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In a bit of an upset in the first round of the Play-In Tournament, the Atlanta Hawks defeated the Miami Heat to earn the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. Their reward is a matchup with the No. 2-seeded Boston Celtics in the first round of the East playoffs. After a disappointing defeat in the Finals last season, the Celtics started out this campaign on fire. Though they eventually cooled off a bit, they still finished 57-25 for their most wins in a season since 2009 and the second-best record in the league. They'll be hoping to start another successful postseason with a series win over the Hawks.

As for the Hawks, this was another disappointing season. Despite swinging a blockbuster trade for Dejounte Murray, they actually won two fewer games than they did last season. A late-season coaching change to bring in Quin Snyder didn't move the needle all that much, but they now are back in the playoffs, and will hope they can find some of the magic from their surprise 2021 run to the East Finals. 

Ahead of the series, here's a look at the full schedule and key storylines:

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Atlanta Hawks

Celtics lead series 1-0

All times Eastern

  • Game 1 (at BOS): Celtics 112, Hawks 99
  • Game 2 (at BOS): Tuesday, April 18 | 7 p.m. | TV: NBA TV | Live streamfuboTV (try for free)
  • Game 3 (at ATL): Friday, April 21 | 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Live streamfuboTV (try for free)
  • Game 4 (at ATL): Sunday, April 23 | 7 p.m. | TV: TNT | Live stream: TNT app
  • Game 5* (at BOS): Tuesday, April 25 | TBD | TV: TBD
  • Game 6* (at ATL): Thursday, April 27 | TBD | TV: TBD
  • Game 7* (at BOS): Saturday, April 29 | TBD | TV: TNT

*If necessary


3-point math favors Celtics

Earlier this season, after the Celtics blew a 28-point lead to the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Mazzulla gave an interesting post-game interview. 

"I was actually worried," Mazzulla said about the beginning of the game. "Because we were scoring, but it wasn't because we were making shots. It was because we were getting layups. And they're a very analytically sound team. I knew the tide was going to shift because they were going to continue to shoot threes.

"I know you guys all think it's funny, but the 3-point attempt rate is the most important stat in the game of basketball because of the pace of play, shot selection, and the ability to go on runs. When you get outshot by 14 threes, the potential points there are crucial because it gives you way more shots and way more opportunities."

It's worth considering that quote in the context of this series. The Celtics finished second in the league in 3-point attempts per game (42.6) and sixth in 3-point percentage (37.7), while the Hawks were 28th in 3-point attempts (30.5) and 21st in percentage (35.2). For further context on the disparity, the Celtics made at least 20 3s in a game on 17 occasions; the Hawks did not do it once.  

That's a serious math problem for the Hawks. To their credit, they are a high-level offensive team, but when you're shooting that many fewer 3s than your opponent, you have to be incredibly efficient at all times to keep up with them. 

Marcus Smart vs. Trae Young

The most important individual matchup in this series is Marcus Smart vs. Trae Young. Any chance the Hawks have of pulling the upset rests largely on Young's shoulders; they need him to summon the form he had during the 2021 playoffs when he took the NBA world by storm and led the Hawks past the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers in stunning fashion. 

That won't be an easy task for Young, however, as he'll be going up against one of the best defensive units in the league. One that boasts multiple elite perimeter stoppers, including reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, who will be the primary Young defender. 

Those two have squared off 10 times in the regular season in their careers, and the results have been heavily in Smart's favor. The Celtics are 8-2 in those games, and Young has been limited to 21.9 points and 7.1 assists per game while shooting 38.9 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from 3-point land. In addition, Young is averaging 4.4 turnovers when facing Smart. 

To be fair to Young, those numbers are skewed by some really rough performances early in his career, but even if you look at the last four meetings dating back to 2022, it's not much better. Yes, Young put up 29.2 points and 8.5 assists in those contests, but he shot 39.8 percent from the field and 30.7 percent from 3, and went 1-3. 

It's also worth noting that there's some bad blood between these two. Back in 2020, Smart attempted to step over Young in the closing seconds of a Celtics win, and the Hawks guard pushed him to the ground, causing a fracas between both teams. And earlier this season, Smart took offense to a flailing leg by Young on a drive and threw him to the ground; Smart was ejected and later fined for the incident. 

A good omen for the Celtics?

The first time the Celtics ever won a championship, way back in 1957, they did so by beating the then-St. Louis Hawks in the Finals. The last time that the Celtics won a championship, in 2008, the first team they beat along the way was the Hawks in the first round. .

Heading into the playoffs, the Celtics -- or at least the majority of the fans -- were hoping the Hawks could pull off the upset in the first round of the Play-In Tournament so they could avoid the psychological battle of the Miami Heat. That wish came true, now they'll hope Banner 18 does as well. 

According to history, it just might. 


The Celtics are clearly the better team and have also controlled this matchup in recent years. Trae Young will likely get the Hawks a game, but this series shouldn't be much trouble for Jayson Tatum and Co. Pick: Celtics in 5