BOSTON – The fact that the Boston Celtics have a higher playoff seed now than they had last season is indeed a sign of progress.
But let’s face it.
No Celtics fan is doing back flips and cartwheels about being the fifth seed in the East after what should have been them preparing to host a first round series rather than board a plane for Atlanta at the end of this week.
The Celtics clearly don’t see a first-round series against the 4th-seeded Hawks as a reward, but rather an opportunity for redemption.
They faced each other four times this season with the Hawks emerging victorious in all but one matchup.
And the last time they played was last week when the Hawks took over in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 118-107 win.
“I think it’s good for us, for our sake we get to play them again especially how, our performance last time,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “We played them there in Atlanta, gives us a chance to go back and play the way we did (against Miami on Wednesday).”
Indeed, the Celtics – or rather the second half Celtics – put on a clinic at both ends of the floor.
Defensively, they suffocated Miami’s shooters, harassed their ball-handlers and bullied their way around the basket to the tune of 32 points in the paint in the second half while limiting the Heat to just 14.
“It was the total opposite of what we did in the first half,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “It just says a lot about this team, we really didn’t give up, we didn’t play well in the first half but we didn’t get down on ourselves and we showed what we’re capable of.”
A similar approach and effectiveness will be needed to knock off the Hawks, a team that returns most of its core players from a squad that had the best record in the East last season and advanced all the way to the conference finals.
“Atlanta’s really good,” said Boston head coach Brad Stevens. “Atlanta’s beaten us three out of four times and they’ve got some tough matchups. They’re a good basketball team; a really good basketball team. And so we’ll have our hands full. We’re looking forward to competing against them, we’re looking forward to preparing for them, and that’ll start – depending on when we play – either (Thursday) or Friday.”