cause both at the start of the series and in a potential Game 7.
Your turn: How do you feel about playing the Hawks? Do you think the Celtics should push hard for home-court advantage over the final two games? Sound off in the comments.
A glance at the standings through Sunday's action:
Now here's where it gets interesting. With the Celtics playing inspired ball in the second half of the season, they might actually be perceived as the tougher draw than Indiana at No. 3. All of which makes you wonder if the Hawks or Magic would prefer slip back to the No. 6 seed in order to avoid Boston. What's more, an upset by the No. 6 seed would likely mean the Heat instead of the Bulls in the conference semifinals -- what some would consider an easier draw given Miami's inconsistent play lately. But here's one more thing to consider: Home-court advantage in the 4-5 matchup will be determined by better overall record. The Celtics have a ½-game edge over both Atlanta and Orlando at the moment, but four of Boston's five final matchups come against playoff-bound teams (yes, including the Hawks and Magic), which might make it difficult for the Celtics to finish with the best mark.
Your turn: Who would you prefer the Celtics draw in the opening round: Hawks or Magic? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments.
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