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Official Celtics Playoff Preview: How To Beat The Atlanta Hawks

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Before we dive in, let’s take a moment to appreciate that of all the Barstool cities, the Celtics stand alone as the only representative in this year’s playoffs. No Bulls, no Wizards, no Knicks (lol), no 76ers, just us. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise because since Wyc’s group bought the team they’ve missed the playoffs just 3 times since the ’01-02 season.  That’s all well and good, but everyone knows the saying. We don’t care about making playoffs, we care about championships. While that’s true, this is probably the best Celtics team entering the postseason since the ’11-12 team, and they were on their last legs. As a result, I think we are all foaming at the mouth waiting for Saturday to arrive.

In this blog we’re going to take a look at their first round opponent in Atlanta, what they do well, what they struggle with, and how to beat em. We’ll also flip the script and do the same for the Celts. Listen, this is going to be a doozy, if you have to take breaks and come back and read it, that’s fine.

To know how to beat Atlanta, we first need to understand who they are, and what makes them good.

Let’s meet them.

Atlanta Hawks

Record: 48-34
Starting Five: Jeff Teague, Kent Bazemore, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, Al Horford
Key Reserves: Dennis Schroder, Thabo Sefolosha
Head-to-Head: 3-1 vs Bos

The Hawks are an interesting opponent for a number of reasons. They have the size to make an impact in the paint, but since everyone on their roster can shoot, they have the same lineup flexibility the Celtics have. They can go big if they want, and they can match your small lineup no problem. Style wise, the Hawks are pretty similar to the Celtics, in a sense that they are not the type of team to slow things down and play a half court game – something the Celts struggle with. Instead, they like to get out and run, and their 97.1 pace ranked 8th in the league. That’s good news for us.

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The Hawks offensive strategy is pretty simple. It’s all about pace and space. We saw this system flourish last year, and Mike Budenholzer is 100% the reason. Forget the Atlanta offense of past playoff matchups, this team plays completely different. In all the research I was able to find, it’s clear the Hawks will P&R you to death, and what makes it a challenge is Horford and Millsap are such good shooters from the top of the key, that defenses have a hard time making up their mind, and as a result the Hawks feast on that mental mistake

But that’s only half the battle. The other thing that the Hawks do really well, is get Korver open looks. Much like Avery, Korver makes his living coming off screens and utilizing his smooth quick release. Where they differ is how ATL chooses to get Korver open. See they frequently use him as a screener as opposed to running him off the ball, and what this does is allow him to slip into open area’s among the confusion for open looks. Like this

This is going to be something that the Celts see a ton of, and unfortunately they’ve had a lot of trouble with it, as Korver is 10-16 from deep against BOS this year. That’s video game good. On the bright side, Jae did a great job of containing Korver in their last meeting, but a big part of their success this series will be the communication between Jae and the guy getting screened. Any miscommunication on a switch and it’s trouble.

The numbers don’t lie. Atlanta wants to get into a shootout with you. They trust their defense (which we’ll get to), and being a team full of shooters, it’s playing right into their hands. For the season, they made the 6th most threes in the league (815) while taking the 7th most attempts (2,327). To put that into perspective, their center, makes over 1 a game on average. Against Boston? As a team they are 39-97 (40%), which happens to be 5% higher than their season average. A little inflated from their last meeting though.

These things alone aren’t what make Atlanta a tough matchup. What makes them a tough matchup is even though they play at a fast pace, they stop you on the other end. Second in defensive rating for the season at 101, they’ve been even better since the AS break, trailing only SA. The Hawks led the league in opponent FG% (43%) and 2pt FG% (47%). Not too far behind is their three point defense (6th). What this tells you is more often than not, they are going to make you miss. They’ll force you to take end of shot clock long twos, and chances are you won’t make many of them.

Guys like Paul Millsap have great defensive ratings, and we’ve seen first hand the impact he can make on the defense end. Here’s the most telling. They defend without fouling. Second best in the league here too.

