First-round preview: No. 4 Celtics vs. No. 5 Hawks
The Celtics were guaranteed a No. 4 seed as champion of the Atlantic division, but the No. 5 Hawks' superior record provides them with home-court advantage -- and with it, they believe they have a chance to earn what could be their most satisfying postseason victory of the Joe Johnson era. The Hawks have reached the conference semifinals each of the last three years, but they've never knocked off a title contender like Boston, which won the 2008 title after surviving a Game 7 against Atlanta in the opening round of the playoffs. This will be Atlanta's last shot at Boston before Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen enter free agency this summer. But injuries threaten both teams.
Boston has proved over the years that its best recitals are better than Atlanta's, but do the Celtics have one last peaking performance in them? As much as they'll need Allen, the Hawks would be hurt more by the absences of Horford and Pachulia, which would prevent them from exploiting the lack of depth in Boston's front line. The Celtics' defense and the playmaking of Rondo should be the dominant forces in this series. Barring an across-the-board breakout effort from Smith, the Celtics will move on.