Doc Rivers chose to surrender Boston’s chances of getting home court advantage in the first round in favor of his star players getting some rest before the playoffs. After the Hawks won Game 1, and are now heavy favorites to win Game 2 – as the Celtics will be without the suspended Rajon Rondo– Doc might be on the verge of regretting it.
What was the difference in Game 1?
The Hawks used their athleticism to their advantage from the get-go. The star of the game, Josh Smith – who I still can’t understand why was left off the All-Star team this year – stuffed the stat sheet with 22 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists and a block. He also did a great job containing Kevin Garnett in the early going, as Garnett started off 1-9 from the field. The Hawks’ unsung hero was Kirk Hinrich, who hit some early 3’s to help the Hawks jump out to an early lead. Atlanta is heavily depleted in the front court without Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, but Boston still does not have a distinct size advantage. Both Paul Pierce (5-19) and Joe Johnson (3-15) struggled from the floor, resulting in a contest between both star players’ respective supporting casts. In that scenario, all you can say is Advantage: Hawks.
Most of the game was lopsided in Atlanta’s favor, but it got close after Boston rallied late all the way up to Rondo’s bumping of official Marc Davis that led to his ejection and eventual suspension. In defense of Rondo, Davis did make two consecutive atrocious calls against Boston: first, incorrectly giving the Hawks the ball when Josh Smith clearly hit it out-of-bounds, and then the foul call on the Celtics that directly led to Rondo’s outburst. If not for those two bad calls, the Celtics may very well have succeeded in their comeback attempt. Nonetheless, the Celtics will be without their star point guard in the next game at Atlanta.
What should we expect in Game 2?
If Boston wants to steal a road win, Paul Pierce needs to come alive and score 30+ points – especially without Rondo on the floor. He even admitted
that he “was a really big culprit” for losing Game 1. We know Rondo will be absent, but it remains to be seen whether Celtics guard Ray Allen will play. His ankle injury seems to be more serious than originally reported as he was expected back in the lineup before the playoffs began. He said the injury is something he definitely needs to get surgery for in the offseason, and is only delaying the surgery to avoid being shelved for the playoffs. As if it wasn’t predictable, Boston sure misses his three-point shooting; they were 0-11 from beyond the arc in Game 1.
As for Atlanta, they need to continue utilizing Smith’s superior athleticism against Boston’s slow and aging roster. If they can jump out to an early lead the same way as they did in the opening minutes of Game 1, they should be in great shape. Also, without Rondo on the floor being a pest on defense, things should really open up for Jeff Teague and Hinrich. Given all the advantages Atlanta has, this is a must-win game for them. And I expect that Larry Drew will convey that to his team.
In the end, the cards are stacked against Boston. Playing without Allen is one thing, but winning without your multi-dimensional floor general is a much taller order. Hawks should cruise to a 2-0 series lead.