Playoff basketball is just around the corner, and the Boston Celtics are opening up postseason play against the Atlanta Hawks. Game 1 of the first round tips off tomorrow in Boston at 3:30 EST, making now the perfect time for some bold Celtics playoff predictions.
Boston and Atlanta enter this matchup on very different trajectories. The C’s locked up the No. 2 seed in a stacked Eastern Conference after posting an impressive 57-25 overall record. The Hawks were mediocre throughout the regular season (41-41 overall) and found themselves as heavy underdogs in the Play-In Tournament. Yet, the Hawks rose to the occasion and embarrassed the Miami Heat in the Play-In, allowing them to steal the seventh seed and sneak into the playoffs.
The Green Team also swept the season series, as they beat the Hawks in every one of their three matchups. Despite all that, the Hawks are hungry to shock the world again and the Celtics are eager to get back to the NBA Finals for the second straight year.
Anything can happen in the playoffs, so here are three bold predictions for the first-round matchup of the 2023 NBA playoffs between Boston and Atlanta.
3. Jaylen Brown leads the Celtics in scoring
Celtics star Jaylen Brown is having himself a career year. He became an All-Star for the second time, averaged 26.6 points per game on 49.1% shooting, and looks on his way to his first All-NBA nod.
While co-star Jayson Tatum also had an amazing regular season, Brown’s impressive numbers should not be ignored.
Having 2 of the league’s top 3 scoring forwards on the same team is remarkable.
1. Giannis Anteotkounmpo – 31.1 PPG
2. Jayson Tatum – 30.1 PPG
3. Jaylen Brown –26.6 PPG
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown should both be on everyone’s All-NBA ballots this year. pic.twitter.com/TTe1lrEo3v
— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) April 8, 2023
The Georgia native grew up less than an hour away from Atlanta, so this series could mean more for Brown. The first time he was in “The A” this season he put up 22 points in just 23 minutes en route to a 126-101 blowout. More recently, he notched 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds in March against the Hawks during another Boston victory.
Brown seems to enjoy playing close to home and he’ll have a chance to shine when he shares the court with Tatum. The Hawks will likely send a lot of double-teams Tatum’s way, meaning JB will get his fair share of open looks.
Atlanta will also want to guard Brown closely, but the Hawks might have to put their best defender on Tatum. As a result, Brown could take on a lot of the scoring duties in this series when Tatum can’t get free.
2. Trae Young and Marcus Smart both get techs after a scrum
Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart is not afraid to get into it with opposing teams. Just this season, Smart had a close encounter with Hawks star Trae Young.
SMART AND YOUNG FIGHT pic.twitter.com/4W0hRi8Joq
— The Celtics Fanpage (@TheCelticsFP) March 12, 2023
Although this tussle was back in March, there’s a good chance the scrappiness carries over into this first-round matchup. Tensions flare in the playoffs, and Smart will likely be tasked with guarding Young throughout the series.
Plus, they are both prone to getting in trouble with officials. Young recorded 17 technical fouls this season, which is tied for the second-most in the entire NBA. Smart got 10 techs of his own and was ejected multiple times this year.
Marcus Smart is HEATED following his ejection while down 111-83 in Oklahoma City pic.twitter.com/fUtuCmlz6T
— Bally Sports Oklahoma (@BallySportsOK) January 4, 2023
Since it’s the playoffs, referees could end up swallowing their whistles more frequently. Just don’t be shocked if Smart and Young end up going at each other at some point.
1. Celtics win the series but don’t sweep
The Celtics are overwhelming favorites to take down the Hawks in the first round. The odds for Boston to win are -1200, according to FanDuel, the largest among all playoff series that already have both teams determined.
However, the Hawks just surprised the NBA world by beating the Miami Heat in the Play-In. Additionally, they have a potent duo in Young and Dejounte Murray and a solid supporting cast that makes them a tough out.
As for the C’s, Boston has had a slight tendency to play down to competition this season. The Celtics posted an amazing 33-15 record against teams that were .500 or above, yet at the same time suffered losses to the lowly Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards.
So, instead of being a clean sweep, this first-round bout could go to five or six games (at the most). Ultimately, though, the Celtics have been the better team all year, and in order to win they’ll just have to make sure they don’t underestimate their opponent.
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