With the Atlanta Hawks scheduled to face the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Playoffs, this First Round matchup will pit two of the most popular teams in the league against each other. Ahead of the Hawks-Celtics game, we’ll be making our Hawks Game 1 predictions.
It is difficult to argue against the idea that the Boston Celtics are one of — if not the most — formidable teams in the league as a whole. However, following the Hawks decision to replace former head coach Nate McMillan with renowned head coach Quin Snyder, Atlanta has revitalized its offense by playing faster and taking more 3-point attempts. Synder has also motivated star guard Trae Young to commit to the defensive end, a major factor in the Hawks breaking .500 by the end of the regular season.
After taking down the Miami Heat in the Play-In Tournament, the Hawks will meet a relatively similar foe in the Celtics. Boston is a somewhat familiar opponent for Atlanta as well, with the Hawks facing the Celtics 10 times in the past three seasons, going 4-6 against them in that time. The Hawks went 0-3 against Boston this season, losing those matchups by 40 points combined.
For Atlanta, this is the first playoff matchup between the franchises in the Trae Young era.
Young, a showman whose game seems to elevate under the bright lights, will look to lead Atlanta past Boston. However, given the Hawks recent history against the Celtics in head-to-head battles, it’ll be a tall task.
Nevertheless, let’s move on to our Hawks Game 1 predictions.
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4. Saddiq Bey is the best performer for the Atlanta Hawks
One of the main strengths of the Boston Celtics is their backcourt defense. So, with Celtics guards Derrick White, Marcus Smart, and Malcolm Brogdon all being quality on-ball defenders, the Atlanta Hawks could have a hard time getting their own backcourt going. Of course, as the best scorer on the team, Young will certainly be trusted to make tough shots no matter how stifling the defense is. Nonetheless, the best chance that the Hawks may have to put points on the board is when the second unit comes in. Particularly when they face Boston’s second unit frontcourt, which could feature players like Sam Hauser and Blake Griffin in Game 1. Hawks forward Saddiq Bey may excel with either player as is primary defender, especially with his tendency to get hot in a hurry.
3. All Atlanta Hawks starters finish in double figures
Despite Trae Young being an excellent offensive engine, their roster has evolved since he was drafted in 2018. Particularly over the course of the past year, as the Atlanta Hawks added several players — Dejounte Murray, Saddiq Bey, and AJ Griffin — to the rotation through offseason or in-season acquisitions. Second-year forward Jalen Johnson has also been added to the rotation after being drafted with the 20th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Consequently, the Hawks now have an athletic group of players that with multiple scoring options that can play quality defense as well. Against Boston, a top-five ranked defense. That said, against the Celtics — particularly in the postseason — hero ball won’t work for 48 minutes; Atlanta will need to move the ball around and have trust in their teammates to pull off this upset.
2. The Atlanta Hawks will use Game 1 to scout Jaylen Brown closely
There have been rumblings about the Atlanta Hawks having interest in Boston Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, an Atlanta native, for months. If true, expect Atlanta to use Game 1 as an opportunity to scout Brown in a playoff setting, as well as his potential fit with the Hawks. That said, how Trae Young in particular fares in Game 1 — especially relative to Brown — will be important for more than the standard reasons. With the star seemingly on the hot seat in Atlanta, there’s going to be plenty of internal and external pressure on the (perhaps incumbent) face of the franchise. As for Brown? While he has pushed back against reports that he wants out of Boston, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to play for the Hawks. Even if the Celtics were unwilling to trade him to Atlanta, the Hawks could still go after the All-Star in the 2024 offseason.
1. The Atlanta Hawks start strong, finish wrong
With so many players that have ultra-competitive mindsets and a head coach heralded as one of the smartest individuals to roam the sideline, expect the Atlanta Hawks to come out with some fire. Expect them to have a specific gameplan and put their best efforts into executing it. However, the Boston Celtics are simply the more talented team and have more variance to the way they can play or adjustments they can make. Even if the Hawks draw first blood, the Celtics will fight back. When the game gets down to the wire though, Atlanta will have to try not to rely on one-on-one battles, instead choosing to stay disciplined and play team ball.