Celtics Vs. Hawks: Observations From Atlanta's Game 1 Victory

Apr 29, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks power forward Josh Smith (5) shoots a jump shot over Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett (5) during the first half of game one in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Celtics 83-74. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

The Atlanta Hawks used a big first quarter to give themselves some cushion and they were able to hang on at the end. The game actually went pretty predictable when you think about it. The Hawks came out with a lot of energy in their own building and ran out to a 20-6 lead to start the game. Then Boston clamped down in the second half and the Hawks had a much harder time scoring. They were able to hold on at the end thanks in part to a Rajon Rondo explosion at the end.

Here are some observations from Game 1:

  • The Hawks absolutely have to get into transition at every available opportunity. The Hawks ended up with only 10 fast break points and were just 4 of 9 from the field on the break. I have joked before that previous Hawks teams could turn a 3 on 1 break opportunity into a three-point attempt better than any other team in the league. That hasn't been as apparent with this group but the Hawks clearly have an advantage in the open floor and they have to take better advantage of it going forward.
  • The game plan for Boston right now looks like it is to focus on Joe Johnson and then deal with everyone else. If Josh Smith continues to play well we will see if that plan changes over the course to this series. Johnson struggled to a 3 for 15 shooting night and was the primary culprit when the Hawks offense bogged down in the second half. When Boston loads up on Johnson then Larry Drew must recognize this and play more through Josh Smith. Johnson also must recognize this and be ready to either attack quickly or move the basketball. Boston is not the team where standing and holding the basketball is going to be a successful proposition.
  • The Jason Collins experiment: 32 minutes, six points and five rebounds and a couple of really awkward moments along the way. I was skeptical of starting Collins but he did an adequate job against Kevin Garnett early. In terms of stats it was one of the better performances we have seen from Collins. However, at crunch time when the Celtics are at their best defensively, the Hawks are at a severe disadvantage with him on the floor. I feel very confident that 32 minutes is way too many for a player like Collins with his offensive shortcomings.
  • The Hawks began the fourth quarter with a 65-53 lead and with the entire second team of Jannero Pargo, Willie Green, Tracy McGrady, Marvin Williams and Ivan Johnson on the floor. At that point in the game the Hawks were either going to push the lead back out or let the Celtics creep back in. I don't mind playing the second unit together but I have strong reservations when it happens while the opposing team has starters still on the floor. Thus the days of playing the second unit together probably should have ended during the regular season. To make matters worse, the first starter Drew brought back in the fourth quarter was Jason Collins which made scoring the basketball even more difficult.
In all it was a performance by the Hawks that pretty much mirrored the regular season matchups. The only difference this time around was that Atlanta didn't really blink when the Celtics made their run. The Hawks defense was solid and they did turn the basketball over 13 times but that was less than during the regular season matchups.

Couldn't have started any better for the Hawks really. They maintain home court advantage and now await word on whether or not Boston will lose one of its key pieces. On to Game 2.

For more on the Hawks be sure to check out SB Nation Atlanta.
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