The Boston Celtics, at last, have the added assurance of knowing their first-round NBA playoffs opponent: The Atlanta Hawks.
The Miami Heat dropped the ball, falling 116-105 to the Hawks, despite entering the night with an immense vote of confidence from team leader Jimmy Butler, who spoke a first-round date with the Celtics into nonexistence Monday. And while Miami isn’t completely done, they’re halfway there, now booked for a do-or-die matchup with the winner of the Toronto Raptors-Chicago Bulls play-in contest.
As for the Celtics, they’ll prepare for Game 1 on Saturday night, hosting Trae Young and the Hawks.
Boston swept the regular season series, 3-0, against Atlanta while averaging an impressive 126.7 points of offense and holding the Hawks to 113.3 points. Through that trio of losses to the Celtics, the Hawks displayed one glaring weakness that followed them throughout the entirety of their 41-41 .500 campaign: Outside shooting.
Atlanta finished 26th in the NBA, knocking down just 10.8 3-pointers per game at a 35.2% rate. Granted, that’s a boost from Atlanta’s 26.7% 3-pointers made in games against Boston, but it’s still a disadvantage poised to ultimately haunt the Hawks.
Why? Well to put it simply, that won’t fly with the Celtics (no pun intended).
The C’s are among the most elite outside shooting teams the NBA has to offer. They made 16 shots beyond the arc per game — second in the league. They’ve shot 37.7% from deep range — sixth in the league. That elite offensive contribution, coupled with Boston’s defensive rating, which is second-best in the NBA (110.6), should make for a nightmare of a recipe for the Hawks to navigate in a best-of-seven series.
Aside from Young, who is a career 25.6-point scorer in games against the Celtics, the Hawks don’t have much reliability. During the past offseason, they let Kevin Huerter walk, who was their former co-snipper. They lack a great deal of depth, particularly at the two guard, alongside Young and to be blunt, Atlanta never belonged in the playoffs to begin with.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, on the other hand, have no shortage of motivation. Coming off an unsuccessful run to the NBA Finals, addressed with a 57-win regular season, the C’s showed they’re hungry for redemption. Tatum and Brown both delivered All-Star campaigns of their own, notching career-high scoring numbers and playing the role of a dynamic duo from Game 1 to Game 82.
With a season full of plenty of reason for optimism, the job is far from done. Now Joe Mazzulla’s squad faces the task of proving itself, with the Hawks being step one.