This is the 3rd and final meeting between these two teams. The first two games were decided by 3 and 2 points respectively. Games between these two teams always seem to end up in a bar fight, as Kevin would say. However, in this one, the Celtics may be so short handed that it isn't even close. Along with Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, and Mickael Pietrus, who didn't make the trip, Doc announced that Paul Pierce and KG will "probably" be out of this game for rest as well. That makes short handed seem like a huge understatement.
The Celtics are now firmly in the 4th spot and will stay there now that they have clinched the Atlantic Division. Indiana is 3.5 games ahead of them in 3rd and playing well so they won't catch them to move up. However home court for the first round is still very much up in the air. Atlanta is in 5th and is 1/2 game ahead of the Celtics and 1 game ahead of the Magic, who are in the 6th spot.
This could very well be a first round preview and this game could possibly determine home court in that opening round. Right now, the Celtics are 1/2 game behind Atlanta with home games vs the Heat and the Bucks remaining. The Hawks have games against the Knicks, Clippers and Mavericks remaining, all at home. It's possible that Orlando could swap places with Atlanta and end up in that 5th spot depending on how the remaining games play out. Orlando has games on the road vs Utah, Denver and Memphis and a home game vs Charlotte remaining. But they will be playing without Howard who has announced that he will have back surgery on Friday.
The Celtics are short handed, but they have won short handed before. I'm not sure if they can win this shorthanded though. Home court against a team like Atlanta in the opening round would be nice and this game could go a long way toward either establishing it or losing it. But it's clear that Doc feels that coming into the playoffs healthy is more important than home court. But then again, he said that Pierce and KG are "probably" out. Mind games perhaps?
Probable Starting Matchups
Mickael Pietrus (knee) out
Rajon Rondo (back) out
Ray Allen (ankle) out
Kevin Garnett (rest) "probably" out
Paul Pierce (rest) "probably" out
Zaza Pachulia (foot) day to day
Al Horford (Pectoral) out
Brandon Bass vs Josh Smith
Smith is a very athletic and quick power forward and Brandon must box out and keep Smith off the boards along with slowing him down on offense. Smith is an average defender, though and so Bass should be able to get his shot off. In their first meeting with Bass scored just 8 points and Smith scored 10 points with 11 rebounds. In their second meeting, Smith went off for 20 points and 11 rebounds while Bass matched his production with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Avery Bradley vs Jeff Teague
With Rondo out, Avery needs to be aggressive and set the pace of the game. They will also need his scoring and his defense on Teague who lit the Celtics up for 21 points in their last meeting.
Sasha Pavlovic vs Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson is athletic and quick and can score in bunches. I'm not sure the Sasha we've seen so far in Boston is up to the task of defending him. It would be a great time for Sasha to have a break out game and lock down Johnson along with finding his stroke on offense. If not, this could get kind of ugly.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is key to every win. The Celtics need to play tough team defense. They have to guard the perimeter as the Hawks have good 3 point shooters who can kill a team from out there. We don't want a repeat of the NY game and so they must close out on shooters on the perimeter. They also have to defend the paint because players like Smith and Johnson and Pachulia (if he plays) can get to the hoop and score there, especially on tip ins.
Rebound - The Celtics must make an effort to go after rebounds. They must box out and prevent tip ins and to prevent the Hawks from getting second chance baskets. The Hawks had 26 points in the paint in their first meeting and 40 in their second meeting and many of those were tip ins at the hoop.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to go after rebounds and loose balls. They must be aggressive in going to the basket and not settle for jumpers. They also have to be aggressive on defense and get stops. I love the fact that Pierce has been driving more and he will need to continue to do that in this game as well. They have to play like they want it more.
Focus - The Celtics need to keep their focus for 48 minutes. They have to take care of the ball and not make careless passes. They have to make their free throws. And they have to play as a team and not lapse into hero ball with each one trying to make up for their missing teammates.
Bench Play - The Celtics are missing 2 key reserves and a couple others are going to be starting so the remaining players must pick up the slack. Against the Knicks, the bench scored just 2 points and the Celtics need more than that from them. They did better against the Magic, pitching in 14 points but the Celtics could use even more from them in this game.
