April 17, 2008
After 1,230 regular season games, the NBA Playoffs are finally here. (Thank God Shammgod!) KD and I will drop our first round thoughts and predictions tomorrow, but first, we turn to the bloggin' experts. To start us off, Jeff Clark from CelticsBlog and Micah Hart from Hawks BasketBlog breakdown the Boston-Atlanta match-up. Take it away, gentlemen.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog: If I'm Doc Rivers, I'm talking to my team about how dangerous the Atlanta Hawks are and how talented their players are. I'm showing them highlight reels of Josh Smith dunking and swatting shots and asking my players how they feel about being on the wrong side of a YouTube clip. I'm looking for any scrap of bulletin board material, no matter how vague or out dated, to make these guys hate the Hawks. Basically anything to distract them from the fact that they totally outmatch their opponent in this series.
I'm not Doc though, so I have the luxury as a fan of looking at this as a warm up series. I want a sweep, but I want some games to be blowouts and some a little closer, just to keep that edge.
In at least one game I want to see the defense to hold the Hawks scoreless for 3 to 5 minute stretches. I want to see Rondo drop 15 dimes through 3 quarters. Then I want to see Sam Cassell doing the Huevos Dance in the fourth quarter while the starters have giggle fits on the bench.
Of course that probably won't happen every game. I have to assume that the Hawks are not really going to roll over and die. So when they step it up, the Celtics will have a chance to get used to playoff pressure. Doc will set his rotations and make adjustments. Players will get a feel for the role Doc wants them to fill in the playoffs which will prepare them for the next round.
Doc will tell you different, but this is a warm up series if I've ever seen one.
Micah Hart, Hawks BasketBlog: Let's be honest. Not many people are giving the Hawks much of a chance against the Celtics. They've got the Boston Three Party, the league's best record, and they come from a city that suddenly seems incapable of losing championships. (What? The Patriots lost? Get out!) Everything seems to be going in their favor. Yet don't we always say that titles aren't won on paper? Any given Sunday and so on?
You heard it here first — the Hawks are going to shock the world, and I'll tell you exactly how in the book I plan to publish after the series: If They Did It, Here's How It Happened. (Unless that title's taken.)
Seriously — I do think there is hope Atlanta can make a series out of this. The Hawks actually played the Celtics reasonably close this season. Taking aside the first meeting, when Boston was on another planet and won by 23, the other two games were close affairs until well into the fourth quarter. It won’t be easy, but here is what it will take:
• Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson must shoot well. Really, really well. Like Annie Oakley well. The Hawks can't afford any nights of 3-12 or 5-17 from their starting guards. The backcourt is the one spot where the Hawks have an advantage over the Celtics, and they'll have to exploit that with gusto in this series.
• Keep Al Horford and Josh Smith out of foul trouble. The Hawks don't really have anyone who can stop KG. The best they can hope is that he gets his but they keep guys like Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins, and Glen Davis out of the lane and off the offensive glass. Both Horford and Smith are excellent rebounders and shotblockers, but it gets thin after that (literally — Solomon Jones weighs about a buck-oh-five). If they can stay on the court and stay aggressive, they have a fighting chance against the Celtics bigs. If they have to sit for long stretches, the Celtics will open an expressway to the hole.
• Avoid unnecessary mistakes. Boston is the best defensive team in the league, and they will be sure to force the Hawks into tough shots and wasted possessions. What the Hawks can’t afford is to give the Celtics those kinds of results of their own volition, whether through errant passes or ill-advised shots. Every player in the Hawks rotation has a comfort zone that allows them and the team to be successful. When they stray from that they get into trouble, but when they stick to it they are capable of beating anyone, Celtics included.
• Stay loose. I've had more anxiety drinking milk on the expiration date than I feel going into this postseason. There is literally zero pressure on the Hawks — every game they win will seem like a minor upset in and of itself. The Celtics are the team with everything to lose, and if the Hawks were to steal a game in Boston the comparisons to last year’s Golden State-Dallas series would start popping up real fast.
• Are the Hawks going to win this series? Maybe not. But the team isn't just playing for this year — their peak is somewhere in the distance. The experience they gain from postseason participation today will build the foundation for future playoff runs tomorrow. And in that sense, this postseason is already a success for Atlanta before it even begins.