Some playoff series are starting to get interesting in the first round after we moved out of a one-sided opening weekend. Will we get a game worth watching on Tuesday? Here are three things to look for.
1) How will the Celtics adjust to the loss of Avery Bradley? Boston is going to miss Bradley. A lot. He is out for the rest of the series against Atlanta with a hamstring injury, and in a series seen as a coin toss, this could be the difference. During the season, the Celtics were 3.1 points per 100 possessions better when Bradley was on the court rather than sitting, but that stat underestimates his value. Particularly defensively — Bradley was sixth this season in Defensive Player of the Year voting, and he was the highest ranked guard. Boston’s defense pressures and forces turnovers (second most per game in the league) and Bradley was at the heart of that, averaging 2.2 steals per game. Offensively, Bradley was inconsistent, but he made smart cuts off the ball, created space with that off-the-ball movement, knew how to use curls/pin down screens to get open, and hit his midrange jumpers fairly well. All things Boston needs this series.
Brad Stevens’ creativity and Boston’s trademark depth will be tested with this injury (maybe Stevens slides to bigger lineups). Marcus Smart likely will get the start and be asked to slow down Jeff Teague, who had 23 points and 12 assists in Game 1 and feasted once Bradley left the game. Smart isn’t the pick-and-roll defender Bradley is, and you can expect that to get tested early. Terry Rozier will get minutes for Boston, as will R.J. Hunter. Don’t be shocked if Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer adds to the defensive pressure in the backcourt by playing Teague and backup point guard Dennis Schroeder together.
2) Can Atlanta replicate their first half of Game 1 for 48 minutes? Atlanta took a 1-0 series lead over Boston with a tight 102-101 win, but people forget this was a 17-point game at the half, and the Hawks were locking down the Celtics (who shot 23 percent in the first half). It was a balanced attack in that half (isn’t it always for the Hawks?) with Kent Bazemore scoring 11 while both Al Horford and Paul Millsap scored nine. The easy way to do this for the Hawks would be to hit their threes — they were 5-of-27 in Game 1, well below their season average.
The other thing we could see from Atlanta — angry and motivated Al Horford. On the Celtics’ broadcast, Boston color commentator and general Celtics homer Tommy Heinsohn said Horford was “not a great player.” Horford shrugged it off as Heinsohn’s opinion and he didn’t care — but it’s motivation for the All-Star forward. Horford is just good at everything — maybe not A+ elite at any one thing, but he’s A-/B+ at everything, and if he finds a Celtics weakness he can exploit it. If that happens in Game 2, the Hawks will win handily.
3) Maybe Memphis can keep it close for a half? That’s about the best I can do for you this series. Memphis is going to struggle to score (37 points in the first half of Game 1), and the Spurs will get their buckets and just grind Memphis down. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge will get theirs; the Spurs bench will feast in particular against an injury-riddled Grizzlies roster.
This column is about things to watch — I would recommend binging season four of “House of Cards” or “Mozart in the Jungle” over this game. We’ll watch the Spurs go up 2-0 for you and put up a quality recap. Promise.