(Updated: 6:10 p.m. with Ray Allen’s status and Hawks’ lineup.)
No Al Horford. No Zaza Pachulia. No chance?
Maybe you wouldn’t know it by looking at some of the series predictions. On ESPN’s “expert picks,” 12 pick the Celtics and one who didn’t get the memo took the Hawks. The biggest reason is that the Hawks look like an entry in a 6-foot-and-under league (relatively speaking). Center Al Horford (pectoral) likely out for the whole series. Backup Zaza Pachulia (foot) is doubtful. (Coach Larry Drew after the morning shoot around: “He’s sitting out there with a boot on his foot, so that’s not a good sign.”)
But it’s worth noting this is not a dominant Celtics team. They grind out wins. Their average per-game point differential of plus-2.52 ranked only 11th in the league. Their best three-point shooter, Ray Allen, is out with an ankle injury tonight and is questionable for the series.
What the Celtics do have is a playoff resume. They have won nine of 12 series in the last four years, including all four in the first round. But this is a winnable series for the Hawks.
Here’s Drew when asked about the Hawks’ injuries: “I’m actually not concerned at all. We’ve played without both guys a number of games. Would we like to have them? Yes. But we’ve had some success without them. They’re a part of who we are but we’ve managed to move forward with both guys being out.”
A couple of keys:
• Jeff Teague: If we assume Josh Smith and Joe Johnson are what they are in this series, Teague can be the X factor. We saw the impact when he emerged in the second round against Chicago last season, and he has been the Hawks’ most improved player this year. The fact Teague will be opposite Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo elevates his importance even more. By the way, Steve’s Hummer’s piece on Teague in today’s AJC is worth a read.
• Bench: The Hawks are obviously undersized without Horford and Pachulia but what they do have is depth. The biggest keys: Ivan Johnson and Tracy McGrady. Johnson is physical, but the question is whether he can keep his emotions in check against Kevin Garnett.
McGrady has played well in the last two weeks and seems pumped for the playoffs (he’s 0-7 in playoff series, 13-25 in playoff games in his career). Michael Cunningham has a blog posted on McGrady. One of McGrady’s comments: “Physically and mentally I feel better than I have all season long. Feeling a lot more comfortable, getting consistent minutes, coach is putting the ball in my hands.”
(Update: Jason Collins will start at center for the Hawks. Drew is opting for bringing Marvin Williams, Johnson and McGrady off the bench.)
That’s it for now. I’ll be here live blogging through the game, at least until I need to start working on the game column.
What are your thoughts on this series? Do the Hawks have a chance without their bigs? The cyber floor is yours.
By Jeff Schultz