Veteran NBA official Ken Mauer has officiated 1,497 regular season, 119 playoff, and nine Finals games, during his 25-season career. He was also a member of the crew that officiated the 1993 Europe Tour in London and the 2005 Denver All-Star game. Mauer’s resume includes six years of CBA officiating experience, nine years of collegiate officiating experience and 12 years of high school officiating experience in Minnesota. Mauer is very quick to call technicals and in one game, once ejected Doc less than 3 minutes into a game, and that was before the new "Respect the Game" rules. In a recent Timberwolves game he might have set the record by calling 5 technicals in a 10 second span. The Celtics have to be on their best behavior with Mauer calling the game. Mauer was one of the refs charged with tax evasion and obstructing federal tax laws for receiving substantial taxable income from 1989 through 1994 and failing to declare it. He was one of the refs in the controversial Miami/Dallas Finals where the foul calls were totally lopsided, giving the Heat the title. In a Suns/OKC game last season, Mauer told Zabian Dowdell not to be a bitch about the calls. Dowdell asked him if he'd say that off the court and Mauer ejected him from the game for it. The Celtics are 1-1 this season and 8-2 in their last 10 games with Mauer officiating. The win this season was against the Grizzlies where the refs let them play for the most part and the Celtics shot 21 free throws to 16 for the Grizzlies. The loss was to the Sixers where once again they let them play and the Celtics shot 18 free throws to 15 for the Sixers. The Hawks are 1-1 this season and 6-4 in the last 10 games with Mauer. It's tough to know which Mauer will show up - the good one that lets them play or the bad one that tries to control the game. His home W/L record this season is 25-20 and he isn't usually influenced by the home crowd.
David Jones has officiated 1,335 regular season games and 40 playoff games throughout his 22 seasons as an NBA official. In addition, Jones officiated both the men’s and women’s 2000 Olympic Bronze Medal Games. Jones has eight years of collegiate officiating experience. He was one of the refs who helped to train Tim Donaghy and was very outspoken in condemning Donaghy's actions and felt that Donaghy's actions took the "ethics and integrity of the profession and threw them out the window." I guess he hasn't looked very hard at the current crop of refs that also lacks ethics and integrity. The Celtics are 4-0 this season and 7-3 in their last 10 games with Jones. In the first win against Orlando, the Celtics shot 19 free throws compared to 31 for the Magic. In the second win, the Celtics shot 12 free throws to 18 for the Raptors. In the third win, the Celtics shot 11 free throws to 25 for the Wolves. In the 4th win, the Celtics shot 25 free throws to 27 for the Heat. The officiating wasn't fairly decent in all of them. The Hawks are 1-0 this season and 6-4 in their last 10 games with Jones officiating. His home W/L record this season is 26-22.
Eli Roe has officiated 345 regular season games during his first six NBA seasons. Prior to joining the NBA staff, Roe officiated in the CBA, NBA Development League and WNBA. He officiated in the NBA D-League Finals for two years, the D-League playoffs for four years and the WNBA Playoffs for two years. On the collegiate level, Roe refereed in the SEC, ASUN and OVC conferences and numerous Division
II and III, NAIA and Juco league games. He also worked in four Division I post-season conference tournaments. Roe tends to be inconsistent in his calls and can make the calls favor a team on any given night. The Celtics are 1-1 with Roe this season. The win over the Wizards was officiated evenly as was the loss to the Spurs. They let them play in both. . The Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 games with Roe as an official. The Hawks are 0-2 this season and 5-5 in their last 10 games with Roe. His home W/L record this season is 22-20.
Short Handed and the Revenge Factor
The Celtics come into Atlanta without 5 key players. Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus, and especially Rajon Rondo all stayed back in Boston. Doc has announced that KG and Paul Pierce will "probably" sit this game out even though they participated in the shoot around and will be at the game. The Celtics reserves have got to step up and contribute in their absence. Atlanta has lost 2 close games to the Celtics this season and will be looking to avoid the season sweep and exact some revenge.