2012 NBA Playoff Preview and Predictions: Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks
Analysis: After losing seven of eight games in mid-February, it appeared the Celtics were on the verge of implosion.
It was during this slump, which left Boston 15-17 on the season, that one of the NBA's worst-kept secrets made its way into the mainstream media: the existence of a clubhouse rift between point guard Rajon Rondo and the team's veterans.
Coach Doc Rivers was additionally at odds with the mercurial All-Star, leading many to speculate Rondo would be ballin' in a different area code by season's end.
Rondo wasn't the only Celtic name rumored in this conjecture, as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen found themselves hot commodities in the trade winds. Despite reaching the 2012 NBA Finals, Boston's dismantling seemed imminent.
However, the trade deadline came and passed with Pierce, Allen, and most importantly, Rondo, all remaining with the Shamrocks. And when the dust settled, the Celtics flaunted a newfound sense of buoyancy.
From that 15-17 juncture, Boston ripped off victories in 21 of their next 29 ballgames.
Not only did Rondo get back on track (13.2 assists, 10.2 points during the club's revival), but the once worn-out Kevin Garnett and emerging Avery Bradley led a rededication to the defensive front, holding opponents to 89.3 points per game, second-best in the league.
Formerly imagined to flame-out in the first round, Boston suddenly finds itself as legitimate contenders in the East.
Analysis: The Hawks have been a staple in the Eastern Conference playoff picture lately, as 2012 marks the club's fifth consecutive postseason trip.
However, the Hawks have managed less success than their peers, never advancing past the conference semifinals.
If they hope to achieve more this season, they'll have to do so without the services of center Al Horford. The two-time All-Star was lost in the 11th game of the season and it appears he'll be unable to return for the playoffs.
In his absence, Josh Smith has averaged career-bests in points (18.8 per game) and rebounds (9.6 per game). He and Joe Johnson (18.8 points per game) do most of the heavy lifting in the scoring column. Third-year player Jeff Teague has settled in as the team's full-time starting point guard.
Winning Percentage of 1001 Simulations: Celtics 34.8 percent - Hawks 65.2 percent
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