Five reasons the Celtics will win

730652.jpg

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

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

celtics-gerald-green.jpg

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

WALTHAM, Mass. – When the news came out that Al Horford was going to be a Boston Celtic, Amir Johnson couldn’t wait to meet his new teammate.

He didn’t have to.

Johnson soon found himself on plane headed to Atlanta to not only work out with Horford, but also try and work out some of the kinks that tend to come up among new teammates in those early days of training camp.

“I took it upon myself when I saw Al was part of the team, I automatically wanted to go down to Atlanta and work,” said Johnson who added that he brought his daughter along for the trip and they went to dinner with Horford’s family during the visit. “I thought it was great just to get that chemistry going. I just wanted to get to known him, make him feel comfortable.”

It’s still early in training camp, but Johnson and Horford seem to be meshing quite well on the floor. 

“The chemistry’s definitely coming along,” Johnson said. “I know when Al wants to roll or pop, and just working my way around it. Al’s more of a popper and eventually he’ll roll. It’s up to me to read whether I stay up or work the baseline.”

Johnson has been in the NBA long enough to know that often the keys to success are subtle nuances that may be overlooked by fans and spectators, but players know are essential to them being successful.

Being able to not only understand a player’s game but figure out how to play well with them, are critical to teammates being successful.

Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man which is a role the 29-year-old Johnson has been cast in the last few years he was in Toronto. Horford brings a similar set of defensive skills to the table which gives Boston a true 1-2 defensive punch along the frontline.

“It’s big time,” Johnson said. “We communicate to each other. It’s all about communication out there; just knowing he can hold it down and he trusts me to hold it down. It’s key.”

GREEN INJURY UPDATE

Gerald Green is expected to get a few more days to rest his hip flexor injury which he said on Thursday was feeling better.

The injury should keep the 6-6 wing from participating in the team’s Green-White scrimmage on Friday, but it isn’t considered serious.

Still, Green is eager to get back and return to full contact work which is why he is getting a steady diet of treatments during the day and returning in the evening for more treatments from the Celtics’ medical staff.

“It’s almost like a precautionary thing; make sure it doesn’t get worst,” Green said.

The injury occurred earlier this week but Green could not pinpoint exactly what he did to suffer the injury.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said. “I’m not 25 no more. Just try to come out there and go at full speed. Those are things I’ve got to learn now I’m in my 30s.”
Indeed, one of the many benefits of being older now is that Green sees the big picture of things better now, which is why he isn’t trying to rush back to the floor too quickly.

As a veteran, it’s a long season,” Green said. “You’re not trying to do too much to make it worst. Training camp is important, but being healthy at the beginning of the season is even more important.”

RUN, YOUNGSTERS, RUN

Near the end of Thursday’s practice, the Celtics had a full court game of 3-on-3 involving some of the team’s rookies and end-of-the-bench training camp invitees like Jalen Jones of Texas A&M. The 6-7 undrafted rookie had a dunk over Jordan Mickey, a 3-pointer and another strong, uncontested flush at the rim in a matter of minutes. He’s likely to wind up with Boston’s Developmental League team, the Maine Red Claws.

With Thursday morning’s session being the team’s fifth practice this season, head coach Brad Stevens thought it was a good idea to get some of the team’s younger players on the court.

“It was good to play some 3-on-3,” said Stevens who added that it was good for their conditioning since a lot of the running at this point involves trying to get the starters and the likely rotation players as acclimated and familiar with one another as possible. “We try to do that occasionally even through the season just to get everybody up and down.”

TURNOVERS? WHAT TURNOVERS?

Five practices in the books and there’s only one thing that really has stood out to the eyes of Isaiah Thomas.

It’s turnovers.

Apparently the Celtics haven’t committed too many thus far.

“We haven’t turned the ball over as much as teams usually do the first couple of days,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to learn the system, trying to get everybody familiar with what we do. But we’ve been playing well together. Guys are playing hard. Guys have gotten better, worked on their game.”

Ball-handling will be one of the areas to watch during the preseason as the Celtics look to find a replacement for Evan Turner (Portland) who has been one of the team’s best ball-handlers the past couple of seasons.

The Celtics were middle-of-the-pack last season with 13.5 turnovers per game which ranked 14th in the NBA.

Low turnovers often serve as a common trait among playoff teams. Just last season, eight of the top-nine teams in fewest turnovers committed, were in the playoffs.