Matt Cianfrone is the newest contributor to Hickory-High. He’ll be handling the Friday links in Rants, References and Revelations, and offering longer pieces whenever the mood strikes. You can follow him on Twitter, @Matt_Cianfrone.
This post is part of our playoff preview series here at Hickory-High, complete with both statistical and video breakdowns. Check out the rest of the previews here.
Boston vs. Atlanta Season Series
Celtics - Rebounding Percentage – For as great as the Celtics have been this year defensively they have been just as bad rebounding the basketball. Boston finished 28th in the league in total rebounding percentage for the season, ahead of only the Bobcats and Warriors. Luckily for the Celtics, the Hawks also struggle rebounding the ball, they finished tied with the Mavericks at 2oth in the league, the worst of any playoff team not based in Boston. In fact during the team’s matchups in the regular season Boston’s rebounding was better than their season average, climbing to 50.8%. The Celtics are going to get stops in the series, if they can continue the strong rebounding they showed against Atlanta in the regular season they should be in good shape.
Hawks - Offensive Rating- The series will seemingly boil down to one thing for the Hawks; can they score the basketball well enough to compete? Against playoff teams this season the Hawks struggled mightily to do so, and because of that they struggled to beat good teams. Against the Celtics this season the Hawks had an offensive rating of only 91.9 points per 100 possessions, a number that even skewed high after a late season game during which Boston rested Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Mickael Pietrus, and the Hawks scored 97 points. Part of the problem has been the Celtics defense of the three point line, the Hawks average about 3 less attempts from beyond the arc against the Celtics than the against anyone else this year. Combine the drop in attempts with the drop in percentage, from 37.1 to 30.8, and some of the offensive problems are explained. The Hawks need to find a solution to the great Boston defense, and fast, if they hope to be competitive in the series.
Players to Watch:
Celtics- Kevin Garnett- Joe Johnson is going to score for the Hawks in the series. Avery Bradley is too small to bother him much and Pietrus can only do so much. What the Celtics need is to prevent Josh Smith from getting going as much as possible. While Garnett may not be put on Smith early in games, preserving energy for when the big moments approach, KG will eventually find his way onto Smith. If Garnett can keep Smith out of the paint, and with that off of the line, the Celtics should be in good shape. This season, when Garnett has been on the court, Smith has only attempted a total of four shots from inside the restricted area and two in the paint, going 1-6. Meanwhile while Garnett has been off the floor Smith has attempted nine shots in the restricted area, and two more in the paint, going 7-11. On the other hand with Garnett on the floor Smith has shot 13 times from mid-range and another four three-pointers. Without Garnett, which includes one entire game more, Smith has only attempted 22 of those long range shots. If Garnett can continue to orchestrate the team defense while forcing Smith to shoot jumpshots, the Celtics should continue to be great defensively.
Hawks - Ivan Johnson - With Al Horford seemingly out for the first round of the playoffs, and Zaza Pachulia out for at least the start of the series, the NBA blogosphere cult hero Johnson will be asked to play big minutes, and be productive in them, for the Hawks to stand a chance. The biggest area Johnson will be asked to step up in is rebounding. Zaza averaged 10 rebounds per game this season for Atlanta and in a series against a poor rebounding team Johnson will be expected to increase his average of 8.7 a bit. In good news for the Hawks, Johnson and Pachulia’s rebound rate were nearly identical when they were on the floor separately, coming in at 31.0% for Johnnson and 32.0% for Zaza. The extra bit of offense that Johnson brings, he averaged more points per game this season, 13.6 to 10.0, in much more limited minutes, will only be a boost for the Hawks.
Lineups to Watch:
Celtics - Avery Bradley - Ray Allen - Paul Pierce - Brandon Bass - Kevin Garnett - At some point in every game Rajon Rondo is going to have to rest for the Celtics. Keyon Dooling has not worked out for the Celtics, so it looks like Bradley may get a shot to play some point guard for short stretches. This lineup would make sure that Bradley does not have to create offense in the way Rondo does, while still allowing him to provide top notch defense at the point guard position. The problem with Boston using this lineup is the unfamiliarity of it. Since Bradley did not break out until later on in the season, after the injury to Allen, the unit has only played together for 32 minutes. If Boston feels that Bradley can do a strong enough job at the end of some quarters, or right before media timeouts, we may see this lineup as way to give Rondo his rest.
Hawks - Jeff Teague - Joe Johnson - Kirk Hinrich - Josh Smith - Marvin Williams- I wrote about this lineup a couple weeks ago and since then Atlanta has played it a little more often, due in part to the Pachulia injury, and also because the players in it were finally healthy. With the uncertainty at the center position the Hawks will be forced to choose between more small ball or more Erick Dampier and Vlad Radmanovic. The one change that could come to the lineup, allowing for some better rebounding would be to replace Hinrich with Tracy McGrady. The problem with McGrady is that Larry Drew has shown no rhyme or reason with his minutes. Since March 21st, he has played over 20 minutes four times and fewer than 10 minutes five times. If either of the two lineups, with McGrady or Hinrich, can get hot from outside and spread out the Celtics defense, the Hawks may be able to win the series.