Celtics

Five reasons the Celtics will win

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Five reasons the Celtics will win

For the third straight season, the Celtics have drawn themselves a favorable first round match-up.

Two years ago, they opened with the Heat (starring Dwyane Wade and a mannequin wearing a Jermaine ONeal jersey) and disposed of them in five games. Last year, they took on an injured and dysfunctional Knicks team, and swept them in four. This year, its Atlanta. And while I dont imagine the series will be quite as easy as some have predicted, the Celtics should once again come out on top.

Here are five reasons why:

1. Atlanta's front court
With Al Horford very likely out, and Zaza Pachulia still questionable, the Hawks are left with only three players taller than 6-9: 36-year-old Erick Dampier (whos literally scored only two points all season), Vladimir VladRad Radmanovic (whos 6-10, but takes 69 percent of his shots from three-point land and is also Vladimir Radmanovic) and seven-footer Jason Collins (whose greatest achievement is that hes had a better career than his brother Jarron.)

Aside from that three-headed monster, the Hawks have a pair of 6-9 athletes in Josh Smith and Marvin Williams, but both are addicted to the perimeter. Lastly, theres 6-8 Ivan Johnson, a bit of a wild card who makes up for his lack of size with pure, unbridled insanity but hes more of an enforcer than he is a guy with any semblance of low post talent.

Does this mean the Celtics are going to dominate Atlanta on the boards and in the post? Probably not. But we can feel pretty confident that the Celtics will not BE DOMINATED on the boards or in the post, and thats just as essential.

2. The Hawks cant guard Paul Pierce.

The two most natural match-ups are Williams and Joe Johnson, and while both guys (especially Williams) are capable defenders, neither is what you'd call a "stopper" and neither can consistently hang with The Truth.

In fact, the biggest obstacle standing between Pierce and a huge offensive series might be his toe. I know. I know. No ones 100 percent at this time of year. But its also been two weeks since the original injury, and less than 24 hours since he re-aggravated it.

Either way, I'm expecting a big series from Paul especially when it comes to winning time.

3. Avery Bradley can guard every one

The Hawks will likely play Joe Johnson at shooting guard and try to exploit his height advantage over Bradley.

I don't think it will work.

Sure, Johnson will still score, and maybe even put up a few big numbers. That's what he does he's Joe Johnson! But with Bradley shadowng his every move, Johnson's life on the court will be a living hell. Nothing will come easy, and I'd be shocked if he's able to find any kind of consistent rhythm. (If he does, it's not pretty. Johnson scored 25 points on 14 occasions this season, in those games, the Hawks were 12-2.

And don't be surprised if you see Bradley check Jeff Teague from time-to-time. In fact, I'd love to see Doc strategically mix this into the game plan. For one, it will be nice to give Rondo a break on the defensive end; have him spend a few possessions standing in the corner with Kirk Hinrich instead of chasing around a 23-year-old speedster. Plus, you know it will drive the Hawks crazy. Why not let Teague get comfortable bringing the ball up, and then sporadically unleash the beast on him? Have him catch the ball and have to think to himself: "Hey, wait a second, why is there suddenly another player inside my uniform?"

If Bradley can wreak havoc on the perimeter, with KG dominating the middle, and Rondo available to freelance and take some chances, the Hawks offense will fall apart.

4. Rajon Rondo in the first round of the playoffs.

Not counting that first year against Atlanta (when he was still coming into his own and was for some awful reason still being benched in favor Sam Cassell), Rondos averaged 17.9 points, 11.3 assists and 7.3 rebounds in the first round of the playoffs. It's the annual highlight of his season. And assuming that both teams will be leaning on small ball, creating a ton of open lanes and getting out in transition, there's no reason to believe that Rondo won't pick up right where he left on last year in New York.

After all, all the playoff games are on National TV, right? RIGHT?!

