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.

Celtics pay tribute to Craig Sager in Tuesday's practice


Celtics pay tribute to Craig Sager in Tuesday's practice

The NBA is honoring longtime TNT broadcaster Craig Sager to begin the season, with teams wearing Sager-themed shirts across the league. 

Sager, 65, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2014, and it was announced in March that he had an expected three-to-six months to live. 

The Celtics celebrated Sager in full force at the end of Tuesday’s practice, changing into shirts with multi-colored flowers and clashing patterns in an ode to Sager’s signature style. The group gathered for pictures and shouted “Sager Strong,” a hashtag that’s circulated in support of the 65-year-old. 

After news emerged that his cancer had returned in March, TNT worked out a deal with ABC that allowed Sager to cover the NBA Finals for the first time in his 34-year career, leading to a memorable exchange with LeBron James after the Cavaliers won the NBA title.