Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NBA Playoffs: Atlanta v Boston

A young team getting its first taste of the postseason, ATL is a long-shot in this series. BOS plays good team defense -- they're second in points allowed (90.2 ppg) and first in defensive field goal percentage (42%) and defending the 3-point shot (31.5%). Defense is a big factor in the postseason.

Joe Johnson is the only established scorer for the Hawks. I'm certain Doc and the Celts will double- and triple-team him all series. BOS is excellent at executing their defensive schemes and having their defenders in a boxes-and-elbows concept. Johnson will see bodies in isolations and pindown situations.

If the Hawks hope to remain competitive, Bibby and Smith will have to have big games offensively. The problem for ATL is that Rondo is an underated defender on the ball as well. He will really pressure Bibby. A sweep is certainly possible, though it is likely to go five games.

Of course, BOS won't walk through the postseason. This unit hasn't played together in the playoffs. It sounds like a minor thing, but teams typically don't win championships in their first year together. It takes some time to come together.

Second, how Doc handles his rotation is another key for the Celts. Over the last 20 games or so, Doc has rested his big three. As the rotation shortens in the playoffs, it will be interesting to see how their bench responds. Powe, Davis, Posey, and House really contributed this season. It will be interesting to see how they respond to fewer minutes in the postseason as the superstars see more time.

And keep in mind that Cassell (left) was brought in for a playoff run. Keep an eye on how he and Rondo play out. Rondo's been outstanding under the radar. The spotlight gets hotter now.

BOS has struggled at times this season with forwards who have the ability to drive from the perimeter. Pierce is a sub-par defender. WAS beat BOS three times this season because Butler and Jamison can get to the basket.

With this in mind, ATL may consider starting Smith at the 3 spot alongside Horford and Pachulia. This would help the Hawks match the Celts on the glass on the front line. It also gives Johnson another player who can slash on the perimeter.