(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Boston Celtics
Regular season series: Hawks won 3-1
Key Matchup: Jeff Teague (16/3/6) vs. Isaiah Thomas (22/3/6)
For both of these squads, their playoff campaign starts are polar opposites of what they were last year. For Atlanta, they were head and shoulders above the rest in the East, finishing with the best record in the conference, going 60-22, 7 games ahead of the 2nd seeded Cavaliers.
On the other hand, Boston surprised us all, finishing 7th in the East with a 40-42 record, only 2 games ahead of qualifying for the Playoffs. Fast forward a year, however, and both teams have dramatically changed without much roster turnover. The Hawks have barely held onto home court advantage with a 48-34 record, finishing with an identical record to the C’s, but winning the tie-breaker.
The Celtics have only continued to improve, winning 8 more games than last year, and now instead of barely making playoffs for experience for some of the younger guys, they are now a dark horse option in the East.
In the season series between the two teams, Atlanta won 3 out of the 4 contests by an average of 14.3 points. In the game they dropped to Boston, they lost by a deficit of 13, after Isaiah Thomas had a great game, dropping a double-double of 23 points and 10 assists. By the looks of the numbers, it’d be safe to assume that Atlanta would be able to safely put away Boston in 5 games, but the regular season isn’t always a good way of picking winners in the playoffs.
The Key Factors
It’ll be a battle between the two Point Guards in this series as both All-Stars Isaiah Thomas and Jeff Teague will go head to head. Thomas was described by Atlanta Hawks players as “The head of the snake”, which means they’re pretty much saying Thomas is key to everything the Celtics do on offense. This is evidently true, as Thomas was the leading scorer for Boston this season, averaging 22.2 points a game, as well as 6.2 assists.
Jeff Teague however, does have a 3-inch height advantage over Thomas, which will make it slightly easier for Teague to contain him. After coming off an All-Star season, Jeff Teague’s play has dropped by a small amount this season, which is reflected by the team’s record compared to last season.
Teague’s scoring, assists, and steals numbers have all dropped, as well as his Field Goal and Free Throw percentages.
It’ll be interesting to see if Teague can boost his play in the Playoffs, or will let the 5-foot9 dynamo that is Isaiah Thomas be the deciding factor in this series.
In my opinion, this will be the series to watch in the first round, as both teams are about as evenly matched as they come. I can see this one going the distance as well, with a deciding Game 7 in Atlanta being the climax.
Atlanta’s frontcourt tandem of Al Horford and Paul Millsap will have to step their games up and not take the 5th seeded Celtics lightly if they hope to move forward. Notwithstanding, the play of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder will be critical in seeing if Boston can move onto the second round.
Prediction by Brad Stevenson: Boston Celtics 4-3 Atlanta Hawks