Blakely: Celtics vs. Hawks position matchups


Blakely: Celtics vs. Hawks position matchups

ATLANTA - Paul Pierce is no stranger to tough matchups. The small forward position for most teams is often the one that features the most talented player on the roster. And the Atlanta Hawks and their 3-man, Joe Johnson.

"He's one of the better one-on-one players in the league," Pierce said. "He's right up there with (Oklahoma City's) Kevin Durant, Carmelo (Anthony of the New York Knicks) I'm going to have my work cut out for me. I just have to be ready to take on the challenge."

Pierce's matchup with Johnson will certainly be one that fans will be glued to watching throughout this playoff series.

But by no means is it the only one to watch.

Here's a glimpse at a number of other matchups to watch in this series, and which team comes in with the advantage.

POINT GUARD - Rajon Rondo vs. Jeff Teague

Teague is indeed one of the most improved players in the NBA this season, with career highs in a number of categories. But he is not in the same class as Rondo, a three-time all-star. Rondo led the NBA in assists (11.7) per game this season, the first Celtic to do so since Cousy in 1960. With the Hawks so thin up front, look for Rondo to deliver at least triple-double like performance in this series. And when he's not doing that, look for him to dominate this matchup.


SHOOTING GUARD - Avery Bradley vs. Kirk Hinrich

Bradley will likely split time defensively guarding Hinrich and Teague, but it's his offense that has to be of concern for the Hawks. The 6-foot-2 guard had a career-high 28 points in Boston's 97-92 loss at Atlanta earlier this month. Hinrich is a crafty combo guard, but he's going to have trouble keeping up with Bradley whether it's on cuts to the basket or Bradley finding a way to get free for spot-up 3-pointers.


SMALL FORWARD - Paul Pierce vs. Joe Johnson

Here you have two of the NBA's best small forwards at work. Johnson led the Hawks in scoring this season with 18.9 points per game, and was named an all-star for the sixth straight season. Pierce also led the C's in scoring with 19.4 points per game, and he too was an all-star for the 10th time. Johnson will likely score more than Pierce, but the Captain has shown the ability to help the C's win in ways that don't necessarily involve him scoring.


POWER FORWARD - Brandon Bass vs. Josh Smith

Summary: Bass is a very good offensive player, but this will be a tough series for him. Smith not only has the ability to score in many ways, but he's also one of the better defenders in the NBA. There will be times when Bass will have a bigger (and slower) Hawks defender on him, with Garnett matching up with Smith. The C's have to recognize when Bass has a player like Collins or Ivan Johnson on him, and see what they can get out of Bass in those situations because opportunities to score on Smith will be few and far between.


Center - Kevin Garnett vs. Jason Collins

You can bet that the Hawks will limit the amount of time Collins spends guarding Garnett as much as possible. This is the kind of matchup that validates Boston's decision to play him at center this season. As for Collins, he's a serviceable back-up who has done a decent job of filling in for Al Horford and now, ZaZa Pachulia (foot) who Hawks coach Larry Drew said he does not expect to play in tonight's Game 1 matchup.


With Atlanta likely utilizing a smaller lineup than usual due to their lack of frontcourt depth, it's hard to get a feel for how much the Celtics will get out of Greg Stiemsma at center. For the Celtics, Mickael Pietrus will most likely be the Celtics reserve who garners the most playing time off the bench. Atlanta counters with an extremely talented bench . . . if we were talking four or five years ago - with Tracy McGrady and Jerry Stackhouse. The backups that have to be of greatest concern to the Celtics has to be Marvin Williams and Ivan Johnson, the NBA's rookie of the month for April. Williams played an major role in the 2008 playoff series between these two being pushed to seven games. With Atlanta's injuries in the frontcourt, his ability to rebound the ball will be a huge factor for the Hawks, and although he's an undersized power forward, Johnson has shown a knack for making his presence felt both on the boards and when it comes to scoring. Still, this will be a defensive series and the C's second unit has the advantage - a significant one - in that area.


COACHING - Doc Rivers vs. Larry Drew

Summary: Both are among the coaches who did a much better job this season than they will get credit for. Drew's crew finished second in their division yet still managed to win enough games to earn home court advantage in the first round. And Rivers' bunch brushed aside a poor start to finish with a flurry, earn the No. 4 seed after looking as though they weren't going to even make the playoffs. It's hard not to give the nod to Rivers who has had to juggle his lineup - and win - in ways few would have imagined possible at the start of the season. His players rewarded that faith by finishing the season playing their best basketball. And with him providing "strategic rest" for a number of guys, he has prepared them to be fresh both mentally and physically. EDGE: BOSTON

PREDICTION - Celtics in 7 games.

For Celtics, comebacks build confidence


For Celtics, comebacks build confidence

BOSTON -- There’s no team in the NBA that seems to like a good comeback as much as the Boston Celtics.
They come into tonight’s game against Philadelphia having rallied from a double-digit deficit to earn a victory nine times -- more than any other team this season.
It certainly provides them with a realistic boost of confidence that no deficit is too steep.  Repeatedly rallying to win after falling behind by large margins has created an unspoken confidence among the Celtics that how they start games doesn’t matter as long as they finish off playing the right way.

I asked Jayson Tatum about whether the Celtics have become too comfortable with digging themselves early deficits only to go on a tear and pull off a comeback win.
“Probably subconsciously we do,” Tatum said. “But we have to get away from that.”
Here are five other story lines to follow heading into tonight’s game between Boston and Philadelphia.


Boston’s inability to come back from a large deficit and beat New Orleans wasn’t the only oddity about Tuesday’s loss. It was one of the few games this season when Jayson Tatum didn’t really look to score when on the floor. He had 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting to go with five rebounds, which isn’t a bad night. And while it’s always good to be an efficient scorer, him taking so few shot attempts has to be the exception rather than the rule most nights in order for Boston to be successful. This season the Celtics are 17-4 when he takes 10 or more shots, 17-7 when his shot attempt numbers are in the single digits.


The last time these two met, Boston’s Marcus Morris and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons had issues when Simmons set a really hard foul on Morris, a Philadelphia native, who immediately rose to his feet and pushed Simmons. Since then, Simmons had another on-court bruhaha with another Philly native, Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors.  Simmons suspects guys are coming after him with a little extra something because he’s a rookie.

"I don't know if they're trying to test me or see how I am on the court, but I won't play around," Simmons said after the Sixers’ win over Toronto.

Morris called the foul Simmons committed against him last week in London a cheap shot.

 “But it’s all right,” Morris told reporters at the time. “I take a lot of cheap shots, too. It’s good to see Philly got some . . . tougher guys. I promise you that won’t happen again. It is what it is.”


Tatum has been among the league’s most consistent scorers among the rookie class. He leads all first-year players with 38 games of scoring in double digits. Simmons, arguably the front-runner for the league’s Rookie of the Year award, has 35 double-digit scoring games which trails Tatum and Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen (36).


The NBA recently released the top-selling NBA jerseys for the fourth quarter (Oct. 2017 – Dec. 2017) of 2017. Tonight’s game features a trio of players who ranked among the top 15. Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid came in at No. 6, while fellow Sixer Ben Simmons had the eighth-highest selling jersey. For Boston, Kyrie Irving’s No. 11 jersey came in at No. 12.


With J.J. Redick (leg injury) out, look for Bayless’ role to increase significantly tonight. The former Celtic is averaging 8.5 points per game this season. But in three games against Boston, he has risen his scoring to 10.3 points per game while shooting 52.2 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from 3-point range.




WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers


WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics host the 76ers at TD Garden. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview:  Sweeping Sixers will depend on containing Joel Embiid

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]