- PG: Jeff Teague
- SG: Kyle Korver
- SF: Kent Bazemore
- PF: Paul Millsap
- C: Al Horford
Atlanta Hawks vs. Boston Celtics Game 3 Preview
The Atlanta Hawks have taken care of business through the first two games of their 2016 NBA playoff series with the Boston Celtics, snagging a close game one victory and controlling throughout a 17-point game two win.
Boston dropped three of four games to the Hawks during the regular season, but came into their first round series with the exact same record as Atlanta and the belief that they were the better team. Isaiah Thomas almost made it look that way with 27 points in a near-win in game one, but Atlanta’s defense has proven to be too much and the loss of Avery Bradley has put even more pressure on the diminutive Thomas to produce for a Boston offense that really lacks any other go-to scorers.
Should Boston get back in this series, their stout record at TD Garden will have to hold up, starting with an emphatic game three win on Friday night.
Atlanta survived a game one scare where the Celtics really came to play and then won a defensive battle in game two, showing they can win no matter what kind of pace Boston tries to force. Playing at home was a huge part of that, as the Hawks have been dominant on their home court all year and did a terrific job keeping their home court advantage in this series.
While the Hawks have not been the elite team we saw claim the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference a season ago, they remain a very balanced club that relies on solid defense and team offense. They’ve actually been one of the hottest teams through the second half of the season and it’s because they don’t rely on one guy and they always play hard.
The Hawks have also been gifted some good fortune, as Boston has endured injuries to both Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley. Those two injuries sapped both their offense and defense in game two, and it really showed. Atlanta proved to be the more veteran squad and after two games, those knee-jerk hopes of Boston grinding it’s way to a first round win are starting to look a lot more murky.
Atlanta continues to shove out their usual starting five, which includes three strong two-way players in Teague, Bazemore and Millsap. Korver and Horford don’t provide the same intensity defensively, but fill their roles as key offensive pieces. Korver especially benefited in game two from Avery Bradley’s absence, as he drilled five three’s.
|4/19/16||VS Celtics||Win 89-72|
|4/16/16||VS Celtics||Win 102-101|
|4/13/16||at Wizards||Lost 109-89|
|4/11/16||At Cavaliers||Lost 109-94|
|4/9/16||VS Celtics||Win 118-107|
Atlanta did come up short in their regular season finale in D.C., which was troubling considering a win would have granted them the Southeast Division title. What made it worse was it came against a Wizards team that was sans John Wall and Brad Beal and had nothing to play for. Atlanta also lost two straight to Cleveland to close out the year, furthering the notion that they’re not quite good enough to take down the Cavs.
For this series, though, the writing may have already been on the wall. Atlanta took care of business against the Celtics during the regular season with a 3-1 advantage and dating back to their last meeting in regular season play, have no won three straight. On the year, the Hawks have claimed five in a row, including a 2-0 start to their first round playoff series.
The Boston Celtics were trendy picks to upend the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, but have so far failed to meet expectations. They actually came remarkably close to taking this series over in game one, but fell by one. Many gave them a chance to fight back to a 1-1 tie in game two after such a spirited first game, but injuries to Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk proved to be too much to overcome.
The big question, then, is whether or not the Celtics can overcome those injuries. Bradley is a huge loss with a closer look, as Boston’s offense clearly badly needs his scoring and playmaking, while his on-ball defense is about as nasty as it gets. His absence gives the Celtics one less elite defender and can allow Atlanta to penetrate the paint or get easier looks outside. It’s really no surprise that Kyle Korver went nuts from deep in the first game Bradley missed in these playoffs.
Olynyk’s absence is a bigger deal than we thought, too. While largely known for his quality offense and outside shooting, Olynyk also helps to clean the glass and is a very serviceable defender in spots. Without him helping down low and on the perimeter, Boston loses another quality body to rotate in and out of the paint.
Boston not only lacks cohesion suddenly, but the absence of two keys players made head coach Brad Stevens make an odd decision in game two. Instead of rolling Evan Turner out as the starting two-guard, Stevens got cute by starting Marcus Smart and then using Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter in expanded roles off the bench. That backfired horribly, as Boston scored a historically low 7 points in the first quarter and ultimately never recovered.
The horrors of game two was part not having two good players, and part Atlanta buckling down on their home floor. For things to change, the Celtics probably need Bradley and/or Olynyk back. That, or Stevens needs to tighten his rotation and get more production out of Smart and Jae Crowder (combined 2 for 20 in game two).
