Coming into game 4, the major talk from both teams concerns injuries. Ray Allen came back to play a big part in game 3 but after playing 37 minutes in that game, he said that his ankle was "mad at him." He made it through shoot around and word is that he will play in this one. Even more concerning for the Celtics, though, is the fact that Avery Bradley left game 3 with a shoulder injury and is a question for this game. He also went through shoot around but is listed as a game time decision. If Avery can't go, either Ray or Pietrus could get the nod to start. And, of course, there are Greg Stiemsma's feet and the wear and tear of big minutes on the starters in the last game.
On the Hawks side, Josh Smith is expected to play in this one, but with a knee problem, it remains to see how effective he can be since his game relies on his athleticism. Pachulia has been day to day and there have been rumors that we could see him and even Horford to try to give the Hawks a boost but neither is expected for this game. . Tracy McGrady was one of their best players in game 3 but left the game after turning his ankle. Although he returned to the game, he wasn't quite the same the rest of the way. He's expected to play in this game.
The Celtics were able to get a split in Atlanta to win back home court and so they need to take care of business at home and not give the advantage back to the Hawks. The last game was way closer than it should have been with Smith out, but the Celtics seemed to be casual about it, allowing the Hawks to hang around and force an overtime. Thankfully they finally played with a bit more passion in OT to pull out the win.
The Celtics as a team have struggled with their offense in the series so far. They shot 46% from the field during the season but have been averaging 41% in this series. The Hawks allowed 44% in the regular season but I'm not sure the Celtics shooting woes are the result of Hawks defense, but rather it's just the Celtics missing shots they usually make. It could be focus or it could just be tired legs. The Hawks, on the other hand, are shooting 41% as well, which is right around what the Celtics allowed in the regular season.
The Celtics need to come out focused in this game and play smart basketball. The longer they let the Hawks hang around the more dangerous they become. The Celtics need to take care of this game at home and do it in convincing fashion.
PG: #9 Rajon Rondo .................................................... SG: #0 Avery Bradley
C: #5 Kevin Garnett
Ray Allen (ankle) will play
Avery Bradley (shoulder) game time decision
Greg Stiemsma (feet) probable
C: #34 Jason Collins
SF: #2 Joe Johnson ............................................. PF: #5 Josh Smith
Al Horford (Pectoral) out
Zaza Pachulia (foot) day to day
Josh Smith (knee) will play
Tracy McGrady (ankle) will play
Rajon Rondo vs Jeff Teague
Teague has played very well in the series and has hit some big shots for the Hawks. Rondo hasn't been any slouch either, coming up with that big triple double in the last game. Both point guards will try to set the pace for their team. Rondo will once again need to come up big and get the Celtics offense back on track.
Paul Pierce vs Joe Johnson
To say that Paul Pierce was huge in game 2 is an understatement. He put the team on his back and carried them to victory. But in game 3, he once again struggled with his shot. He was just 3-12 from the field but to his credit, he didn't just settle for jumpers all game and drove to the hoop, drawing fouls and was 14-14 from the line. Johnson scored 29 points, but it took him 28 shots to do so. He came up big for his team down the stretch in regulation to force the overtime. The Celtics need their Captain to find his shot and if it isn't falling again, to once again drive into the paint and get to the line.
Brandon Bass vs Josh Smith
Smith has said that he plans to play in this game but it remains to be seen how effective he can be if the knee is still sore. He depends on his athleticism and if the knee isn't 100% it may slow him down. Bass has struggled in the playoffs so far and the Celtics could really use a good game from him. He has scored just 8 points in each game so far after averaging almost 13 points per game in the regular season. Bass also needs to put out more effort on the boards. He is averaging 5 rebounds per game while his counterpart on the Hawks (Smith/Williams) are averaging 13 rebounds per game.
Mickael Pietrus vs Tracy McGrady
The Celtics need some production off their bench and they need Pietrus to hit his shots. He was 0-5 in the first two games and was 2-3 in game 3. On the other side, McGrady came up big for the Hawks in game 3 with 12 points and 9 rebounds. Hopefully Pietrus has found his range and will continue to hit his shots in game 4.
Keys to the Game
Defense - This is the key to every game and to winning a championship this year. The Hawks are a good 3 point shooting team as well as having the ability to get to the basket and so the Celtics must defend both the perimeter and the paint. They have been allowing the Hawks too many easy looks, especially from beyond the arc. They have won both games 2 and 3 by clamping down on defense at the end, but they need to play tough defense throughout the game and they might get an easy win instead of having every game come down to a nail biter.
