Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics open their pursuit of an 18th championship banner against the Atlanta Hawks in the opening round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs on Sunday.
Event: Celtics (39-27) vs. Hawks (40-26) - NBA Playoffs 2012, First Round, Game 1.
Date/Time: Sunday, April 29, 2012 - 7:00 p.m. EST
Location: Philips Arena (Capacity: 19,445), Atlanta, Georgia.
Broadcast Info: Sunday's playoff opener between the Celtics and Hawks will be televised nationally on TNT. In addition, the game will be broadcast on the radio on WEEI 93.7 FM.
Celtics Roster 2011-2012: Ray Allen, Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley, Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, Kevin Garnett, Ryan Hollins, JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, Sasha Pavlovic, Paul Pierce, Mickael Pietrus, Rajon Rondo, Greg Stiemsma, Sean Williams. Head Coach: Doc Rivers.
Hawks Roster 2011-2012: Jason Collins, Erick Dampier, Willie Green, Kirk Hinrich, Al Horford, Ivan Johnson, Joe Johnson, Tracy McGrady, Zaza Pachulia, Jannero Pargo, Vladimir Radmanovic, Josh Smith, Jerry Stackhouse, Jeff Teague, Marvin Williams. Head Coach: Larry Drew.
Injury Report: Boston - Ray Allen (ankle); Atlanta - Al Horford (chest), Jannero Pargo (back), Zaza Pachulia (foot).
Regular Season Series: Boston and Atlanta met three times in the regular season, with Boston winning twice. The Celtics won 79-76 in the season series opener before topping the Hawks 88-86 in overtime in April. Atlanta won the season series finale, 97-92.
Last Playoff Meeting: The Celtics and Hawks last met in the postseason back in 2008, when Atlanta pushed Boston to seven games, but ultimately fell short. Boston won Games 1,2, 5 and 7 of the series and proceeded to win its first championship in 22 years.
Stats Leaders: Paul Pierce was the Celtics' leading scorer in the regular season, averaging 19.4 points. Rajon Rondo led the team, and the league, in assists with 11.7 and averaged 1.8 steals. Kevin Garnett averaged a team-leading 8.2 rebounds and Greg Stiemsma averaged a team-best 1.55 blocks. Atlanta's leading scorer this season was Joe Johnson, who averaged 18.8 points per contest. Jeff Teague led the hawks in assists (4.9 APG) and steals (1.6) while Josh Smith averaged team highs in rebounds (9.6) and blocks (1.7).
Storyline: It's now or never. Boston heads into its opening round series with Atlanta knowing that this is likely the last time that Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rondo will all be together as presently constituted. Of course, the Big Four may be down to the Big Three, as Allen's swollen right ankle could sideline him for the series. While the loss of Allen would be a major one for the Celtics, who desperately need his scoring off the bench, it is one they can overcome. The reason? Avery Bradley. The second year guard has found his touch on offense, making his conversion to a two-way player complete. Bradley took Allen's place in the starting lineup late in the season and has thrived in the role, and the Celtics kept winning even without Allen in the lineup. Having the services of Allen would certainly be helpful, but the C's have proven they can still win without him. Boston will rely on Pierce, Garnett and even Rondo for its primary scoring with Allen likely on the sidelines. Atlanta isn't a premier talent, but it can still be dangerous. The duo of Johnson and Smith will be a tough one for Boston to stop, and the Hawks have plenty of other potential weapons in Teague, Green, Hinrich and even Stackhouse or Williams. Knowing the Celtics, they won't take any opponent lightly, and that fact should be displayed in Sunday night's game.
Players To Watch: Paul Pierce talked about how touch it can be to stop Joe Johnson, who he will be guarding throughout most of the series. Watch for the Pierce-Johnson matchup in Game 1 and throughout the series, as most of the offense for both teams should come through those two players. Rondo has a clear advantage against Teague, and barring injury (knock on wood), should be able to continue his high level of play from the regular season. Garnett and Smith will be a good battle, as both are athletic bigs who can hit jumpers.
Prediction: Boston knows what's at stake, and even without Allen, they should come out with a spring in their step and get the job done. Final Score: Celtics 94, Hawks 86.