You may be thinking, holy shit, Atlanta is pretty fucking good, how are the Celts going to beat them? Well, the Celtics are pretty fucking good too, so allow me to show you how it’s possible.

Much like Atlanta, the Celtics enjoy a fast pace, in fact they play at a faster pace than Hawks. Their 98.5 ranked third in the entire league. Now what’s different about the Celtics pace, and why I think it will have a bigger impact than people think, is it’s created through turnovers. The Celtics make everyone turn the ball over. It doesn’t matter who you are. Second in the league in causing turnovers, the Hawks play right into Boston’s hand. They turn the ball over on average 15 times a game (22nd). Celtics force on average over 16 a game and are second in the league in steals per game. In the playoffs when it’s all about defense, the Celtics style of play should prove advantageous.

I think the Celts also have a huge advantage in perimeter defense. Avery Bradley is the best on ball defender in the league, Marcus always makes things happen, and we all know about Jae’s ability. Obviously a huge key to this series is if the Celts defense is actually going to show up, but for this purpose I’m going to assume it will. What I’ve seen over an entire season paints a more accurate picture than the last couple of games. This team can play defense, and when they do, they are tough to beat.

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If they want any shot at all, they are going to have to address Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap. I think in order for things to break the Celts way, just hold those two guys to their average. Where you get into trouble is when Millsap lives in the 25-30 range and Bazemore is in the 16-20 range. Both are well above their season averages, and yet the Celts have struggled stopping them. Keep them average, and that could make all the difference.

If your curious what all of this looks like, of how the Celts need to play in order to beat a fast paced team who can shoot threes, well, this is how

Want a blueprint of how the Celtics can not only win on Saturday, but win the series? There it is.

At times I think people forget to talk about the offense. Do people realize the Celtics led the Eastern Conference in scoring and were 5th in the league? I know it’s hard to believe because of how poorly they shoot the ball, but they get points. If they even play a lick of defense, they could be downright unstoppable.

The good news is that Isaiah averages 20/6 against Atlanta, so it’s not as if they have him figured out either. I think we are going to see a big playoffs from Isaiah, as long as his hand is not broken. This is an important series for Isaiah, and I trust he’ll get us over the hump.

A big part of making that happen, is the Celtics ability to get Isaiah into space. Isaiah is at his best when he’s coming up the floor in transition on the right side. He pulls his man to the side ever so slightly, then ADIOS, he’s gone.

For the Celtics to have success against the tough defense of Atlanta, they are going to have to get back to what makes them successful. Ball movement, and good ball screens. When the Celtics run their motion offense, it might be the most beautiful basketball these eyes have ever seen. The ball isn’t sticking, people are moving, more importantly the defense is moving, and the result is easier buckets. After a while the Celtics will run variations of this, often times leading Avery to a midrange jumper, where he’s money

Look for a big series from Avery Bradley who’s been pretty good in two of his three appearances against ATL. The Hawks don’t really have a guy who defensively can stay with Bradley as he runs around all those down screens, and as long as he doesn’t try to pass the ball, he should have an opportunity to flourish.

I’m only going to say this once. If the Celtics want ANY chance in this series, this cannot happen. In fact, the defensive effort can’t even be remotely close to this

Also it should be mentioned, as long as the Celtics get Turner in a positive +/-, it practically guarantees a win. Let’s not forget that Atlanta historically shits its pants versus Boston, with losses in 86, 08, and 2012. Also, when something like this happens, you don’t recover

To put it simply, if the Celtics just play like they have all year, they will win this series. People want to talk about the head to head record, but forget that on the second night of a back to back the Celts held a 12 point lead late, they just ran out of gas. That shouldn’t happen given all the rest during the series. That’s why I’m confident. It’s going to be a dogfight, but I think that’s just what the Celtics need, fire up the “Nobody Believes in Us” cannon and shut everybody up and win Game 1

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Underdogs, just how we like it. Keep sleeping.

Prediction: Celtics in 7

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