While Boston may ultimately have an advantage on the wing in this series, they are going to have their hands full with Atlanta's strong frontcourt duo of Paul Millsap and Al Horford.
There hasn't been nearly enough said about the season that Millsap has had for the Atlanta Hawks. Millsap hit free agency after two All-Star campaigns with the club, re-signed to a big deal and then elevated his game to All-NBA level for Atlanta.
Offensively, Milsap averaged a team-best 17.1 points on 47 percent shooting. He led the team in rebounding (9.0), steals (1.8) and blocks (1.7). His play on the defensive end of the floor often goes unnoticed but both he and Al Horford have the ability to smother opposing pick and rolls warding off ball handlers while having the quickness to recover in time and defend the rim.
Millsap took his game to an even higher level over the last two months of the season and was particularly effective against Boston averaging 22.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 58 percent from the field in the season series.
For the Celtics, Amir Johnson is a player who doesn't mind doing the dirty work and doesn't need the basketball to succeed. There are a lot of similarities between Atlanta and Boston. One is that both teams prioritize transition defense. For the Hawks, that comes at the expense of offensive rebounds. The Celtics however, are one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the league and Johnson is part of that.
Offensive rebounding is an area that could give Boston an edge in this series so it will not be surprising to see them attack the glass at every available opportunity.
Al Horford's season numbers may seem a bit pedestrian to some, but his value to the Hawks goes beyond the box score. Horford is the defensive anchor and as was mentioned earlier, his ability to guard multiple positions fuels Atlanta's defensive versatility. The Hawks will throw a lot of different looks defensively at opponents, particularly in the pick and roll. Horford and Millsap are what makes that possible.
Offensively, the Hawks need an aggressive Horford. He added the three-point shot to his arsenal this season to help stretch the defense but needs to attack the basket as well just to keep opposing defenders off balance.
The Celtics have a lot of intriguing options in the frontcourt as well. In addition to Johnson, Jared Sullinger makes up for his lack of size with solid positioning. He is a crafty offensive player who isn't afraid to also mix it up inside.
We will focus on the bench a bit later but guys like Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk just add to the versatility at Stevens' disposal.
I wrote earlier that the point guard matchup might be the pivotal matchup in the series. That is true but the Hawks absolutely won't escape the first round without good performances from both Millsap and Horford.