Boston +5.5 at Atlanta O/U 204.5
Something pretty remarkable happened on Wednesday Night, in Game 82 of the regular season. It got overshadowed by Kobe Bryant’s 60-point outing in his final career game, leading the Lakers to a last minute come-from-behind win over Utah. It got overshadowed by the Warriors winning #73, finishing with the best regular season record in NBA history. But make no mistake about it – it was meaningful!
The Boston Celtics defense stunk for a good portion of the last two months. Since the All Star Break, Boston’s D has gone from allowing 99.6 points per 100 possessions up to 104.7 pp/100. Over their previous eight games, they ranked #19 in the NBA, allowing more than 106 pp/100. In the first half of Game #82 against Miami, the Celtics defense got lit up once again. Miami led 62-38 at halftime, on their way to an easy blowout win over Boston.
But something funny happened on the way to that easy win – the Celtics started playing defense at a level we haven’t seen from them for months. The Heat hit their first shot of the third quarter, then proceeded to go 1-19 the rest of the quarter, unable to find anything resembling an open look. Boston’s defensive intensity was every bit as strong in the fourth. Miami managed only 26 second half points and their 24 point halftime lead turned into a ten point defeat.
Let’s not forget that despite missing Jae Crowder for nearly a month, the Celtics finished the season ranked #1 in forced turnovers on defense and their season long defensive numbers still show a Top 10 ranking for defensive field goal percentage allowed. That’s bad news for a Hawks team that ranks among the NBA elites defensively, but a squad that has issues elsewhere that are likely to be an Achilles Heel in this Game 1 showdown.
The Hawks don’t get to the free throw line, not a team loaded with offensive creators who take the ball to the hole. The Hawks are a very weak offensive rebounding team; bad news against the Celtics now that Kelly Olynyk is healthy again. And when Kyle Korver isn’t raining three’s, the Hawks are not anything close to an elite offensive team, ranked well below the league average in offensive efficiency this season. Expect a competitive game, right down to the final buzzer. Take the Celtics.