C's and Hawks teams not the same as '08

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C's and Hawks teams not the same as '08

ATLANTA Many of the faces look familiar on both sidelines.

But make no mistake about it, the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks of this year are quite different than the two teams that squared off in the playoffs four years ago.

At that time, the Celtics were the prohibitive favorite while the Hawks, truth be told, were a young team that for the most part was happy to be in the postseason.

Fast forward to tonight's game, one that will begin on the Hawks home floor - not the Celtics - and features a Celtics team nearing the end of its Big Three era facing a much-improved and more seasoned Atlanta team.

"We got playoff experience now," said Atlanta's Josh Smith, one of five Hawks from the '08 team that took the C's to the brink of elimination before being disposed of in seven games. "Back then we were a raw team as far as experience in the playoffs go. We were just playing with talent."

The C's had talent, experience and the drive to win a championship which is exactly what the Celtics did that season in bringing home Banner 17.

While this Boston team has those same aspirations, the odds are more stacked against them now than ever.

Part of that can be attributed to their record (39-27) which for significant stretches of the season, was at or below .500.

Atlanta's Joe Johnson was among those who thought at some point, the Celtics would get on track and make a run towards the playoffs this season.

He was right.

"They basically got three Hall of famers on their team," Johnson said. "You got a veteran group that knows how to get it done."

Smith added, "we know how big this moment is for us. The margin of error is thin as ice. We have to be able to go out and protect our home court; understand the importance of that."

While much has been made of the Celtics and their ability to win on the road, the numbers suggest success away from the Garden won't be as easy as some might believe.

Since the 2008 title team, the Celtics are a not-so-stellar 13-22 on the road.

But here's the thing.

They only need to win one game outside of the Garden in order to have home court advantage tilt in their favor.

And while their 13-22 playoff road record during the Big Three era isn't overly impressive, the Celtics have won at least one road game in nine of their last 10 playoff series.

"We just try to take it one game at a time," said Boston's Rajon Rondo. "This is a big series for us. We don't want to overlook anyone; respect every opponent and try to get a (Game 1) win."

After a number of Celtics players spent games during the final week not playing in order to be more rested for the playoffs, there was a perception across the league that the Celtics didn't care for home court advantage against the Hawks, the kind of thing that could easily be twisted into being seen as a lack of respect.

C's coach Doc Rivers has maintained for weeks that he'll take rest over a run towards home court advantage if he had to choose one over the other.

Still, the Celtics have gone out of their way this week to make sure that the Hawks don't feel slighted by Rivers' strategic rest plan.

"This is a team that's more than capable (of winning the series)," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "They've been together a long time. This is not going to be a cake walk. We'll definitely have our work cut out for us."