The Celtics begin the playoffs with a matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. This is the thirteenth time that these two teams meet in the playoffs. Boston has won 10 of the 12 series so far. This is the first meeting between the two since 2016 when the Hawks won the series 4-2. That off-season, the Celtics signed Al Horford away from the Hawks in free agency.
The only other Hawks playoff win over the Celtics was in 1958 when the St. Louis Hawks won the series in 6 games. Since the Hawks moved from St. Louis to Atlanta in 1968, the Celtics have won seven of eight playoff series in this matchup. Game 7 of the 1988 conference semifinals between the Celtics and Hawks is one of the most memorable matchups in playoff history. It was highlighted by an epic scoring duel between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins.
The Celtics swept the season series between these two teams. They won 126-101 on November 16 at Atlanta with the Celtics without Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brodgon and Robert Williams III. The Celtics won 134-126 on March 11 with no Payton Pritchard or Robert Williams. Finally, they won 120-114 on April 9 in Boston with both teams sitting their top 6 players. The Celtics are favored to win both this game and the series.
The Celtics last played on Sunday April 9 in the final game of the season. The Hawks last played on Tuesday when they upset the favored Miami Heat in the play-in game. Both teams have had plenty of time to plan for this matchup and they have both also had plenty of time to rest and to get healthy. The Celtics have only Danilo Gallinari (knee) on their injury list while the Hawks have no injuries listed.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Probable Hawks Starters
2 Way Players
Marcus Smart vs Trae Young
Young averaged 26.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 10.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game in the regular season. He shot 43.0% from the field and 33.5% from beyond the arc. In two games against the Celtics this season, Young averaged 31 points, 4 rebounds, and 11 assists per game. The Celtics will have their hands full trying to slow him down and keep him from having a big game.
Derrick White vs DeJounte Murray
Murray averaged 20.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game in the regular season. He shot 46.4% from the field and 34.4% from beyond the arc. In 2 games against the Celtics this season, he averaged 16.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 2.0 steals per game. Murray is also one of the Hawks best defenders. The Celtics will need to work hard on both ends of the court to get the better of this matchup.
Jaylen Brown vs De’Andre Hunter
Hunter averaged 15.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in the regular season. He is shot 46.1% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc. In 3 games against the Celtics this season, he averaged 14.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game. Hunter is also a good defender and may give the Celtics problems on defense.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning games and defense becomes even more important in the playoffs. Defense is especially important for the Celtics in this game because the Hawks are a good scoring team, averaging 117.9 points per game, which is 4th in the league. The Celtics are 3rd, averaging 118.4 points per game. The Celtics have a defensive rating of 110.6 which is 2nd while the Hawks have a defensive rating of 115.4, which is 22nd. The Celtics must make defense a priority in this game and they have to play that tough defense for 48 minutes and not let up.
Rebound - Next to defense, rebounding is a key to winning. Much of rebounding is effort and desire. When the Celtics put out the extra effort on the boards, it usually carries through to the rest of their game. The Hawks are averaging 44.4 rebounds per game (10th) while the Celtics are averaging 45.3 rebounds per game (7th). In the 3 regular season games, Atlanta out-rebounded the Celtics 143-136. The Celtics are just 19-19 when they are out-rebounded. The Hawks out-rebounded the Heat 63-39 in the play-in game. The Celtics need to aggressively go after every rebound. They can’t afford to give the Hawks extra possessions by allowing them to grab rebounds.
Bench Play - In the final game of the season, it was basically the reserves of both teams against each other. The Celtics reserves won that game. Coaches don’t usually go very deep into their benches in the playoffs, but they will depend on key reserves to play well. Key reserves for the Hawks will be Bogdanovic, Okongwu, Bey and Johnson. The Atlanta bench scored 53 points against Miami in the Play-in game. For the Celtics, they will need production from Brogdon, Hauser, Grant Williams, and Robert Williams especially.
Stay Focused - It’s the playoffs and the Celtics shouldn’t need encouragement to focus. They need to come in focused and stay focused throughout the game. They need to focus on their shots and shot selection. They need to focus on making their free throws. They need to focus on playing defense and making the right switches. They need to focus on making good passes and not turning the ball over. And they need to focus on sharing the ball and making the right play. Lack of focus results in those horrible shooting nights and high turnover games and they can’t afford either of those in this game.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics are big favorites in this series and it would be easy to come in expecting an easy win. That would be a big mistake because the Hawks play hard and will come at the Celtics hard. The Celtics must be the team that plays harder and that wants this win more. They have to be aggressive in diving for loose balls, in going to the basket, in getting stops on the defensive end, and in going after rebounds. The Celtics need to play with energy and aggressiveness for 48 minutes in this game with no let up.
Home Court- They call it home court advantage for a reason and teams play hard in the regular season to get home court advantage in the playoffs. The Hawks were just 17-23 on the road in the regular season while the Celtics were 32-9 at home. The Celtics need to take advantage of the home crowd, which should be loud and doing everything in their power to support the Celtics and rattle the Hawks.
Coaching - The Hawks have a very veteran coach in Quin Snyder, but he has only been coaching the Hawks for 22 games. Snyder was head coach of the Utah Jazz for 8 seasons before resigning there. These are the 7th straight playoffs for Snyder, which is the longest streak by any active head coach. The Celtics have a rookie head coach who has been doing a good job but lacks experience in the playoffs. Hopefully Joe Mazzulla will be up to the task.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls the game a little differently with some calling it tight and others letting them play. Some refs just make head scratching calls while others try very hard to get them right. In some games they call the 2 halves completely differently. Usually they allow more contact in the playoffs but that’s not a guarantee. The Celtics have to adjust to how the game is being called and focus on playing the game and not on the bad calls or no calls.