Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Celtics to face Hawks in first-round of Eastern Conference Playoffs

The Celtics will face the Atlanta Hawks in the first-round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, which tips off this Saturday.

The Hawks top the Miami Heat 116-105 on the road Tuesday night in their play-in game to officially clinch the No. 7 seed.

Game 1 between the Celtics and Hawks is scheduled for 3:30 ET on ESPN Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.

Boston won the regular season series against Atlanta 3-0, while they had a 2-2 record against Miami -- catching somewhat of a break in what would have been a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals.

In the C's and Hawks head-to-head during the 2022-23 campaign, it was relatively one sided, except for scoring as Boston (117.9 points per game) is ranked fourth and Atlanta (118.7 points per game) is third overall in the league -- but not by a wide margin, so expect high scoring outcomes throughout this series.

When it comes to beyond the arc the Celtics rank sixth in 3-point percentage and second in 3-pointers made per contest, while the Hawks rank 21st and 26th, respectively.

Atlanta, however, has plenty of scoring depth with seven players averaging 11 points or better this past season. Outside of All-Stars Trae Young (26.2 points) and Dejounte Murray (20.5), Clint Capela and John Collins are a one-two punch in the frontcourt while wings De'Andre Hunter, Bogdan Bodganovic, Saddiq Bey and Onkeya Okongwu (9.9 points per game) are also capable to knock down shots.

Still, the Celtics finished with the second best offensive rating and it has everything to do with the depth of their own. Jayson Tatum (30.1) became the first in franchise history to average 30 points in a season, while Jaylen Brown (26.6) wrapped up his career-year top-10 in scoring average -- talk about All-NBA numbers.

Where Boston should shine and prove they're the better team is their defense -- which is the second best defensive rating in the league compared to Atlanta, who comes in at 22 out of the 30 teams. The Celtics are fifth in opponents points per game and the Hawks are 26th.

The only defensive category where these two teams are somewhat close is rebounding, as Boston is seventh and Atlanta finished 10th. It's going to be a battle of the boards with Al Horford and Robert Williams trying to keep Capela off the glass.

This series shouldn't go beyond four or five games, with the Celtics advancing and getting some rest to await upon their second-round matchup.

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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