Series Preview, Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks
In the Regular season, Atlanta finished with a 41-41 record, while the Celtics went 55-27. This included a 3-0 series sweep for the Celtics in their three meetings with the Hawks. Atlanta is a solid team though, and will need to be taken seriously to avoid a possible upset.
Atlanta has the ability to score the ball at a high rate. Led by former All-Star guards Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, the Hawks averaged 118.4 points per game this season. That number was good for #1 in the East and #3 in the entire league.
The Hawks Rank top 10 in offensive rebounds per game, while they are #7 in Offensive Rating. Trae Young is the catalyst for Atlanta, averaging a team-high 26.2 points and 10.2 assists per game this year. The Hawks have multiple guys who can get a bucket in isolation and also thrive in the pick-and-roll with Young or Murray dishing it off to Capela and Collins. If the Celtics control the glass and have good pick-and-roll coverage, then this series will be stress-free.
In a word, Defense. The Hawks ranked in the bottom half in most defensive categories this season, including 26th in points allowed and 22nd in defensive rating. Giving up over 118 points per game, the Hawks have some very weak individual defenders. While Atlanta does have the rim protection of Clint Capela, Trae Young is considered by many to be the worst defender in the entire league.
When you think about the Hawks against Boston, there are matchup nightmares all over the place for Atlanta. If Boston goes with the Smart/White/JB/JT/Al starting 5, that means Trae has to guard either White or Smart, which is a huge advantage for the C's. Capela will have to respect Horford's ability from beyond the arc, leaving room for the Celtics to attack the rim with Atlanta not having another big rim protector. With that considered, Tatum and Brown should be able to have a field day in this series.
If the Celtics are able to keep Atlanta off the offensive glass, take care of the ball, and attack the mismatches, this series will be over quickly. When considering just how bad the Hawks defense is, the only way Boston keeps them in the series is if they commit unforced turnovers and allow them multiple shots every possession.
Boston has the experience of getting to the Finals for the first time with this core last year, and I think that will fuel them this postseason. With the number of other weapons the Celtics have to go along with the superstar duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, I expect the C's to make quick work of Atlanta in Round 1.
Prediction: Celtics in 4