By Christopher Frangolini
The Boston Celtics are just two wins or losses away from deciding the future of the organization. And the Celtics are in perfect position.
They have the draft picks (eight out of the total 60 picks are owned by Boston in May’s draft), including the protected Brooklyn Nets’ lottery pick. All they need now is a successful playoff track record.
With a series win over the Atlanta Hawks, the Celtics would get No. 1-seeded Cleveland in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. The playoff series win would mark the first in the certainly bright future for third-year coach Brad Stevens’ reśume and would improve the potential of adding a franchise-changing superstar in the summer.
The win would also schedule a rematch with a team that had previously swept Boston in four postseason games last season, with an average loss margin of 9.25 points (-37 points).
Getting into the playoffs last season was mostly looked at as a win, speeding up the rebuild. But this year expectations are high with some media pundits touting anything short of an Eastern Conference finals appearance as an unsuccessful season.
A series loss to Atlanta would not pull Boston out of the running for a top-ranked free agent like Kevin Durant or Al Horford, but it could hinder the potential of jumping from a middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference team, to a top-two.
If Boston is able to attract a major player and keep their lottery pick, it gives them options.
Maybe they bring in a Buddy Hield or Ben Simmons. You pair a top drafted prospect and a big free agent with the core Celtics roster of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Avery Bradley and you could have a team that could potentially compete for a championship next year.
So the direction of the future relies on this Atlanta series. Luckily for the Celtics they defended the TD Garden and tied the series at 2-2. Pivotal game five tips off Tuesday night at 8:30 P.M. at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
Here are some keys for the remainder of the series….
Jae Crowder says the Celtics are in a much better place heading into Game 5, not only bc series is 2-2, but bc they figured out first qtrs.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 26, 2016
Rebound the basketball: This is very simple. They’ve done a good, but not great job through four games. Both teams have won the rebounding match up twice, but Atlanta holds the overall edge in rebounding, 192-189. The Celtics do own the offensive rebounding advantage, 44-35.
Shooters have to shoot: The Hawks are a mere 37-134 (.362%) at the three-point line. Kyle Korver, who is a career .429% three-point shooter, is 13-32 (.246%) has had his struggles, too. You have to assume that a marksman will eventually find his shot. Continue to run out and contest everything he jacks up.
Paul Millsap: Millsap scored a game-high 45 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in game four, Boston’s 104-95 overtime victory. Millsap is a versatile big that can shoot well and rebound. He single-handily kept the Hawks in the game and knocked down almost everything he threw near the rim (19-31). Brad Stevens had Marcus Smart guard Millsap and the difference was noticeable. Millsap scored just two points in the final 10:33 of the game thanks to Smart’s defense.
Even Batman has Robin: Isaiah Thomas leads all players in postseason scoring with 28.3 points per game. Thomas is going to be your leading scorer (Batman). But which player will emerge to be No. 2 (Robin)? The Celtics don’t need one. The Celtics are deep enough that they can have multiple players score in double-digits. Thomas scored 42 points in game three, a Boston 111-103 victory, and Evan Turner (17 points), Amir Johnson (15), and Jonas Jerebko and Marcus Smart chipped in 11. Game four featured five Celtics’ players scoring in double figures. Thomas and the Celtics can get other scoring options from different players, depending on the night.