If you look at the NBA’s first-round playoff match-ups, Hawks/Celtics might be the best of the bunch. Both teams finished 48-34. Atlanta went 27-14 at home and 21-20 on the road, and the Celtics went 28-13 at home and 20-21 on the road.
In short, these are two very similar teams.
“Neither team has an absolute superstar, so they have to share the ball, they have to play hard, they have to hustle, they have to play defense – and both teams, for the most part, have done that all year, particularly the Hawks,” NBA.com Writer Shaun Powell said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “Since the All-Star break, there hasn’t been a better defensive team in the NBA. But I look at the Celtics. They’ve got the coach, he’s in place, and they’ve got two or three good supporting players in place. They just need that one player, that star, that can take them deeper in the playoffs.”
Boston’s best player is Isaiah Thomas, who led the Celtics in scoring (22.2 points per game) and assists (6.2.). Five other Celtics – Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk – averaged between 10.0 and 15.2 points per game.
“I love Isaiah Thomas,” Powell said. “I think he’s had a fabulous season, I think he was very deserving of an All-Star berth. I’m not so sure he can carry that load when the games take on this type of importance. Would he be better off if he’s your second-best player? Look, if he’s your second-best player, you got a pretty good team. I’m not trying to dismiss him at all. I just look at the Celtics and say, ‘One more piece.’ Could they get DeMarcus Cousins? Would Kevin Durant go there? Who would be that one more piece that would give Brad Stevens a team to really be feared?”
The Hawks, meanwhile, regressed a bit after winning 60 games last season.
“They’ve won 12 fewer games this year than they did last year, when they sort of took the East by surprise,” Powell said. “They also lost DeMarre Carroll. But I still think if things break the right way, it would not be a complete shock to see them back in the Eastern Conference Finals. It would be a compete shock to see them get to the NBA Finals. I don’t think that’s in the cards for this team, but I don’t think it would be a complete shock if they ended up there instead of, say, Toronto.”
The Hawks host the Celtics in Game 1 on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.