Rebound - Rebounding is key to controlling the tempo and flow of the game. The Celtics must limit tip ins and second chance points by crashing the boards and limiting the Hawks rebounds. It's not a coincidence that the Celtics were out-rebounded in their loss 50-41 but they won the rebounding battle 45-40 and 51-48 in their 2 wins. Rebounding is effort and desire and when the Celtics show both effort and desire on the boards that translates to all the other areas of the game.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to be aggressive in going to the basket, especially if their jumpers aren't falling. As fatigue becomes more of a factor, being aggressive in getting into the paint will become more important. They also must be aggressive in going after loose balls and rebounds. They can't let the Hawks out hustle them. They must play like they are the team that wants it more.
Focus- The Celtics have to come out focused and keep that focus until the final buzzer. They have gone through periods in each game so far where they lose their focus and make careless passes and allow the Hawks to make a run. They must keep their composure and their focus whether they are up or down and whether they are getting the calls or not.
Over more than three decades in the NBA, Joe Crawford has officiated 2,402 regular season and 278 playoff games, including 46 NBA Finals games. Crawford’s 278 playoff and 46 NBA Finals games are the most among active NBA officials. Over his career, Crawford has officiated the 1986, 1992 and 2000 NBA All-Star Games, as well as the 1993 McDonald’s Championship in Munich, Germany. There is no shortage of controversy surrounding Joey Crawford, the biggest of which was a suspension for tossing Tim Duncan for laughing on the bench and then challenging him to a fight. He is known for his quickness to call technical fouls but also doesn't tend to be influenced by the home crowd as much as many younger refs seem to be. In the 2008 Playoffs, Crawford was chosen to officiate Game 4 of the Western Conference final between the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers. In the closing seconds of the game, there was a no-call where the Spurs' Brent Barry was unquestionably fouled by Derek Fisher. Crawford was the closest official to the call, and the NBA later apologized for the lack of a call. Crawford was also one of the refs who was involved in the income tax evasion convictions and was suspended at that time as well. And in the Suns 2010 first round against the Blazers, Crawford made what was possibly the worst call of all time But don't just believe me, watch it for yourself.
This is the Celtics 6th game with Crawford this season. He officiated the Christmas day loss to the Knicks, third Wizards game, and the win over the Cavs, and the April 1 game vs the Heat, all of which were well officiated. He also called the Lakers game in LA where the Celtics shot 12 free throws to 26 for the Lakers and they let the Lakers get away with a lot of contact the entire game. The Celtics not so much. The Celtics are 3-2 this season and 7-3 in their last 10 games with Crawford. The Hawks are 1-1 this season and 4-6 in their last 10. His home W/L record this season is 27-24 and he isn't much influenced by the home crowd.
Brothers is entering his 18th season as an NBA official and has officiated 1,040 regular season games and 50 playoff games during his career. He was a member of the crew that officiated the 1996 Mexico Challenge, 1998 Schick Rookie Game, 1999 McDonald’s Championship in Milan, Italy and the 2008 China Games. Prior to joining the NBA, Brothers spent four years officiating in the CBA, including three CBA Finals and a CBA All-Star Game. He has one year of collegiate officiating experience at the Junior College level. Brothers also has seven years of high school officiating experience in Virginia, including three state tournaments.There are several articles about what a terrible ref Brothers is and detailing his misdeeds. He has angered a lot of fans of just about every team because of bad calls, no calls, and one sided officiating. The Celtics are 1-2 this season and 5-5 in their last 10 games with Brothers on the court. One loss this season was to the Pistons in which the Celtics took 32 free throws to 29 for the Pistons. The other loss was to the Kings and both teams shot 21 free throws. The win came against Philadelphia where the Sixers shot 24 free throws to 19 for the Celtics. The Hawks are 1-4 this season and 5-5 with Brothers in their last 10. His home W/L record this season is 32-23.
Pat Fraher has officiated 614 regular season NBA games and nine Playoff games entering this season. Prior to joining the NBA, Fraher officiated for seven years in the CBA, where he worked the CBA Finals and All-Star game. In addition, Fraher spent four years with the WNBA, where he officiated playoff games in both the WNBA Eastern and Western Conference Finals. Fraher also has two years collegiate officiating experience with the NSIC and 10 years experience as a high school official in his home state of Minnesota. The Celtics are 0-2 this season and 5-5 over their last 10 games with Fraher. One loss this season was vs OKC where the Thunder shot 19 free throws to 16 for the Celtics. The second loss was to the Knicks where the Celtics shot 34 free throws to 17 for the Knicks. Paul Pierce shot 18 free throws himself in that game. The Hawks are 1-2 this season and 7-3 over their last 10 games officiated by Fraher. He is a homer ref with a W/L record this season of 38-15.
Injuries and Officiating
Injuries have been the story for both teams. So far, it has been the more short handed team that has played the hardest. With Rondo out in game 2, the Celtics beat the Hawks in Atlanta. With Smith out in game 3, the Hawks gave the Celtics all they could handle and came close to stealing one in Boston. There are several question marks for both teams coming into this game and regardless of who is out, the players on the court must give max effort. Officiating is always an x-factor. Like Forest Gump says, you never know what you're going to get.