My series preview has been posted but for the full scope of opinion we need to empanel those who have kept Hoopinion running this season:
1) What is the key to Atlanta winning the series?
James Goeders: Bench scoring. In the two losses to Boston this year the Hawks' bench averaged 10.5 points in games decided by 5 points total. In the win last Friday (albeit mostly against the Boston reserves) the bench put up 30.
Buddy Grizzard: Desire. In 2008, an up-and-coming Hawks team came of age by pushing the eventual champions to 7 games. Four years later, the Celtics are old and the Hawks are in their prime. Will this be a repeat of 1988 when an aging Celtics team defeated a Dominique Wilkins-era team at its peak? Does Joe Johnson care about his legacy, or does he only care if the checks clear? Injuries are no excuse because Boston has been hit just as hard as the Hawks.
Mark Phelps: Rebounding and Penetrating. With the absence of Horford and Pachulia, the Hawks will need big games on the boards from Josh, Marvin, and a Rent-a-Center. The ability to draw fouls and force the Celtics to play their second line could also be a big swing in the Hawks’ favor.
2) What is Boston's greatest potential advantage?
James Goeders: Guard play. In the two Boston wins, Rondo averaged 10 points and 16.5 assists. Even in the Hawks victory Avery Bradley had 28 and Keyon Dooling had 17. Can Teague and Hinrich slow down Rondo and Ray Allen?
Buddy Grizzard: Playmaking. The Hawks consistently take low-percentage shots because busted isolations lead to Joe Johnson shooting a fadeaway over a double team or Josh Smith chucking a 22-footer as the shot clock expires. Rajon Rondo's ability to set up teammates allows the Celtics to score more efficiently. Jeff Teague, like Rondo, is great at attacking the basket. Both are suspect outside shooters. But Teague will likely never approach Rondo's ability as a floor general.
Mark Phelps: Rondo. In the two games he played against the Hawks, Rondo doled out an amazing 33 assists. In one game, he was able to make up for a poor shooting performance with 20 dimes. With the Celtics at full speed, Rondo’s the pilot.
3) Series prediction: Who wins? In how many games? Why?
James Goeders: The Hawks in 7. I think people will overplay the experience angle, especially since the Hawks have now advanced to the second round the last three seasons, and overlook the youth and matchup problems that the Hawks provide (Josh Smith vs Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson vs Paul Pierce).
Buddy Grizzard: Celtics in 6. First of all, this is the biggest coaching mismatch in the postseason. Secondly, the Celtics will get inside the Hawks' heads and control the tempo and tone of the series. Josh Smith will be frustrated trying to score inside against the Celtics defense and float to the perimeter, exactly where they want him. Joe will try to play hero ball and fail.
Mark Phelps: At the risk of being too much of a homer, I’ll say Hawks in seven.
This should be a dogfight to the last second, but the home court advantage and surges in April by Josh and Marvin make me (cautiously) optimistic.