- PG: Isaiah Thomas
- SG: Marcus Smart
- SF: Jae Crowder
- PF: Amir Johnson
- C: Jared Sullinger
Avery Bradley remains out of the lineup through the weekend, which means if Boston is to notch a win it will have to come without one of their best two-way players. That should give Smart another start and he does bring top level defense to the table, but another woeful shooting performance like we saw in game two could sink the Celtics for good.
The rest of Boston’s starting five is about what we’ve seen for the entire season, and the real guessing game will be what coach Stevens does off the bench. He confided in rookies Rozier and Hunter a bit too much and hopefully plays Turner more at the the two spot.
|4/19/16||at Hawks||Lost 89-72|
|4/16/16||at Hawks||Lost 102-101|
|4/13/16||VS Heat||Win 98-88|
|4/11/16||VS Hornets||Lost 114-100|
|4/9/16||At Hawks||Lost 118-107|
The Celtics enjoyed a very good 2015-16 NBA campaign and are clearly headed in the right direction. There has been talk all year that they want to add another go-to scorer for their offense, which is quite potent but aside from Isaiah Thomas can sometimes lack killer instinct. That’s shown up lately, as they’ve scored under 90 points twice in their last five outings and dropped four of those contests. It’s surprisingly been their defense that has been the real problem, however, giving up 102+ points in three of their four defeats.
|4/19/16||Hawks 89, Celtics 72|
|4/16/16||Hawks 102, Celtics 101|
|4/9/16||Hawks 118, Celtics 107|
|12/18/15||Hawks 109, Celtics 101|
|11/24/15||Hawks 121, Celtics 97|
|11/13/15||Celtics 106, Hawks 93|
Atlanta has the clear upper hand in this series and even though there were nuggets of truth to the Celtics staging a first round upset, it’s starting to look like that was a pipe dream. Atlanta has proven to be much more balanced and polished, winning the first two games of this playoff series and five straight during this season. Things could change come Friday with the series shifting to TD Garden, however.
Matchup: Hawks vs. Celtics
|Win/Loss||48 / 34 (27-14 Home)||48 / 34 (20-21 Away)|
A very quick look at these teams states the obvious: Boston likes to push the pace and can defend, while the Hawks defend first and when they get going can heat up offensively. Not having Bradley around clearly hurts Boston’s defense and also gives the sharpshooting Korver a huge boost from deep, and in turn, the Hawks have a huge edge going through the remainder of this series.
Preview & Predictions
Not having Bradley is going to be huge for Boston, but even without him, we still saw the Celtics adjust and play very good defense in game two. Atlanta did get hot from outside (11 treys made), but they otherwise shot pretty poorly (39% from the floor) and for that, we credit Boston. Having Marcus Smart in the starting lineup didn’t help Boston’s offense (it hurt it considerably) but it also didn’t have their defense drop off at all.
Game one was a running match and the Hawks barely won. Game two was a defensive battle where the Celtics couldn’t possibly keep up without Bradley – for two reasons. First, because Bradley scores the ball pretty well (15.2 points per game) and can explode offensively at any time. But even beyond that, his absence allows the Hawks to double-team and virtually snuff out the offensive life of their best scored – Isaiah Thomas. Thomas is a great outside shooter and facilitator, but he doesn’t have much space to move around these days. Jeff Teague is already a tough defensive draw, but throw in traps and defenders coming up to stop him from getting into the lane, and scoring is all the more difficult.
Needless to say, the Celtics don’t stand a chance unless someone else can step up and take some of the scoring pressure off of Thomas. That needs to be Jae Crowder, Evan Turner and ideally Jared Sullinger. Sullinger doesn’t get the run he probably deserves, but it will be interesting to see if Stevens buckles down and gives him more minutes because of the extra pop he can offer the offense. If Boston is to win, he pretty much has to.
Picking the Celtics straight up just doesn’t seem like an option. Either Boston will win a very tight game like we saw in game one, or they’ll get housed again. I’m not seeing a lot of middle ground there. The things working in Boston’s favor are a defense that can border on elite and the fact that they’re playing at TD Garden, where they won 28 games this year.
Atlanta has all of the momentum and Boston is down two key players, however. The Hawks have the edge here and even if they don’t win, this game should be close enough as to where they beat the spread.
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