The fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks come into the 2012 NBA Playoffs looking to advance to the second round for the fourth straight year. The Hawks last lost an opening-round series back in 2008 when they fell to the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics 4-3.
Home-court advantage proved to be vital in that series. That year, the eighth-seeded Hawks pushed the top-seeded Celtics to a series-deciding seventh game by winning all three of the games played at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
This season's opening-round matchup will be the first postseason meeting between the Celtics and Hawks since that seven-game series. This time the teams come into the playoffs seeded fourth and fifth and are more evenly matched. And if this series goes to a seventh game, this time it will be played in Atlanta.
Although the Celtics won the Atlantic Division and earned the Eastern Conference's fourth seed, they will open the playoffs on the road for the first time since 2004. The Hawks finished the season one-game ahead of the Celtics to earn home-court advantage in this first-round series.
Boston Celtics versus Atlanta Hawks Eastern Conference First-Round Schedule
Game 1: Sunday, April 29, Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks, 7:00 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 2: Tuesday, May 1, Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV
Game 3: Friday, May 4, Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Game 4: Sunday, May 6, Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics, 7:00 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 5: Tuesday, May 8, Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks, TBD (if necessary)
Game 6: Thursday, May 10, Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics, TBD (if necessary)
Game 7: Saturday, May 12, Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks, TBD on TNT (if necessary)
Boston and Atlanta met three times during the regular season and all three contests were decided by five points or less. Both teams scored 259 points and the Celtics narrowly won the series two games to one.
Four years after winning an NBA championship in their first season together, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, are about to embark on what will likely be their final playoff run as Boston's core. They hope that this final run will be just as productive as the first.
To have any chance at producing a championship run, the Celtics, who have dealt with injuries all season long, will have to find a way to get healthier as the playoffs progress. Allen, who has a sore right ankle and has not played since April 10, will be a game-time decision for Game 1 against the Hawks. Pierce (sprained toe) and Rondo (lower back) have nagging injuries that they will have to manage as the postseason goes along.
Atlanta, who will likely be without their two top centers Al Horford (torn pectoral muscle) and Zaza Pachulia (sprained left foot), has injury issues of its own. But this is the playoffs, and if the Hawks want to make their fourth consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals, backup big men Jason Collins, Ivan Johnson and Vladimir Radmonivic will have to be prepared to come in and produce if called upon.
Prediction: Celtics 4-2
Mark is a lifelong fan of the NBA who has loved the game of basketball ever since his first trip to an NBA arena. Mark has watched more basketball games than anyone can count and has more than 100 articles about the NBA published on the internet. Mark also shares his random NBA musings and game-by-game predictions on RandomNBAFan.com.
More on the 2012 Playoffs:
Information from NBA.com's 2012 Playoffs Schedule; Basketball-Reference.com's Atlanta Hawks Franchise Index, Boston Celtics Franchise Index; ESPN.com's 2012 NBA playoffs--First Round--Celtics vs. Hawks and 2012 NBA playoffs-Ray Allen of Boston Celtics has '50-50' shot to play Game 1 was used for this article.