5. Nothing has changed with the Hawks
We're four years removed from that ridiculous first round series, but we're still waiting for the young, up-and-coming Hawks to put it all together. At this point, it's fair to assume that they never will. Josh Smith has improved, but barely matured and now he wants out. Johnson still has the fire and on-court demeanor of a librarian. Marvin Williams is in year seven, and still hasn't figured it out. Mike Bibby's veteran presence has been replaced by Teague's fiery inexperience. Horford's great, but he's gone. Atlanta's no better than they were in 2008.

And neither are the Celtics. But while they may not be the same team that raised Banner 17, they're still more of a team than Atlanta is. And for the second time in the last five years, they'll face off with the Hawks, and come out on top.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Jayson Tatum vs. Markelle Fultz debate

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Jayson Tatum vs. Markelle Fultz debate

0:41 - Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith give their reactions on the Celtics getting their first win of the season and a comparison between Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving in the 4th quarter.

7:17 - Phil Perry joins BST to break down the tale of the tape between the Falcons and the Patriots as he breaks down the quarterbacks, offense, defense, coaching, and intangibles between the two teams.

11:57 - Our crew on BST discuss number 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz and number 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum going up against each other and debate who seems like the better pick so far. 

16:35 - In this segment of Irrelevant Questions, Tom Curran interviews Patriots WR Phillip Dorsett as he asks him a bunch of random questions. 

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Larkin rises to occasion, says he's ready when Celtics call his number

Larkin rises to occasion, says he's ready when Celtics call his number

PHILADELPHIA – Near the end of a preseason game against Charlotte, Boston Celtics guard Shane Larkin was killin’ the Hornets with pick-and-roll action.

It was a preseason game that at the time, didn’t seem to have much value other than to get some of the end-of-the-bench guys a little run up and down the court.

But as it turned out, Larkin's play in that game was one of those things head coach Brad Stevens tucked away, knowing at some point he would count on Larkin to provide similar play in a regular season game.

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Well, that game was Friday night at Philadelphia, a game in which several players for Boston stepped their games up in helping the Celtics get their first win of the season, 102-92.

But you would be hard-pressed to find a bigger game-changer for the Celtics in this game, than Larkin.

He finished with 10 points off the bench, eight of which came in the decisive fourth quarter when the Celtics rallied from five-down to get a hard-fought, much-needed victory.

“You have to always be ready for your name to be called, especially when you have injuries,” Larkin said. “You never know whose night it’s gonna be.”

Boston was playing without Marcus Smart who suffered a left ankle sprain in their 108-100 loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday. Smart was in the starting lineup having replaced Gordon Hayward who underwent left ankle surgery and is expected to be out for the remainder of this season.

“When coach (Stevens) called my name, I had to go out there and be aggressive, play my game,” Larkin said. “And it worked in our favor.”

And while Stevens had watched Larkin play prior to the Celtics signing him this summer, it was a preseason game against Charlotte that really convinced him that the 5-foot-11 guard could help when called upon.

“You’re always watching,” Stevens said. “And if you remember that exhibition game, he finished out that Charlotte game, just running simple spread pick-and-rolls. He’s such a handful with his speed and quickness, and he allows other guys to play off of him. He’s a small guy, but he makes up for it with his speed and skill.”

Al Horford benefited more than any other Celtic with Larkin’s pick-and-roll play which factored into Horford scoring nine of his 17 points in the fourth.

“Shane is a player who understands the game and for us, it was me trying to set a good screen for him and having him make a play,” Horford said. “He just made the right reads, when to shoot it, when to pass it. He just looked very comfortable in that position.”

And to think that Larkin’s big game came about in part because of how well he performed in a preseason matchup against the Hornets.

“I did not know it was that specific game,” Larkin said. “But whenever I step on the court I try to do my best. That’s offensively, defensively, and do what the team needs me to do.

Larkin added, “Whenever my number is called, if he (Stevens) calls it again, I hope he does. I’ll be ready to go out there and do it again.”

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