The Boston Celtics capped off the 2015-2016 regular with a huge confidence boosting, comeback win over the Miami Heat. The win was the Celtics’ 48th of the year, their most wins in a season since 2011, and not too far off some amateur sports writers prediction before training camp.
The C’s emerged from a packed Eastern Conference to grab the five seed and set up a first round matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. The two teams seem to match up very evenly on paper.
Head coaches Mike Budenholtzer and Brad Stevens love to use their big men to space the floor, even as far as the three point line extends. Both squads are deep at all positions, especially the Hawks at point guard with Dennis Schroder coming off the bench. Each of these teams love to move the ball, ranking in the top 10 in assists.
Heading into this series, both teams are 6-4 in their last 10, with Atlanta beating Boston by 11 just five days ago. Atlanta won the season series 3-1, however, in a best of seven series, I’ll take Boston, and not just because I’m a fan.
The Celtics have one clear advantage over the Hawks, and it’s in the rebounding department, something that becomes one of the most important factors in winning code games in the playoffs. The C’s were a top 10 team in rebounding, while the Hawks ranked 24th in that department.
Jared Sullinger leads the team in rebounds at 8.3 a game, but Sully and the rest of the Celtics front court has been alive by Paul Millsap. Millsap is one of the most underrated players in the NBA and this season may have been his finest. In his four games against Boston, he’s averaging 22.5 points and 10.3 rebounds. Millsap is complemented perfectly by center Al Horford, but the Celtics have done a good job of neutralizing him this season.
It will take a full four man effort of Sullinger, Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko and Kelly Olynyk to try and slow down one of the best big man duo’s in the NBA.
On the wings, the Celtics seem to have a big advantage with Jae Crowder against Kent Bazemore. Crowder has developed into one of the better three and D options in the NBA, and should be a big producer in this series. Crowder only averaged 14.2 points per game this year, but scored 15.3 a game against Atlanta in the season series.
At shooting guard, it’s a battle between one of the best shooters in the game in Kyle Korver, and one of the best perimeter defenders in Avery Bradley.
Korver primarily works off screens and running the baseline to spot up for threes, where he’s a career 42% shooter from deep. This will force Avery Bradley to spend a lot of energy on the defensive end, and it could affect his production on the offensive end.
This sentient rings true as Bradley records 2.3 steals a game against the Hawks, as opposed to just 1.5 on the year. Bradley’s offensive number also dip, from scoring output to field goal percentage when he plays Atlanta. Evan Turner has shown the ability off the bench to be a plus defender, and he could take some of the defensive pressure off of Bradley. Bradley’s defensive ability is well known and he could wind up First Team All-Defense.
At the other point guard spot, both teams have two capable points who can run the show. For Atlanta, the duo of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder are both excellent at getting to the basket and are strong facilitators. On the Boston end of the court, All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas leads the show and Marcus Smart comes off the bench. What makes the Boston point guards special is that they can play together, with Smart shifting over to shooting guard, where he has the size and defensive chops to handle most NBA 2-guards. Thomas is the most dangerous offensive weapon in the series, and he’s the only player from either roster to score over 20 points a game in the regular season.
I think the Celtics’ ability to force turnovers, ranked first the NBA, will be the difference in this series. The Celtics will have to steal a game on the road if they want to win this series, but they should be able to get it done. The Celtics play hard every single night and are one of the toughest teams to play against because they with so much emotion and passion. Both teams are evenly matched and this should be one of the best series in the entire playoffs, but Boston should be able to get it done in seven.
Cover Photo via HoopsHabit