Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics -5 (Total 171)
Despite the overwhelming ignoring of the Atlanta Hawks as a viable playoff team and the dismissing of the Celtics are too told and too slow to compete, this has evolved into the second best series in the playoffs, behind only Memphis and the Clippers. The Celtics survived Rondo’s suspension in Game Two and stole homecourt advantage with the win in Atlanta. The held serve with a dramatic overtime win in Game Three and look to take control of the series by grabbing a home win tonight in Game Four.
The Hawks looked like they had Game Three in control, thanks in large part to an oddly resurgent effort from Tracy McGrady. The former scoring champ and seven time All-Star was carrying the offensive load for the Hawks until he rolled his ankle. Such has been the life of T-Mac since around 2007. Fortunately for Atlanta, they shouldn’t need McGrady to carry the load. Unfortunately for the Hawks, Boston seems to have found a fountain of youth in Paul Pierce who has won more than his fair share of Playoff games over the past decade in Celtic Green.
And don’t forget Rajon Rondo. His game is unconventional, and it is honestly hard to draw a parallel between him and any other NBA player living or dead; it’s ugly at times (most times) but it is insanely effective and he just might be the most dangerous player in the Eastern Conference not named Lebron James. His 17 point, 14 rebound, 12 assist triple-double was the difference in Game Three and his complete dominance in overtime might just have propelled the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals (yes, I am already dismissing Philly or Chicago as a legitimate second round opponent). It doesn’t appear the Hawks have a defensive answer; it certainly isn’t Jeff Teague or Joe Johnson.
Boston is still one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, and their 89.0 ppg allowed and 41.8% shooting percentage allowed is daunting. They have been even better at home, and I expect the crowd to be fired up to see the C’s take control of the series tonight. Boston is full of savvy veterans with a healthy appreciation of just how small their remaining window truly is. By all reasonable expectations, this year is it. And an amazing opportunity has opened up in front of them with Derrick Rose’s injury to make one last run.
I don’t see them squandering that chance tonight. I look for Boston to control the game, especially defensively, and grab a big win tonight at home.
Free Pick: Boston Celtics -5